A Jubilee for Italy

Comments – To understand and deal with the crisis

A Jubilee for Italy

by Luigino Bruni

published on Avvenire on 24/07/2011

logo_avvenireIn these days, there have been warning signs after another of speculative attacks, alternating with that of relaxation and optimism. In reality, we must be aware that the situation is serious, and we must equip ourselves as country and as Europe to address a phase that could prove no less difficult and lengthy than that of the autumn of 2009. In fact,  the crisis that we are experiencing in these days is much more of a contagion phenomenon (of the Greek and/or Portuguese crisis): it is a structural fragility crisis of Italy and Europe. The illness is serious and yet it is neither a deadly disease nor a simple flu. It is a second mini-stroke that if it does not produce a change in lifestyle it can lead to fatal consequences.

In the interval between the two crises Italy the “patient” has continued to behave as before, except for a few afternoon stroll or a few pills, but without any strong sign of a turnaround.

There are at least three elements to propose as diagnosis and a possible treatment. The first element for a correct diagnosis has to do with demography. We will never understand well what is happening if we do not start from a given structure and long-term period: Italy, more than other European countries, has in the recent years radically decreased the relationship between the active and the retired population, parallel to the sharp increase of life expectancy.

The entire state welfare system was based on a much lower life expectancy (and even more on youths who worked), which allowed the young generation to sustain the burden of pensions. In addition, the family, which was the true center of our state welfare (much more of the state or the market), can no longer perform its duties of care and nurturing. If we do not quickly act not only for a pension reform but a new intergenerational deal, the public debt cannot be reduced.

The public debt is, in fact, the second element of the diagnosis: speculation hits Italy because the huge public debt makes the periodic signing of government bonds indispensable, nothing less. Hence the request, in times of frailty even politically, of increasing returns of our bonds. The public debt is the real sword of Damocles of the current crisis.

The third element deals with Europe, namely the absence of a political reality behind the euro. The project of the founding fathers of Europe was primarily a political one. History tells us that a currency is strong when it is supported by (and expresses) a political power. The management uncertainties of the Greek crisis are very important signs, since they say that in addition to business interests of euros in Europe there is too little: the forces of financial markets know it and target those that are more fragile. Without a new political deal, a European constitution and strong institutions (and agile: one must reduce also the costs of European bureaucracy), the euro will not hold for long.

Today, the therapy that everyone suggests is the revival of the economic growth. It should be remembered that the insufficient economic growth is also a consequence of the first two elements, namely a country’s aged debt who cannot find the resources to grow. Economic growth requires many ingredients, all very essential: public investments (especially in education and research), creativity, innovation and, above all, enthusiasm and passion for the people. Today Italy certainly lacks resources for public investments but lacks even more the enthusiasm and the desire for life. To understand what this enthusiasm is, it is enough to a tour Asia, the Middle East or Africa. On my last trip to Kenya, more than the material poverty, it struck me to see young people studying in the evening under the street lights: it is this hunger for life and future that tomorrow can defeat the hunger for food and give life to development and prosperity. If today Italy and Europe do not find this enthusiasm, no finance can revive the growth because our politicians and public opinion systematically forget the greatest lesson of social sciences of the twentieth century: the growth and development of a country does not depend mainly on the action of the government but by the daily behaviors of millions of citizens, each of which has, and he alone, that piece of information and knowledge relevant to social and economic action.

Of course, among these economic agents there are also the government and institutions (which can and must do their co-essential part), but have much less power than they tell us every day (even to justify their presence and related costs). The solution to the economic crisis can be found outside the economic sphere: one can find it in the civilian life, the desires and the passion of the people, which are springs that feed also the economic life. One does not go to work every morning to reduce public debt, but to pursue projects and dreams. We are also able to make great sacrifices only if we catch a glimpse of a bigger collective project, capable of moving the heart and actions to rekindle enthusiasm. We have been able to do them many times in the past, even recently, why not now? However, each one of us should use well that piece of knowledge and power on the reality of which it is related to, use the talents well, undertake more and better. But for this game to function there is a need of rite and public liturgies, symbols of force, art, beauty, solemn and collective acts. In particular, I am convinced that today there is an dire need of a sort of jubilee, in the biblical meaning of the term: a season of mutual forgiveness, of reconciliation and of peace, to forget all the malice and poisoning of each other of which we are capable of in these twenty years both in the political class in the country and to look forward together. Today Italy is in a state of welfare very similar to “war of everyone against everyone” of which Hobbes talks about. We do not have to get out of it and continue the civic and economic decline; we can get out of it creating a Leviathan, the monstrous crocodile that is also part of the history and the DNA of the Italians. But we can get out of this poverty and economic trap by re-launching a new era of civic virtue and a new deal, the only ground that has generated and generates creativity, enthusiasm and love of life, from which the economic growth will flourish.

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see a comment of Pierluigi Porta

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