Italians are very sensitive when foreigners write about them. The country today, living in the severest economic crisis since the 1930s, is facing a cocktail of difficulties made worst by domestic issues. Love him or loathe him, Silvio Berlusconi always features in the foray, and as editor of the Economist - represented by Silvio's boys as the E-Communist, Bill Emmott, will instantly acquire a group of favoured readers.
The book looks back from a date ten years hence, say 2020, on the past decade. The current Premier, Mario Monti, and his team of "technocrats" or non-politicians, have been called to pass legislation first to make deep fiscal cuts across the entire state; then bring in new labour laws to allow local companies to expand and contract naturally at will in the market; laws that do not discourage foreign investment; as well as acts that speed up a legal system which at present resembles that of a Third world state. Despite appearances, Italy is internationally ranked 156th of 180 countries, below Guinea and Gabon in the length of civil legal proceedings with a backlog of cases going back 15-25 years.
All Italians point at the usual culprits: the South, the Mafia, the central government in Rome, Berlusconi's total disregard to pass painful long-term measures since for the benefit of the country rather than short-term personal gains for himself and his courtiers, the Left and the trades unions. As an outsider he holds nothing back, so he can not but irritate his potential supporters.
He shows that the North is not a heaven, and its inhabitants are far from being angels. He taunts the opposition for failing to oppose strongly and compromising themselves with Berlusconi and his methods; he even blames mother Catholic Church. They are all screaming within Emmott's modern image of Dante's Hell Dante: Inferno (Penguin Classics)
. Naturally, he realizes that in any society the good and bad are mixed up and live together, and blanket criticisms need to be qualified..
Emmott is very much an Italophile, and like the persistent dog searching his bone he believes Italians are not bad and do seriously care about their society. He supports this optimism by stating that Italy has the largest of volunteers working in cooperatives for the common good, or for Cameron's "Big Society". In addition, there is a network of young people, originally from the South, who have founded anti-Mafia associations: Addiopizzo (Goodbye protection money), E Adesso Ammazzateci Tutti (And Now Shoot Us All), and RENA, the Network for National Excellence, who impress on all to a civic duty, to meritocracy, a respect for competition and democracy, groups who would amaze eminent past US political sociologists as S.M. LipsetPOLITICAL MAN
and Almond & Verba The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations, An Analytic Study
The author presents us with islands of openness ready for Monti's revolution towards a kingdom, (sorry a Republic) of Heaven. Most Italian companies are small-medium family concerns and these successes he has unearthed cover a wide range of sectors: the Settesoli winery around Agrigento, in Sicily; Cucinello cashmere garments of Perugia; Tecnam of Capua, near Naples, designers of single and twin-engine planes; and Rainbow, creators of children's Winx cartoons from Loreto in central Italy now in partnership with Nickelodeon, the children's wing of US entertainment giant Viacom.
The author then notes three larger companies: Luxottica's spectacles with 60,000 staff world wide; Ferrero of Alba in Piedmont, producers of Mon Cheri, Kinder eggs, Nutella chocolate spread and Tic tac mints, the fourth confectionary firm in sales behind Kraft, Mars, and Nestlé; and Autogrill in motorway, railway station and airport restaurants, part of the Benetton holding company, which operates in 43 countries and since the purchase of Host Marriott Services in the US and World Duty Free in the UK has become the leading food provider in American airports, and the biggest retailer in British airports. Some of these firms promote the traditional Made in Italy artistic mark; most, however, have preferred to become international in design, quality control, and after-sales customer care, previously gravely lacking, and very much criticized everywhere by foreign customers.
Emmott will amaze readers by citing two success stories in the state public system, and moves by an old giant. From the first group, the author looks at the Egyptian Museum in Turin, and the Politecnico (the Technological University) of Turin. Both started to finance themselves independently from public funding. In contrast to the image of Italian universities as centres of feudal nepotism and favouritism of professors, and educational mediocrity (the auther reveals the oldest and top ranked Italian uni, Bologna, is 250th,but says nothing about the nepotism at Bari) in Turin the rector, Professor Profumo, has encouraged a great arrival of foreign students (up to 15% from the modest 2.5 common elsewhere), bringing in higher incomes in fees, and the setting up of research centres funded by Microsoft, General Electric and General Motors amounting to 70% of the university's costs. Since 1999 the university has, furthermore, set up an incubator, 13P, of 140 new start-ups, only 10% having failed, producing 600 jobs. Though it has not yielded big, fast-growing firms, Profumo has spread a virus of commerce and entrepreneurship totally alien and anathema in Italian universities. Where there is a will, there is a way.
Finally, Fiat, a mega-firm, built up and sustained by state protection, has since 2000 had to change. It will mean leaving beautiful Italy (shock horror for all Italians), and, worse, setting up in Detroit with Chrysler, and accepting modern methods including competition, which it never did at home preferring take over of all rivals, Lancia, Ferrari, and Alfa Romeo in order to remain a big car operator in the world. At the local level at Pomigliano d' Arco, near Naples, amidst austerity and losses Fiat is negotiating new deals with the trades unions, by threatening to employ carrot and stick techniques simply to get its way. It suggests either saving fewer jobs at home or switching all operations to Eastern Europe or Latin America where output yields have been continually more outstanding, and with lower labour costs.
Emmott shows that Italian businesses are ready for the challenge, and dismiss the claim there is no alternative but smiling Silvio, king of the bunga bunga parties. Indeed, non-Italians reading that Rainbow is strongly against Berlusconi would seem an impossibility. In the media sector in Italy, as Fiat in the car industry, Mediaset operates in a virtual monopoly, and it keeps away any new arrivals, holds back competition and stultifies needed innovation. Rainbow states it was forced to focus onto the international market as the environment at home was so unproductive and barren. In addition, with the US dominance driving down prices, and little if no state subsidy to stimulate independent national tastes, it maintains there exists no true Italian entertainment industry So any sales of the politicised state TV, RAI, and its downsizing, should thus be forbidden to Mediaset; smaller Italian and other European concerns instead should be invited to take part in the offers.
Monti has been aware of these islands of Italian success, and so has turned to them as his advisers and Ministers. They know that light is at the end of the tunnel, as in the late 1990s Belgium faced a worst financial crisis than Italy current public debt of 122%, and in twelve years its public debt dropped to 88% of GDP, a fall of 47 points.
This book should not only interest Italians; it will be of use to any economist and government official around Europe witnessing the financial heat emerging from the Eurozone. They will all find some ideas to help resolve their own national economies
As Monti has declared he does not intend continuing in government beyond the present parliament, in the spring of 2013, it is important that much of his agenda will have been introduced, and that the next government of politicians will have the courage to continue for a while along that road. The future of Italy, and the hope of the Good Italy, for Emmott still rests much in the balance. Che sarà, sarà, What will be, will be. Italy and Italians anxiously await. So does the rest of Europe. Amusing for a few, honest - too honest for some, and instructive for many.