Saturday, September 15

The Big Kahuna

Now, everyone knows that it was the Greeks who gave us the true democratic system; with votes and senators, and probably perks of special gymnasiums and private chariots. But, it was the Romans who somehow managed to get that system down pat: running it fairly successfully (with a strong Defense Ministry, I might add) from Tunisia to Great Britain.

Given what we know about Italian politics today, 33 Governments in the last 50 years, most of the success stories in the centuries prior came from despots or dictators, not to mention a few miserable monarchs, well, one could make a strong case that politicians, don't do such a swell job of it.

And so, when we discover that Italy’s politicians are the best-paid in Europe, the Business Manager in me comes out: it’s like paying out golden parachutes to guys who have not only run the entire company into the ground, but, overseen the merger that put it out of business altogether.
And, Italian politicians don’t even bother with the golden parachutes; they’re quite happy with their platinum handcuffs, thank you very much. In fact, their decrepit senators for life seem to hang on to those positions for a very long lifetime. Now I know why Italy has such a long life expectancy.

Italy’s Prime Minister Prodi is so proud of his country’s success as an economic miracle (when you toss in the black market, the rampant tax evasion, and the mafia-controlled parts of the country), that he actually makes three times that of France’s Sarkozy. Perhaps that’s some sort of premium for having to work in a 'hardship placement' in the first place.
His office loves to say well, he’s dropped his salary by 30%…well, if he hadn’t, he’d be making more than Leader of the Free World. Russia, for all its faults, has moved to a capitalist system -- with Putin’s salary, a mere 1/4 of Prodi’s. You begin to wonder who is handling the world’s nuclear power, manning dozens of borders, defense, a war in Chechnya, the oil oligarchs, their own mafia, kgb and of course, keeping it all together while offing the opposition and pesky journalists along the way.

But this spending for good work is not limited to the powers that be: the Parliament barber does such a good job, he’s paid 130.000 euro per year (that’s over $180,000) – isn’t baldness rampant in Mediterranean populations? – according to the Espresso magazine article, that amounts to more than a magistrate with 13 years in service. An accounting dept clerk makes more than the President of the Republic. The stenographers, who obviously need enough money to supply themselves with large cups of Starbucks daily just to sit through the sessions are rewarded along the likes of Enron executives: 253,700 euro/year – that’s $352.643 which could buy you a lot of treatments for your carpal tunnel. Too bad in Italy, that’s paid for from the public coffers too.

Prodi’s office has responded with stating that these are all true professionals, with tremendous experience, who bother to show up each day: “professionalit√†, presenze, esperienza”. With these qualifications, doormen should be making more than the head of Exxon.

The whole thing is as if, since Garibaldi rode ram shod over all of the petty fiefdoms that once demarked the boot, uniting the country in only 1867, that they simply replaced those same monarchs with parliamentary seats, their courts with a new kind of courtier, the privileges, with private planes, cell phones, gyms and apartments; every modern convenience that the modern age could supply.

And yet, as the saying goes, Italy works not because of its government, but despite its government. But from where I sit, it would appear Italy is its government.

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