One of the nice things about blogging is that the genre allows one to write about anything and everything that seems important. Politics is important and, in the United States, we are in an election year. As usual, almost everything that is said for political consumption is either tasteless or tastes too good to be true. Speaking the truth is an ideal that almost no one adheres to. The lone partial exception is Ron Paul (by pointing this out, I am not thereby endorsing him). The best piece of political commentary I have read in the past year was penned by Nicola Rossi (b. 1951), one of the few Italian politicians worth hearing out. Every country, I would hope, has one or two politicians with a capacity for self-criticism, the rest being scoundrels, deludeds, or poppycocks.
The title of Rossi’s op-ed: "The Failure of a Generation." Rossi is an economist with little interest in partisan politics. He is, politically speaking, "senza dimora fissa" - with no place to lay his head. On the occasion of his resignation from the Italian Senate, he chose to take stock of his own generation. I translate in full:
Resignation from the Senate, as I have chosen to do, can be understood – contrary to what many people believe – as a decisively political act. That’s because, if only for a moment, it forces the political class to take stock of itself and its own attitudes. One attitude more than others concerns me, the attitude toward the younger generations.
I will try to explain. The average Italian who had the adventure of being 20 years old in the early 1930s – my father, for example, one among many – experienced for a great part of his life (up until he was 50 or so) a diet 35% less rich in calories than the generation which preceded his. The fault of the war, certainly, but also of the illusion of self-sufficiency (autarchy) of the regime. In the United States and in the United Kingdom, during the period of industrialization, the average height of the population (an index of prosperity almost as important as that of nutrition) perceptibly diminished. In the case of the United States, the average reduction in height between 1830 and 1890 was 4 centimeters; in England the period of decline lasted for a century, beginning in the second half of the 1700s. In both cases, the decline in average height was due at least in part to the urbanization that accompanied the process of industrialization in the two countries. The cities of the epoch were characterized by high mortality rates, endemic sicknesses, overcrowding and therefore rapid contagion, few if any systems of sanitation (no municipal sewer system and no access to drinkable water), not to mention high prices (relative to the ones we know) for fresh and nutritious foods. More recent Italian history offers similar examples; an instructive example concerns the height of Lombards in the second half of the 1700s, which declined ca. 3 centimeters between 1735 and 1835.
My goal is simple: to furnish a few examples capable of giving the lie to one of the many fables that has been believed and professed on the Left in particular: the ingenuous and misleading idea that the evolution of humanity is to be considered a linear process whose interruptions are to be thought of as anomalies. I'm sorry, but that is not the way it is. It never has been. It has often been the case that a generation has experienced levels of economic prosperity inferior to those of precedent generations. Young people today are not the first and will not be the last to have this experience.
The way ahead for them is the same one that many before them have had to take in order to climb the hill: that of rolling up their sleeves, of studying and working better and harder in order to reconquer the lost levels of economic prosperity, of accepting reality and confronting it with eyes wide open, altering it if necessary and where possible. Without wasting a single second listening to the many who – with a hypocritical show of pity – commiserate over the current conditions of the younger generations. Without however forgetting that, in their case, there is an anomaly. The true anomaly concerns the generation that preceded theirs. By and large a generation made up - I can think of no more effective image – of locusts. Politicians – on the Right and on the Left – have done whatever they could to make it impossible (and they succeeded!) to give to younger generations less uncertain prospects and now, given that those same young people are now voters, are the first to show lively concern for their fortunes. Union leaders who betrayed their mission by giving to those who already have by taking away from those who do not yet have. Armchair journalists who see the problem only when it is too late to address it. Adults, men and women, of the Right and of the Left who for two decades did not hesitate to consume whatever there was, and, especially, whatever there wasn't: the same generation that today looks at younger generations with damp eyes and considers them an unfortunate exception.
To the new season of uncertainty, the political class ought to have responded, not with metanarratives but with policies (politics in the proper sense): reforming, for example, the state’s role in society such that it insures against risks that are otherwise uninsurable and such that it is freed from the burden of activities that by now belong to the market sphere. To be sure, in place of the effort to understand the nature of the new risks and construct new forms of insurance it is always possible to take the shortcut of stopgap measures in favor of the precariously employed and continue to make use of the public sector as the employer of last resort. In this way however one merely ends up swapping out the risks and uncertainties of the market for the extreme and intolerable arbitrariness that is typical of politics.
Nicola Rossi, Senator, Democratic Party
The original in Italian is all over the net, for example, at Pietro Ichino’s place here.