Saturday, December 15, 2007

Italian Malaise

Il New York Times piazza in prima pagina una lunga, approfondita, bella e vera analisi sulla condizione italiana. Ecco alcuni stralci (in inglese). C'è molta ironia ed anche tanta verità.

All the world loves Italy because it is old but still glamorous. Because it eats and drinks well but is rarely fat or drunk. Because it is the place in a hyper-regulated Europe where people still debate with perfect intelligence what, really, the red in a stoplight might mean.

But these days, for all the outside adoration and all of its innate strengths, Italy seems not to love itself. The word here is “malessere,” or “malaise”; it implies a collective funk — economic, political and social — summed up in a recent poll: Italians, despite their claim to have mastered the art of living, say they are the least happy people in Western Europe.

“It’s a country that has lost a little of its will for the future,” said Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome and a possible future center-left prime minister. “There is more fear than hope.”

The problems are, for the most part, not new — and that is the problem. They have simply caught up to Italy over many years, and no one seems clear on how change can come — or if it is possible anymore at all.
Italy has charted its own way of belonging to Europe, struggling as few other countries do with fractured politics, uneven growth, organized crime and a tenuous sense of nationhood.
But frustration is rising that these old weaknesses are still no better, and in some cases they are worse, as the world outside outpaces the country. In 1987, Italy celebrated its economic parity with Britain. Now Spain, which joined the European Unione only a year earlier, may soon overtake it, and Italy has fallen behind Britain.
Italy’s low-tech way of life may enthrall tourists, but Internet use and commerce here are among the lowest in Europe, as are wages, foreign investment and growth. Pensions, public debt and the cost of government are among the highest.
The latest numbers show a nation older and poorer — to the point that Italy’s top bishop has proposed a major expansion of food packages for the poor.
Worse, worry is growing that Italy’s strengths are degrading into weaknesses. Small and medium-size businesses, long the nation’s family-run backbone, are struggling in a globalized economy, particularly with low-wage competition from China.
Doubt clouds the family itself: 70 percent of Italians between 20 and 30 still live at home, condemning the young to an extended and underproductive adolescence. Many of the brightest, like the poorest a century ago, leave Italy.

The largest reason for this malaise seems to be the feeling that there is little hope that the ivy can be cut, and that is making Italians both sad and angry.