There are people suffering from growing discomfort, building up increasingly strong levels of resentment, as the most recent report from Censis reveals. And there are others who don’t give up: they take action, they invest, they innovate and they search to find ways to strengthen even the most fragile communities. This portrait of modern Italy is always contrasting and contradictory. It is possible to appreciate its most essential characteristics in order to achieve greater understanding. Something that should be done by, above all, people involved in politics. What a shame that they are too often busy with other things. And that many of them irresponsibly feed bitterness, rage and yes, resentment, in order to gain more votes, unscrupulous “entrepreneurs of fear”.
In this concise “trip” through the changing moods of different people (rejecting the term “the people”, which gives an air of populism and unsavoury subcultures), we begin with a cartoon and an advertisement. The cartoon is from Altan in the most recent edition of “L’Espresso”. Two men in tracksuits, running. “But where are we going?” asks the first. “How would I know? I’m just one of your followers,” answers the other. Solitude, submissiveness and desperation in the era of the pretend communities of social media.
The advertisement in question opens up different horizons: “No man is an island. And neither is any supermarket.” A strong title on a two-page spread in all the main newpapers. The text continues: “The man who Aristotle defines ‘zoon politikon’, by his very nature tends to unite himself with similar beings in order to create communities. Society, the exchange of ideas, the choices which establish and reinforce common identities, represent the calling of the individual to gravitate towards social life. Or in other words, towards the other”. It continues, concluding that “For those of us who are not an island, understanding comes before selling.” Selling? The company that produced the advert, completely “political” and in no way over the top, is Conad, the supermarket chain, or rather the group of cooperative supermarkets, which has made an asset of its identity through the ideas of sharing, social responsibility, community and “civil economy“, the substance of which is its presence in different regions, in big cities and small towns. In Italy, a country torn, even a supermarket, quoting both Aristotle and a line from the 16th century English poet John Donne (“No man is an island, entire of itself…”), can attempt to heal economic and social fractures. An example of responsible economics to reflect on.
The Italian economy is in recovery, with the 2017 GDP growing beyond the forecasts of the government and international institutions and likely to pass 1.7% (Prime Minister Gentiloni, who has several positive traits relating to balance and intelligent management, is now speaking of growth “close to 2%”), positively influencing 2018. Leading to an increase in investments, exports and jobs. And consumption, of course. And savings as well, to some extent. Yet there are some, like Censis, who for years have been studying to understand the deepests feelings of the Italians, uncovering dissatisfaction, fear and, of course, resentment (the word featured in this year’s report, presented at the start of December).
So what’s going on? Is there an Italy on the move, documented with the expected GDP statistics from ISTAT, or is there the Italy of “perception” in the shadows described by Censis? Is one of these two incorrect?
The answer is simple: Italy has two faces. And despite the money filling certain wallets (mainly in the economically dynamic areas – in Milan, Bologna and the North East, less evident in a Rome ridden with crisis caused by public administration disasters and in the cities and towns of the South), some deep social wounds remain open which naturally the economic recovery cannot quickly fix: the rift of the generational pact (our children will have a worse life than us and the knowledge of this is causing distress in tens of thousands of families), the crisis of traditional jobs under the pressure of the digital economy, the blockage in social mobility (a huge percentage of young people are afraid of not being able to improve their status and income, not even through education) and the feeling of general insecurity made worse by an ageing population (elderly people who are alone, bewildered and insecure, in cities perceived as hostile, in neighbourhoods increasingly inhabited by social and cultural groups from radically different worlds).
In a changing Italy, insecurity prevails over hope. Good politics would help, to reconstruct a virtuous circle of positive expectations and give renewed space to trust. We can but hope that the moment of virtuous politicians instead of populist windbags has arrived. And that the good currency of trust is able to checkmate the perverse currency of fear.
Other social players are flourishing. Family businesses, for example. Open to innovation and “managerial” change: in the generational transition from founder to children, there are more and more examples of the property and strategies remaining within the family while capable executives are trusted with day-to-day management. Thus ensuring development, solidity and a future for the business. This was confirmed in a recent piece of research from the Catholic University of Milan (“Il Sole 24 Ore. 3 December”), which produced evidence of the initiatives of AIDAF, the Italian Association of Family Business directed by Elena Zambon, head of Zambon, a group of pharmeceutical companies with solid Italian roots and an international vision. These business are the engine of balanced economic growth, with a robust sense of both innovation and welfare, a relationship with the local regions and the responsiblity of growth. A positive business culture. With no regrets or resentment. No business is an island…