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Italy Winning Its War on the Young — And Losing Its Hope For the Future

Italy is not a good place to be young and, not surprisingly, there aren’t that many young Italians coming along. ISTAT reported in January that youth unemployment now stands at an astonishing 30.1 percent, a record high for the country. Rather than striking out on their own, young Italians are increasingly living with their parents well into their thirties and forties, and many now are contemplating a lifetime without long-term employment. The opening to this Times piece is particularly evocative:

Assunta Linza, a bright-eyed 33-year-old with a college degree in psychology, has been unemployed since June, after losing a temporary job as a call-center operator. Her father, who is 60 and has a fifth-grade education, took early retirement with full benefits at age 42 from a job as a workman at the Italian state railway company.

“Everyone said that kids should study to get ahead, but I graduated with highest honors, and the only thing my degree is good for is to hang on the wall,” Ms. Linza said dryly.

As the Times points out, Italy is racked by perverse labor laws that pamper the old while condemning the young to a lifetime of poverty and insecurity. Italian laws mandating that workers not be fired without just cause, combined with a legal system that heavily favors workers, have created a system in which companies are wary of making new hires. Even the labor reforms proposed by the new technocratic government may not be enough to remedy the situation, and in any case unions are fighting tooth and nail to remove any bite these reforms may have. They will probably succeed at least partially. Italy is almost certain to reform much more slowly and irregularly than it should.

The stakes in Italy are higher than many Italians seem to grasp.  This isn’t just about Italy’s prosperity or its ability to stay in the euro. It is about survival. Italy’s birthrate is far below the natural rate of replacement; that is not unrelated to an economic system that makes it impossible for large numbers of young people to start households of their own.

Unless Italy becomes a country where twenty somethings can routinely leave home and build promising careers so that they have both the economic means to marry and the security to embrace the responsibilities of parenthood, Italians will become a demographic curiosity in their own country — and sooner rather than later.

In the 17th century, when Pope Urban VIII (one of the Barberini popes) melted ancient bronze pieces from the Pantheon to build the baldacchino in St. Peters, one satirist said, “What the barbarians did not do the Barberini did.” Today we must say that labor laws and sclerotic economic management are doing what plagues, barbarians and wars failed to accomplish: putting the future of the Italian people at risk.

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  • Brett

    I’m surprised Italy doesn’t have greater emigration problems, especially if many young Italians are educated and the job opportunities are so poor. The whole “live with the family” thing doesn’t bother me, since inter-generational households actually used to be the norm until the past 100 years (and still are in many countries).

  • Jim.

    @Brett-

    I took a course in college that did a rigorous statistical comparison of actuarial-type data between China and Western Europe in the 16th century. In terms of trade, life expectancy, calories per person, all that, there was little discernable difference, aside from the statistics that actually showed the Chinese were better off.

    The one cultural difference that showed up in these numbers was the tendency of Western households to be smaller — closer to the modern “nuclear” size than their Chinese counterparts. They were smaller, and the labor was more mobile compared to the Chinese family model.

    So nuclear families that allow for a mobile workforce really are important.

    As for the article– what can anyone say that Prof Mead hasn’t said so eloquently already?

    The nation of Italy is dying of a plague of Leftist “modern” thought. It is a self-inflicted wound. The Blue Social Model is fatal, if it is not stopped. Its dire effects can be delayed by cultural assets like the Protestant Work Ethic, but ultimately it is not sustainable long-term.

  • Kenny

    Yes, and the war on the youth of Europe is what BHO is trying to replicate here.

    Will the kiddies vote in 2012 for Obama in droves like they foolishly did in 2008???

    I doubt it.

  • Toni

    I care much less about the fate of what Bush called Old Europe than about the doings of New Europe, Eastern Europe, where countries are trying to create new fates for themselves in the wake of four decades of Communist oppression. What does the euro crisis, and potentially the euro collapse, mean for these aspiring countries and their citizens?

    I can’t work up much sympathy for Italians. Their fate was and is in their own hands. Subsidizing lazy or counterproductive behavior, as the EU has done, works as poorly in Europe as it does on this side of the pond.

  • Kris

    “Italian laws mandating that workers not be fired without just cause, combined with a legal system that heavily favors workers, have created a system in which companies are wary of making new hires.”

    And yet many of the “young” actively oppose reform of those laws. Reality, she is a harsh mistress.

  • wtlf

    When fiat based social welfare systems come apart certain constituencies are bound to suffer. In past history it is usually the political ruling class and civil service pensioneers. When there is little or no money left history that politicians bail on the public sector to court the productive citizens who may at least bail out their jobs, then the productive citizens bail on the politicians leaving very few resources a new productive class to beging growth and a lot of unemployed and penniless ploiticains and public servants. Reading first hand accounts of Russia and Austria is fascinating in the speed and depth of the fall for people who were living large.
    The one interesting difference this time is that demographics usually favor the young in the battle of resources in a failed system. This time the point at which the politicians bail out on the older non-productive pensioners will be later or never.

