The same old untouchables


According to Thomas Friedman and his recent editorial piece on the New York Times, the American financial crisis emerged from a “critical but unspoken reason”: the fall of the education system. While the subprime mortgage mess involved a huge ethical breakdown on Wall Street, it coincided with an education breakdown on Main Street”.

Friedman is also about “creative workers” the ones that – in his opinion – are becoming untouchables and that in the long run will benefit from their skills. On the other hand, old lazy guys that were waiting for the work to come knock on their doors lost their jobs almost immediately and, most probably, won’t get back to their desks.

Italy, in some ways, is far away from being globalized. For example, the education system and the employment system are very different from the American ones. It is just interesting to notice that the same argument can have very different meanings in two Western countries and the same problems can be addressed in different ways by two famous economists.

For an Italian (European?) reader, these two basic concepts are at the same time familiar and distant. They are familiar because the simplicity of Friedman’s thesis is almost embarrassing (but the geniuses are supposed to be both embarrassing and simple, I guess). They are distant because Italians and Americans clearly have different meanings for the same word: crisis.

After a quick check on the Merrian-Webster, though, I found out that meaning is quite the same: “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially : one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome <a financial crisis”.

Nevertheless, I must be mistaken. The Italian education system, which was – no longer than twenty years ago -described as “one of the best in the world”, is now light-years away from the American one. Maybe the primary and middle school can still be considered good, but the university is in the midst of a storm.

Italian students don’t get through and are constantly struggling to find a job. If they ever find one, the salary is usually smaller than the average of their European colleagues. During the last ten years, the universities have been overwhelmed by a tsunami of new decrees that were supposed to adjust our education system and make it more similar to the Anglo- Saxon one. Three levels of degrees: bachelor, master, Phd. Those are just names though, you can’t only change the name to something and then hope that this will change its nature.

It is like painting a ancient grave in white: at first look you might think “wow, it really works”, but then you’ll still have spiders, worms and rats happily hanging around in the dirt under the brand new layer of white paint.

With the reform of the labor system that took place under the “white book” of Marco Biagi (assassinated by the Red Brigades on March 2002), Italian authorities and politicians hailed at the “beginning of a new era” in the employment sector. But that reform was introduced in a distorted way. Once again, the metaphor of the white ancient grave: they fixed the outside look but not the core problem. Italians workers got paid less than usual, prices went skyrocketing and the immediate result of the reform was a inflation of the black market and, as a consequence, illegal immigration started soaring.

I don’t need statistics to support my thesis: the reality of a country in which young workers are constantly exploited by their lazy-dinosaurs-like bosses, kept far away from a decent career and underpaid, speaks for itself.

The talk of the town in Italy nowadays is the call for a more stable job (what we call “posto fisso”) coming from our minister of Economy, Giulio Tremonti, a former supporter of the “Biagi reform” who was quickly backed by Silvio Berlusconi. Not that a leftist mantra of the recent years suddenly became the manifesto of a man of the right but, still, Tremonti’s new motto means a lot.

It doesn’t mean that people want to get back to the old labor system which was clearly not functioning well. Up until ten years ago, a state employee could be paid for a no show job, and still be guaranteed all the benefits of this world including three weeks off in August, two during Christmas holydays, and another one for Easter.  But it does mean, in my opinion, that we as Italians are sick of lazy bosses that get paid tons of money for doing nothing while our young talents emigrate in the Us or elsewhere. These are our “new untouchables” . Unfortunately, they are always the same people. Meritocracy is in the eye of the beholder here in the land of spaghetti. New economy is an empty word.

Thomas Friedman is already thinking of changing the Us scholar system, while our minister of economy calls for a return to the past. Our education system should be rebooted and build from scratch, like the employment system. But we are once again painting an ancient grave in white. Worms and rats will feast forever under that new bright white layer of paint. The world is surely flat and crowded, Mr. Friedman, but for a tiny little country in the middle of the Mediterranean sea that they call “Il Bel Paese”.

Andrea Loquenzi Holzer


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Andrea Loquenzi Holzer

The truth will set you free

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