June 2nd, 2012

today is/should be a National Holiday in Italy, akin to the 4th of July or the 14th of July elsewhere.

in Italian we say “il tempo è tiranno”, time is tyrant /despot, implying that anything has to be subject to the only scarce resource: time.

look at what happened long ago to another type of dictator, Francisco Franco: despite having all the resources of Spain at their disposal, and even after so many visits to the operation room that his medical reports started to sound like an airplane repair report (changed this organ, changed that organ, fixed a valve, etc)… time won.

so, time sometimes is an enlightened despot, as it reminds you that you have to prioritize- removing any excuse to postpone choices.

and sometimes it is simply a “Great Dictator”-style despot (I am referring to C. Chaplin’s movie, of course): whimsical, unpredictable, resentful.

yesterday I had planned to release the first issue of my “Citizen Audit” review (see here)… but I had unfortunately to cope with the whimsical side of time- a blessing in disguise, so I ended up getting a chance of obtaining more information and more material.

June 2nd, I said- but I keep wondering what is the point of a National Holiday celebrating the Republic, when we still did not develop a sense of belonging and ownership between citizens.

and yes, even before working on immigration in mid-2000s (on the State side, but I considered that anyway a way to make more humane immigrants’ treatment), I thought that those who live, work, and abide by local law are probably more entitled to be active, voting, full-fledged citizens that those who were just lucky enough to be born in the land.

as Italy suffers from a terminal disease that no temporary government, however well-minded, can remove: a sense of entitlement, derived from observing the leftover of history all around us.

we, the citizens, are simply overwhelmed by something that I am quite confident that we wouldn’t be able to replicate- but assume that, being born here, we are the rightful heirs of the greatness that was bestowed upon us by our ancestors.

as I wrote few times: it took longer to renovate the interiors of a single underground station in Rome than to build the Coliseum.

to say nothing about the bridge to Germany that Caesar built and removed faster than you can, right now, agree on the path that it should follow.

I do not expect in Italy the self-sacrifice expressed by a relatively young nation, such as when Mc Namara left the benefits of the private sector to serve as Defense Secretary for a fraction of his previous income.

also because, in Italy, the motto is “passata la festa, gabbato lo santo”, i.e. in this context> if and when you do something, do not expect then a continuation or even a recognition of your sacrifice.

I will spare you the jokes on what would have happened if HP and Apple had been founded in Italy instead of US- search Facebook.

but in Italy we still have this sense of entitlement that shows as a rare entity the manager that says “ok- I have to focus on this, so I surrender all the other positions that would absorb my time”.

it does not really matter how much an individual position is paid- 100k or 100mln, it is the concept that matters.

instead, again another saying: “tenere il piede in due scarpe”- i.e. to hold two positions while being loyal to somebody else.

frankly, if it were just two, I would quit complaining. our “ruling class” looks more like a centipede, as the same names (or their relatives) keeps popping up.

in the early 1990s, to avoid boring my Anglo-American colleagues with long descriptions that sounded like the usual cloak-and-dagger or conspiracy theories, I kept with me three simple pictures.

one, showing the cross-ownerships and cross-board membership within the UK banking industry.

the second one, showing the same in Germany- a little bit more complex, but basically because banks owned companies.

the third one, showing the Gordian know of the Italian economy: with an incredible maze of criss-crossing paths and pacts, built around tiny shareholdings, but giving firm control.

what happens when you have a centipede-like ruling class? that the country is close to zero real entropy, and that, when instability happens, the centipede reduces flexibility.

moreover: it is much easier to corrupt and (for organized crime) to infiltrate a centipede-based system, as once you get one, you get potentially an entry point across all the network that (s)he has access to.

recently, I read an article with an official statistics stating that over the last decade Italy lost a significant number of entrepreneurs (I think that it was 30 or 48%).

if you consider that the way the Italian economy survived was by having large groups surrounded by a galaxy of tiny, nimble, innovative, flexible exporting companies, often with “niche” R&D…

it is not one bit that is falling- it is systemic.

few days ago, the Governor of the Bank of Italy said that he is advocating surrendering one of the last powers, the oversight of the banking industry, to the European Institutions.

I hope that this, along with the data on the shrinking industrial base, constant stream of acquisition from abroad (with the risk of removing also the connections to local suppliers), will finally make Italians stop thinking about going back to the Lira, dreaming of competitive devaluations.

if Italian companies are not Italian anymore, and their supply chain is delocalized (including in the fashion industry, producing on the Southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea), Italy risks getting more and more of “maquilladora” operations- assembling what is produced abroad, or a “market presence”- i.e. after sales services.

do not forget what happened in UK, where some companies relocated to the more tax-intensive France simply because they were importing components from Euroland, assembling, and exporting to Euroland: and a 40% up-and-down swinging made it unmanageable.

while thinking about the side-effects on local industrial districts of recent earthquakes, that showed the structural weakness of our communication and distribution infrastructure, stretched too thin to cope with something that, unfortunately, is here to stay, maybe it is also the right time to rethink the economic model.

we need to discuss openly about what Italy and its citizens can do now- not what their ancestors did.

and we need to identify what is missing to be a competitive economy in the XXI century.

in the end- it is up to the Italians to govern their own country, and if the politicians that they elect keep become scoundrels while in office, maybe the problem is not in those that are elected- but in those voting for them.

as any society gets the ruling class that it deserves.

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