A friend of mine, after 12 years in Italy, culminating in a terrific position as Managing Director of a major multinational firm, just left for the USA. Having been ‘restructured’ out of his job, his only options, according to the headhunters over here, was to join the multitudes and go into business for himself. Those same multitudes who hiccup from client to client, often going unpaid after delivering thousands in work performed and who live lives of freelancers, free being the operative word.
In fact, time and again, we are regaled by reports of the thousands of managers and researchers, academics and attorneys who have sterling careers, make discoveries and open restaurants the world over. That is not to say that Italy doesn’t have excellent talent right at home. It’s just that combined with limited mobility, those same managers often calcify like trees in petrified forests doing the same job that they had great talent in, but unable to bring in new blood or advance in any way. Combined with the lesser-talented and usually incompetent ‘figli d’arte’ taking over daddy’s place, well, you soon discover that in Italy, the ladder to success is missing a few rungs and is perched precariously in quicksand.
There are many many successes here that prove the rule, like the orphan turned mega-industrialist at the helm of Luxottica, and Armani, & even the Benettons. But take one look at the umpteen thousands of small-business owners who ply away at their trade, you start to wonder how many Bill Gates’ or Anita Roddicks there might have been had they simply been born somewhere else. Head to the even more precarious ‘freelancers’, and the wasted talent is unparalleled. I once met an optimistic young woman who managed to even get a position (as a sort of unpaid gopher at Cinecittà), before taking the courageous step to run off to India, where she was given huge opportunities to work in high-tech surroundings and be part of the team producing a movie a day.
A photographer friend in Rome gets all her work from Spain. The visually talented Italians almost all end up in Hollywood to give us some of the greatest films ever seen on celluloid. Even Andrea Boccelli is more popular in America than in his own country.
And this does not include the multitudes of foreigners who trade off the Italian quality of life for a huge huge part of their earnings potential in jobs well below their acumen, professionality and talent.
Meanwhile, the black market thrives, but those wily entrepreneurs can’t (or won’t) come out of hiding to avoid the exorbitant taxes, labor laws, politician-client privilege, and a host of other deadly sins.
What would Italy really look like if the powers that be finally admitted defeat, and stopped insisting that there was an ‘Italian Way” out. Just think, unlike Japan or China, they wouldn’t even have to commit hari-kari for it. Italians are quite compassionate in these things.
It would launch a true Renaissance.