Por que a Italia ainda se encontra entre as maiores economias do mundo? Inercia. Q= m x V
Italy Breaks Your Heart
By FRANK BRUNI
Published: October 26, 2013
ROME — ON my first night back in Italy, at a dinner party in Milan, I watched and listened to a successful couple in their late 40s plot their escape from a country that they love but have lost faith in. They cleared the plates, opened a laptop, and began checking out real estate in London, where one of them had been offered a transfer. The prices horrified but didn’t deter them. They have a 10-year-old son, and they fear that Italy, with 40 percent unemployment among young adults and an economy whose listlessness has come to seem the new normal, doesn’t promise a particularly bright future for him.
Two days later and about 200 miles southeast of Milan, it was an older Italian woman — early 70s, I’d wager — who sang her country’s blues. I was having lunch on a mountaintop in the Marche region, and with wild boar sausage in front of me and a castle overhead, I could have convinced myself that I was in heaven. “A museum,” she corrected me. “You’re in a museum and an organic garden.” That’s what Italy had come to, she said. Each year the country lost more of its oomph, more of its relevance.
Because I was lucky enough to live here once and am always circling back, I’m well accustomed to Italians’ theatrical pessimism, to their talent for complaint. It’s something of a sport, something of an opera, performed with sweeping gesticulations and musical intonations and, in the past, with an understanding that there was really nowhere else they’d rather be.
But the arias have been different this time around. The whole mood has. Ask Italian students what awaits them on the far side of their degrees and they shrug. Ask their parents when or how Italy will turn the corner and you get the same expression of bafflement. You hear more than you did 10 or even five years ago about migrations to Britain, to the United States. You hear less faith in tomorrow.
I’ve been startled by it. Also spooked, because I arrived here straight from our government shutdown, and I’ve observed Italy’s discontent through a filter of America’s woes, processing it as a cautionary tale. Italy is what happens when a country knows full well what its problems are but can’t summon the discipline and will to fix them. It’s what happens when political dysfunction grinds on and on and good governance becomes a mirage, a myth, a joke. Italy coasts on its phenomenal blessings rather than building on them and loses traction in a global economy with more driven competitors. Sound familiar? There’s so much beauty and promise here, and so much waste. Italy breaks your heart.
And it’s not all Silvio Berlusconi’s doing. His recent criminal conviction for tax fraud, along with a related prohibition from holding public office for several years, hasn’t produced the sense of release and new beginnings that you might expect. It has instead forced Italians to recognize that while he squandered time, made matters worse and was a cartoonish, buffoonish distraction, the country’s bedrock demons — excessive regulations and a rococo bureaucracy that stifle enterprise; a closed system of favoritism that foils initiative; corruption and the cynicism it breeds — transcend him.
In the second quarter of 2013, Italy’s public debt rose to 133 percent of its gross domestic product: the second highest in the euro zone, trailing only Greece’s. The decline in Italy’s G.D.P. of about 8 percent since a pre-crisis peak is worse than Spain’s or Portugal’s. There’s been no meaningful recovery yet, though modest growth may finally come later this year.
But you don’t need numbers to measure Italy’s drift. Just step off the high-speed train (which is terrific) or exit the autostrada and travel the lesser byways, crumbling into disrepair. Or try to throw your empty gelato cup into one of the proper trash cans in the country’s storied capital, Rome. They’re seemingly always full or overflowing. The one I turned to near the Italian Chamber of Deputies one night had gone unattended for so long that people were just leaving their garbage at its base, where a hump of refuse rose: the eighth hill of Rome. In a city whose stressed budget and inefficiencies mirror the country’s, garbage has become a huge issue, a symptom of the body politic’s iffy health.
On Tuesday I visited the doctor on the case. His name is Ignazio Marino. In June he was elected the new mayor of Rome, beating the conservative incumbent, who was backed by Berlusconi, with an impressive 64 percent of the vote, which suggested Italians’ eagerness for something new. Marino, 58, entered politics only seven years ago, and spent his professional life before then as a transplant surgeon specializing in livers (though he dabbled in kidneys and pancreases) and living for the most part in Pennsylvania.
He told me that running Rome wasn’t unlike one of his operations.
“A controlled emergency,” he explained.
He has the world’s best office, in a Renaissance palace on the Campidoglio, a hilltop piazza designed by Michelangelo. A balcony near his desk juts like the tapered prow of a ship over the ancient columns and arches of the Roman Forum. There, at your toes, is the spot where Mark Antony supposedly spoke after Caesar’s assassination. And there, at your fingertips, the Temple of Saturn. It’s a spellbinding view, but also a taunt, a reminder of past glories, of a grandeur long gone.
From a different part of Marino’s office, we gazed out a window to where he parks his bike, which he rides to work daily, partly to encourage a new mode of transportation in a city with too much traffic and poor mass transit. It looked awfully lonely. Romans prefer their scooters.
BUT while improving the transit and garbage situations are high on his to-do list, there’s a fuzzier item at the top, and it’s to run the kind of transparent, results-oriented administration that contradicts Italy’s current way of doing business, which he, like so many Italians I talked with, said was based on personal allegiances, debts owed and time served instead of merit.
“If we change that, the money and the investment will arrive,” he said, adding that he returned to Italy to make his successful bid for the Senate in 2006 because he figured it was time to stop bemoaning the country’s maladies and start treating them. Physician, heal thy homeland.
I asked him about the condition of the patient, meaning Rome.
A long, judicious pause.
“It’s salvageable,” he said.
I asked about Berlusconi’s legacy.
“The damage is the culture that he created,” Marino said. “Accountability was not a value.” Berlusconi made Italian life seem like an adolescent party, an endless rope-a-dope with the rules, in which what you achieved mattered less than what you could get away with, the spoils going to the slipperiest.
And now, the hangover. The wake-up call.
In the newspaper La Stampa two weeks ago, the columnist Luca Ricolfi apologized for not having weighed in for a while, but explained that there was nothing fresh to say. For 20 years, Italy hadn’t stirred. “Everything is inert and frozen,” he wrote.
In the Corriere della Sera a week later, the columnist Ernesto Galli della Loggia rued the country’s “years and years of paralysis,” during which a sort of gerontocracy prevented any real meritocracy. He was careful to note that while Italy was “slowly unraveling,” it wasn’t quite “plunging into the abyss.”
A large enough number of Italians remain just comfortable enough that they cling to the status quo, holding on to what they have now. But that only heightens the uncertainty about what they’ll have down the line. The future, after all, is built on flexibility and sacrifice, on making waves rather than treading water. Still they tread. In that, they have ample company in Western Europe and the United States.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Paolo Crepet, an Italian psychiatrist and lecturer whom I met on this trip. “We’re a creative people. We’re known around the world for our creativity.” But what he detects in his patients and audiences isn’t dynamism; it’s helplessness. “They’re waiting for somebody to lead them out,” he said. “They’re waiting for Godot.” Listening to him, I felt my stomach clench. Is fatalism what comes after too many years of pessimism? Is that where America is headed?
For Italy’s lack of direction, I encountered a metaphor almost too easy and convenient: road signs that could no longer be read, because untended, untrimmed grasses and branches obscured them. I was zipping past wonders, zooming through splendor. But I hadn’t a clue if I was actually getting anywhere.