The Italian Mind

Reflections from the Boot

The Short Italian Memory

People leaving abroad enjoy a privileged and unique field of view on the society they are part of. This especially true about Italy. Foreigners living in the Bel Paese soon realize some of the stereotypes about Italians are not just that, and the real situation is in fact even worse. My post today takes into consideration Dany Mitzman‘s highlights in his article “How to avoid getting ‘hit by air’ in Italy” (published here). Most of what Mr. Mitzman says about how much Italians know about their anatomy and their fears – or rather hypocondria – is quite correct. Italians do have better knowledge of their body, for it is an important part of science classes in primary schools, let alone the fact that healthcare is State-funded in Italy. Whenever you feel sick or suffer the smallest pain, you attend a physician who explains what you may have or not. Illness-related drugs, if needed, are paid for by the State, so why in the world shouldn’t you pay a visit to your physician (no pun intended) and get a prescription for some placebos or drugs with actual effects? Mr. Mitzman’s article, however, focuses on physical symptoms and forgets one very serious problem Italians have: lack of memory.

Just as in the rest of Europe, Italy is not at ease. Economically speaking, the entire Old Continent is swept by financial waves generated by uncontrolled economic tides. Politically speaking, Rome has had a new government for a little more than a month. Its Prime Minister  started a series of substantial reforms only recently, but it was enough to spark several reactions, first and foremost by trade unions, and upset a large part of the public opinion. Equity is one of Mr. Monti’s keywords, together with development and growth. Many among those who complain about the Cabinet’s proposals and decisions say the reforms are not applied with equality. ‘Those who earn more, should pay more’, they say.

Theoretically speaking, this logic is flawless. When you have deadlines in the (very) short term, however, things are indeed different. There is a pressing need to increase cash flows as soon as possible. The entire Europe has been waiting for the Italian economic reforms Mr. Berlusconi and his predecessors as Prime Ministers have been unable to put in place. Immediate and larger cash flows can only be obtained by raising taxes and adjusting pensions accordingly. Anyone can complain, but it is as easy as 1-2-3. Structural reforms are much needed in Italy, as current systems are longer sustainable.

Nature, our Great Mother, has been teaching us a lesson over the ages of evolution: only those who adapt can survive; those who don’t, simply cannot. This is what Italy is going through at the moment, but all adaptation processes come with a price, which the limited number of richer people alone – call it 1% or whatever – cannot afford at the moment, irrespective of how much wealth is in their hands. The structural reforms the Italian Minister of Welfare is forging will affect higher incomes not earlier than three or four years from now. Meanwhile, the only way to make the pension system sustainable and reduce public debt is by imposing taxes on consumers (by increasing VAT) and estate properties. These issues have been raised many times and the many stakeholders managed to reach consensus on the ensuing required solutions, eventually. Now, the same stakeholders seem to find hard to remember that consensus has ever been reached, the Northern League being on the front row. Once again, it has dispelled any doubt about his ability to remember some items of its past political programme in support of Berlusconi’s government, where this kind of taxation had been strongly supported. The real estate tax (or IMU, in Italian) – which Berlusconi cancelled in 2008 and whose proceeds remained with the municipalities – will now be shared between local and central governments. Some Mayors belonging to the Northern League announced they will not collect the tax to avoid part of the proceeds be ‘stolen by Rome’.

Short memory is a serious problem for those affected, but not the only one the Northern League and Italy as a whole have.

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