In the sweltering summer of 2019, Italy is one again riddled by profound contradictions. On one hand, its economy is stagnant, with a growth rate of zero or slightly above, despite the forecasts of PM Giuseppe Conte, who just a few months ago was talking about ‘a great year’, and former minister Paolo Savona, who predicted growth of 2%. On the other, it is subject to a ‘growth decree’ that makes vague promises while actually further paralysing the country and drawing criticism from both Confindustria (the Italian employers’ federation) and the trade unions. On one hand, the government is coming down heavily on businesses. Deputy PM Luigi Di Maio’s attacks on Atlantia – which he declared would go ‘bust’ in an open market – and Ilva are just the most recent examples of this. They provoked strong responses from Assolombarda chairman Carlo Bonomi, who said, ‘Businesses can no longer be blackmailed by those in power,’ and Confindustria chairman Vicenza Luciano Vescovi, who said, ‘The government’s management of its industrial policy is disastrous.’ On the other hand, Italy needs to get international investment to increase if it wants to revive its economy. Italy is bipolar when it comes to investment. ‘The country itself attracts foreign investors but its politics can scare them off,’ claims Ferruccio de Bortoli in the 1 July edition of Corriere della Sera‘s L’Economia.  On the one hand, there is Northern Italy. Even in times of crisis, it continues to strengthen its increasingly close relationship with the beating heart of Europe. The awarding of the Winter Olympics to Milan and Cortina is just the latest example of this. Meanwhile, the South limps on, beset by growing poverty, the black market, delusions about a basic income and ties to old and new faces.

But there is another contradiction that is even more dramatic, because it affects the future of the country negatively. Although the employment situation for young people is precarious and often lacking, companies are offering skilled jobs but cannot find more than 200,000 people able or willing to respond. And, even worse, there are the young people that have given up and are neither in work or higher education, and the ones that have left Italy, and the South in particular, to seek new and better working and living conditions abroad.

Recent data show just how much these concerning trends are prevalent among the younger generations. On 28 June, Eurostat published statistics on Italy’s NEET rate, for young people neither in employment education or training, awarding the country the lowest score in the EU. 28.9% of young Italians between 20 and 34 neither study or work. That’s just over one in four. A social disaster (that we already touched on in last week’s blog in relation to Niccolò Zancan’s appropriately titled book Uno su quattro. Storie di ragazzi senza studio né lavoro (One in Four: Stories of Young People Not in Work or Education, Laterza). It is the worst figure in Europe, almost double the European average. The average in the EU is 16.5%, in the Eurozone 17.2%. After us is Greece, at 26.8%. The big European powers, France and Germany, are a long way behind. According to the Eurostat data, things are slightly better in Italy than last year, when the NEET rate was 29.5%. But this minor statistical improvement does not indicate any reversal in a very serious trend that has been developing for some time. What is needed is serious public and private investment in training, an inclusive culture and society, and rebuilding general confidence in the possibility of a better future. The exact opposite of the anti-business and welfarist stances taken by the Government.

Disaffected young people. Brain drain. ‘Invisible young people, second-class citizens,’ writes Ferruccio de Bortoli in Corriere della Sera, commenting on the Bank of Italy data which show that 120,000 Italians moved abroad in 2018, worsening a well-documented and increasingly alarming migratory phenomenon (which we have spoken about several times on these pages). Many of these Italians are young and many are also highly qualified, enterprising, ambitious and determined.

The data for Southern Italy are far worse than the national average. Again according to the Bank of Italy, between 2007 and 2017, net migration from the South towards other regions totalled 480,000 people (roughly the equivalent of half the population of Palermo). 193,000 of these were graduates, 165,000 of whom left for Northern regions, looking for better working and living conditions.

In the same period, 300,000 Northern Italians left the country, 69,000 of them graduates. As a result, Milan, Turin, Brescia, Verona and Bologna are also losing intelligence and skills, excellent human capital. Nonetheless, Milan in any case remains strong because of the increasing influx of young people from the South. 28% of engineering graduates are not from Lombardy and this percentage rises to 62.5% for graduates in medicine. This is according to Cineca, the consortium of universities which keeps data on university students.

One more statistic. In terms of attracting talent and highly specialised workers with master’s degrees or doctorates, Italy is fourth last among OECD countries, ahead only of Greece, Turkey and Mexico.

In short, Italy is continuing to waste its best resources, namely its young people’s intellect, culture and desire for change. As a result, our economy is flat, stagnant and increasingly unequal between regions and generations.

And the politicians are not doing enough about it. They distribute pensions and basic income, amnesties and subsidies, but they do nothing to guarantee young people a better future. We are becoming an old country (in 25 years one in three Italians will be over 65). But there are no tax, industrial or social policies that invest in innovation, research, training, work or the promotion of social and cultural capital. Generational turnover is sorely lacking, social mobility is not happening. This is true all over Italy, but more so in the South.

The only way to grease the wheels of social mobility is business, even if it is affected by the systemic faults of the economy and the lack of productivity in public services. To compete in demanding, selective markets, they need to hire, develop and promote talented people, regardless of family, racial, religious or cultural restraints. Competitive businesses are responsible and inclusive. They keep the Italian economy and society going. The same businesses which the most anti-industrial government in Italian history continues to rail against day after day.

02/07/2019