x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Italians can blame their ancestors for forcing so many of them to emigrate

Adriano Farano Italy's main problem is not Silvio Berlusconi — it is the entrenched gerontocracy, nepotism and anti-meritocratic behaviour.

Antonio is an Italian friend who works in information technology.

In his 30s, he already had a job that, in Italy, normally would go only to a person of at least 45.

Tired of trying to prove to his clients he deserved his position, he grew a beard and dyed it grey.

In the US, by contrast, the late Steve Jobs co-founded Apple when he was just 21.

That anecdote is worth bearing in mind as Italy and Europe look beyond Silvio Berlusconi's rococo leadership that ended with his resignation from the premiership this month. Italy's main problem is not Mr Berlusconi - it is entrenched gerontocracy, nepotism and anti-meritocratic behaviour. Italians are at once the perpetrators and victims of this stalemate.

I did not leave my country in 2000 because of Mr Berlusconi (who was out of office at the time). And none of the 90,000 people who leave Italy every year - almost a million in the past decade, according to the NGO Migrantes, from a country of 60 million - make that decision for political reasons.

We leave because Italy is a stagnant country, especially for its youth. According to data by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 90 per cent of Italians under 24 live at home with their parents, while 28 per cent of young people are unemployed - well above the average of 17 per cent in other developed countries.

The reasons for high youth unemployment are well known.

According to an Italian chambers of commerce study, half of working Italians got their jobs through family or social connections.

Certainly, introductions are important everywhere in finding a job, but in the US or the UK networking circles are comparatively open, and merit is still the main reason for recruiting someone. Not in Italy. When I was 21, I could not find partners or investors for the multilingual news outlet that I had created, CafeBabel.com, primarily because no one in Rome could "recommend" a Neapolitan like me.

So, in 2001, I left for France. I found the doors wide open in Paris. The entrepreneurial ecosystem is even more welcoming in California's Silicon Valley, where I co-founded this year a company developing publishing tools for smartphones and tablets.

My life as an entrepreneur would have been a nightmare had I stayed in Italy. The World Bank ranks my country 87th for ease of doing business, far behind the US (fourth), France (29th) and even Botswana (54th). This reflects a Kafka-esque bureaucracy, a high level of organised crime and corruption, and a conservative business culture.

These are not problems Italian politics can magically fix. They have roots that extend to Italy's founding in the 19th-century Risorgimento, which unified the Italian peninsula. The newly-established Italian government levied ever-increasing taxes, sent troops abroad and obliged young people to spend five years in the army of a country they did not know. All of this engendered strong suspicion of the Italian state and tax evasion, as well as organised crime. With the Italian establishment commemorating 150 years of unity this year, ordinary Italians know there is little to celebrate. Unification is no longer an issue, but the problems it caused continue to burden the country.

That is why, according to the latest surveys, an estimated 70 per cent of Italians who live abroad do not plan to return, and why half the country's youth harbour dreams of leaving.

Adriano Farano, an entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley, is the co-founder of Tactilize

* Project Syndicate

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