Monday, 21 November 2011

Beauty over capability. Can the rich culture of Italy save the country?

Italy under Berlusconi is a country of beauty.  There is a joke that he has transformed the country into a place of pretty girls, handsome men and entertainment - a mini culture revolution of placing beauty over capability, intelligence, and quality. When people are looking for jobs, the interviewers will first consider their ‘looks’ and their competency, capability, intelligence and suitability become secondary. 

Berlusconi with his playboy character has transformed Italy into a ‘face’ looking country. People are learning soft skills and want to appear in the televisions (some controlled by him), entertainment circle, to get famous quick and some have lost their interested in study and work.  It will need to take time sometimes to ‘correct’ the culture change under Berlusconi government. 

Few years ago, I also heard of another 2 jokes about Italy. The first one is about who are Italians. When you are in Milan, anyplace in Milan is Italy.  When you move a little south and come to Bologna, people there will tell you, anywhere in Bologna and above is Italy.  When you are in Rome, then anywhere in Rome and above is Italy.  Then it stops there.  This show how the country is divided into the industrialized north and rural south.  And the northerners only consider the industrialized north as Italy

There other joke is about productivity and efficiency.  Many Italians, especially those from the north, will tell you the best airline in Italy is Lufthansa – the German airline.  What an insult!  For international traveling, they will go to Frankfurt.  And they call Alitalia an airline of always later.   

Rich culture is not enough

The Italian language is a beautiful language, so do the culture – the home of Renascence.  This could be a burden, just like building a metro system in Rome; it will take decades to build a short distance of rail road because there are plenty of treasures underground.

But the rich culture also gives the strength to the country, just like the never ending underground economy. The Italian underground economy can be as big as 20-30% of the GDP. So, it is much bigger than the GDP of Greece, Portugal or Ireland.   And this part of the economy is used to pay high interest, much higher than the current bond yield that Italy is paying in the international market.

One of the new measures to solve Italian debt crisis is to limit the cash transactions to 2500 euro. This is to prevent tax evasion but also a measure to tackle the issue of underground economy.  But like in the past, some innovative business models will appear again.

The rich culture has given Italians some edges in creative and innovative industries. So does their economy of operating in a smaller scale to prevent labour and tax issues. But all these are not enough to make Italy a great country again.

Beyond a weak link and be a leader

Mario Monti, the new Italian Prime Minister, said Italy will not be a weak link in Euro zone economy. He should aim higher than that.  Italy must aim to be the leading state in Europe even though it is not possible to repeat the history of Roman Empire

At least, Italy must be a leader not a follower in some areas if not all.

Let’s look at an example in the Spring-autumn period in Chinese history – the story of Guanzhong as Prime Minister of Qi state (管仲相齐).  Qi is one of the many states in the ancient period.  Qi is a rundown state when the new King takes over the country. Guanzhong is from the political opposite side. However, the King decides to appoint Guanzhong as Prime Minster.

In the very first meeting, the King wants to test the intelligence of Guanzhong and asks him to come with solutions to solve the state’s problems.  Instead of giving answers, Guanzhong asks about the ambition of the King.  The question is:

“Does Qi want to be a leading state in the middle land?”

The King (齐桓公)hesitates and so Guanzhong walks out of the meeting. When the King realizes the importance of the question, he quickly rushes to Guanzhong and invites him back and appoints him as the Prime Minister.

Qi state under 齐桓公 is one of 5 recognized leading states in the Sprint-autumn period. Confucius has given very high respect to Guanzhong – the status of protector of Chinese culture and civilization. Without Guanzhong, there is no possibility to prevent the invasion of northern barbarians.  

Let’s hope Mr. Monti can aim higher and make Italy a strong link of Europe instead. 

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