  • Sam L.

    The cannot yet understand and believe what they do unto themselves. The leftist mind control is strong.

  • Ron B.

    Starting from the vety founding of Rome for about 800 years, the Romans, and then later the Italians were the baddest m***** f*****s in the known world. They simply would not allow themselves to get pushed around – by anyone. You simply didn’t mess with them. Unfortunately, they won -everything. And then they decided to retiree to their villas and let the people they had conquered take over running the Empire. They simply outsourced it. As far as I can tell, they are still up at their villas. Too bad it’s long since crumbled into ruins.

  • guydreaux

    The reason young Italians (like young Greeks and young Spainiards) don’t emigrate (other than great weather, free family lodgings and mamma”s cooking), is that State benefits for the unemployed (as well as 30 year old “students”) are quite nice.

    That is why when you go to a Starbucks or a Costa in London you are 5 times more likely to be served by an emigrant E. European than you are a young Latin or Greek (despite youth unemployment being lower in E Europe)

    You’ll know when Italy has started to cut spending and reform their system when there are Italians serving espresso abroad and when there is a new generation of Greek restauranteurs and small business people in the UK and Germany to replace the emigrants of the 1950s that are dying off.

  • http://fraryhomecompanion.com John Frary

    The Welfare State battles arithmetic. Any bets on the winner?

  • John

    Greece and Italy have been crawling with lazy, greedy communists since WW1. I have no sympathy for either of them.

    And I’m Italian. They can go hang.

  • teapartydoc

    Surprised more don’t emigrate? Only 40% of people living in Italy are Italian. Perhaps the highest rate of expatriate population in the world. Take a look around. Most of the work is being done by foreigners: Filipinos, Indonesians, North Africans. They live in tiny apartments in town or in slums in the outskirts of the cities that resemble prisons. Bare concrete construction surrounded by chain link fences with barbed wire on top. France has similar accommodations. Europe really sucks.

  • http://www.pacrimjim.com PacRim Jim

    Worry not, Italy, Muslims will be happy to fill Italy with the counter-Renaissance.

  • Rich K

    America gets along just fine without Italians so I dont see why that bit of land mass cant do the same.Its just “Dirt” folks,not seeded with some magic latin gene or anything.

  • Athena

    It’s not just the economic disincentives that are destroying Europe, it’s the cultural angle; having children is seen as expensive drudgery compared to a vision of constant travel, consumer goodies and no-commitment sex. The lack of economic opportunities around the world doesn’t stop many of the world’s people from reproducing in droves.

  • JoeC

    I’m an expat living in Sicily. Of the younger people here in Sicily, the ‘workers’ are usually Czech or Polish or Romanian or Moroccan (as bad as the economy is in Italy, foreigners still come here to work). The young Sicilians who work are normally in a family business. Many simply don’t work and live with Mom and Dad…. why move out or try to move up when you are taken care of by your parents and can get government support for life (virtually). Additionally, why work when the government is going to take 60% of your pay in taxes? And those who do have kids usually don’t bother to get married….

  • Lina Inverse

    A long time ago—1980s, I think—I read that Italy has rental laws that make it difficult for the young to move out. Essentially it was impossible to evict a renter; well to do families who wanted their children to be able to move out would for example buy an empty building and mothball it until their children were old enough.

    The source was generally reliable, and I suspect we can safely assume there are renter friendly laws like these cited worker friendly laws gumming up the works, adding to the difficulties of the young striking out on their own.

  • mark a

    One factor driving Immigration from Eastern Europe are wages not keeping up with the cost of living, for instance petrol costs the same in Poland as in Ireland despite wages being 20%-40% less.

    Re Italy,Mark Steyn has been writing about this trend for years. What I wonder is, is this a problem that will solve itself. The Boomer generation will retire/die off/pass on their wealth over the next twenty or so years. Their children (numerically smaller) and that generation’s children will inherit the resources, the balance of those resources(housing, jobs) will swing in favour of those generations making larger families more possible. Spain which is demographically similar to Italy had a population of 25 million in ’38, and was on it’s knees economically. It grew to around 40 million today. What I’m saying is I think commentators underestimate the ability of populations to regenerate themselves when economic circumstances improve somewhat as they (fingers crossed) will..

  • Thucydides

    We had better get into Italy quickly and rescue the cultural treasures of Rome and the Renaissance before the barbarians occupy the land and despoil everything.

  • Captain Dg

    @ mark a
    While I take the demographic threat seriously I too hold out hope because the arrow swings both ways. And while culturally, genetically Italians may fade, humanity has a way of filling in the gaps. Cold comfort for ‘Italians’ but might offer hope to North Africans.

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