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  • Italy's Economy Is in Trouble
    Italians abroad have lots to say about how the homeland can change its ways and start getting serious about its finances
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Recently, the ratings agency Standards and Poor's demoted Italy's debt outlook from stable to negative because of the country's lack of growth and the government's inability to reduce borrowing. In addition, the industrialist association Confindustria condemned the country for being unable to wake up the lethargic economy, according to the Associated Press. This round of bad news had many an Italian concerned about his own wallet. Even Italians who are stationed in other parts of the world, such as the United States and Australia, were wondering aloud what would happen to the value of money and property they have in Italy.

    One Wall Street Journal writer from Italy described frantic, middle-of-the-night phone calls from friends and relatives who wanted to know what to do with their financial portfolio in light of the dramatic news. While the near future is anything but bright for Italy's economy, the experts are not quite throwing in the towel yet. And those Italians in the United States had lots of say about how the country could get back on its feet. Here are some of the suggestions I heard from friends and family (who, I should mention, know the south of Italy far better than the north):

    1. Take shorter vacations.
    Italians, much like their counterparts in other parts of Europe (hello France), are known to have some of the longest vacation times in the world. If an employee takes off for a month at a time, he is not working. That means lost profit and less growth.

    2. Start hiring people, even immigrants.
    Unemployment is a big problem in Italy right now, and it was brought up by many of economists who commented on the country's lackluster economy. Part of the problem is that immigration is growing in Italy, and the country still doesn't know what to do with immigrants. Frankly, immigrants are a great opportunity for growth. Just think about the United States during it's great waves of immigration. Both times, although they had to struggle at first, Italians among others were able to build up the country while building up beautiful lives. There must be a place for such immigrants in today's Italy.

    3. Spend some money.
    Whenever these warnings come up, the Italians hang onto their money as if parting with it could kill them. While it's smart to be prudent, especially when the economy is down, you have to spend a little to make a little. The country's economy will never grow if the money does not circulate. Get to shopping, Italians! You all seem to want to do a lot of shopping when you're dealing in dollars in the United States. Give some of that back to your own country.

    4. Stop supporting the black market.
    Unfortunately, the mafia (for lack of another word that covers all the various criminal worlds in Italy at the moment) still controls lots of business in Italy. With all that money being handed over under the table sans tax, the government and legitimate business are missing out on their piece of the pie. It's illegal, there should be more of a crackdown, and the people should realize just how harmful it is to the greater community on so many different levels.

    5. End the nepotism.
    Everyplace you go, you'll find that knowing people helps you get a foot in the door. But as Americans know, in the States, nepotism is banned or outlawed in certain places and there are still lots of people who climb the ladder of the success by working hard and proving themselves. In Italy, at least in the south, many jobs, especially prestigious ones, are impossible to get if you don't have some sort of in with the people in charge. This system, which is strong in some places, takes away the motivation and ambition of young people. It's making for an immature and disenfranchised youth, who will have to bring Italy into the future.

    Will these five ideas save Italy's economy? Probably not. There's a lot more to the sluggish economy and outrageous debt than these suggestions. But they would make a small step in changing the culture, which could somewhat benefit the economy in the long term. These are the first things that come to mind when you talk to Italians living abroad about money and their homeland.

    Di Meglio is the Guide to Newlyweds for, and you can follow her life and work on the Two Worlds Web site.

    Article Published 5/31/2011


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