Learnings from Italy

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Next day we drove onto Conegliano (home of Prosecco wine) to stay with Roger’s good friend, Anita, whom he has known since 1988. Anita is an American Italian who grew up in New York but has lived and run her own business in Italy for many years. It was pouring the next day (Saturday) so over a long lunch, Anita told us the current woes of Italy:

Italy has been in recession since 2008. The banks are about to collapse. The house prices are stagnant or falling and are increasingly hard to sell. Many industries are collapsing. Italian manufacturing has suffered badly from offshore outsourcing. The car industry is in the doldrums. Fiat has only been saved by outsourcing a lot of the manufacturing to third world countries.

On a more positive note, the fashion and wine industries are holding up. Conegliano is the heart of the Prosecco industry which is booming. But corporate Italy has collapsed, and now the backbone of the Italian economy, the family businesses are also becoming uncompetitive, due to high employer taxes and outdated and uncompetitive labour laws.

There is to be a referendum on 4th December about changing the constitution, to make it easier to pass legislation. The two houses of Parliament have equal power and it’s very difficult to pass new laws. The government is desperate to reform the labour laws to make Italy more competitive, but Anita thinks it’s unlikely that the referendum will succeed. The Italians don’t like change and everyone wants to hang on to the dream of yesteryear when industries were subsidised by the state and people had jobs for life.

Anita says it’s impossible to hire people to work for her company part-time. She either has to recruit them as full time employees and pay lots of tax or not at all.

She describes Italy as a poor country full of rich people. The Italians are wedded to their mobile phones, cars and the clothes they wear. They also spend lots on drugs in pharmacies. Pharmacies are mostly small and entrepreneurial.

The school kids only work from 7am to 1pm each day, so they can go home for a cooked lunch! They  also work Sat mornings and have 3 and a half months summer holidays, which makes it very hard for working mothers. They need their grandparents to help them out, which explains why many mothers don’t move.

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