Thursday, March 30, 2006

Does Italy Need an Army of Bureaucrats?

"Papa, what did you do in the service?"
"Kept Italians safe and secure from prosperity, son."

Italy’s election campaign is winding down. The International Herald Tribune has a desultory piece on it, with the usual information about the unwillingness to embrace reform, along with some confirmation that my prediction of imminent intergenerational electoral conflict, in which the old outvote the young to prevent economic reform that the young desperately need, has now come to pass. But I did learn one thing. The candidate of the mainstream left, former European Commission proconsul Romano Prodi, has proposed that young Italians be required to work in the civil service for six months (just as many nations require military service):

Simone Baldelli, who heads the youth movement of Berlusconi's Forza Italia, is also running for Parliament in the Marches region. In a telephone interview, he dismissed fears about job instability as "leftist propaganda and pessimism" and defended Berlusconi's labor reforms as "opening new opportunities in Italy."

He blamed past governments for today's problems.

"We're still paying the price of the promises made by the generation that came out of 1968 - promises of secure, well-paid and creative employment - that cannot be maintained," Baldelli said. "That's an unrealistic dream machine. The truth is that people want concrete proposals."

In the rush before the elections April 9, both coalitions seem to be reaching out to young voters, at least on the streets. Last weekend, the National Alliance, the second-largest party in Berlusconi's coalition, held a rally, complete with rock bands, in the center of Milan, and mocked Prodi's plan to require a six-month civil service stint for all young Italians.

It is a tough call whether Italy or Germany has the worst case of the European sickness – that toxic brew of demographic collapse, an achievement-destroying welfare state and labor market, and the resulting desperate need for immigrants combined with profound hostility to same. (Ireland is surely the country most free of this disorder.) But that Mr. Prodi thinks that the solution is an army of conscripted temporary bureaucrats is surely a sign of how far the Italian left has traveled from the reality space that the rest of us inhabit. He would do better to propose that "all young Italians" be given a two-year exemption from having to pay any employment taxes or face any hiring restrictions for any businesses they start. But of course that is (a more extreme version of) what Mr. de Villepin has proposed in France, and look where it has gotten him.


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