Starting November 17th, San Francisco will be home to a series of events about Italian music, food, cinema, and opera. There will be an opportunity...
As part of “Italy Tech Week” that has just successfully taken place in the Bay Area, acclaimed Italian journalist and writer Federico Rampini has come back to San Francisco to present his latest book "Non ci possiamo più mermettere uno Stato sociale. Falso!" (We Cannot Afford a Welfare State: Wrong!).
Rampini, a U.S. based journalist and La Repubblica bureau chief, was involved in a stimulating conversation with moderator Massimo Arrigoni, currently CEO of MailUp, Inc., and involved with Early Impact, BAIA, and Mind the Bridge Foundation, as well as Sean Randolph , President of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.
The evening, hosted by the Italian Cultural Institute, drew a high attendance by the community, which has always numbered in the hundreds since Rampini’s first experience as a correspondent of La Repubblica in San Francisco ten years ago.
The book presentation was introduced by the welcoming words of Paolo Barlera, Director of the Cultural Institute, and Consul General of Italy Mauro Battocchi, who remembered the importance of welfare and healthcare in this period of change for European Union, and how the ideas of sustainable development and social protection are key policy concepts of the current U.S. administration.
In this book, one of the best selling in Italy last year, Federico Rampini focuses on the concept of welfare state and expresses his antithesis to the general idea of a European decline, which has become a misconception in the US. In fact, according to public opinion, welfare is nowadays an unbearable model for Europe and Italy, a luxury that they cannot afford anymore.
When asked how he first conceived the concept for his book, Rampini said that there were two main reasons, both strongly autobiographical.
First, he conceived the idea of this social analysis during last U.S. presidential campaign, that he personally followed while reporting for Italian press. He decided to challenge the widespread stereotype of Europe as the old continent of stagnation, while supporting other criticism as the one moved by President Obama to the heavy measures of austerity adopted by E.U.
The second autobiographic aspect regards anecdotal events of his own professional life, as a former citizen in Italy, France and United States, several years in San Francisco and currently in New York.
He “meddled in his own affairs,” realizing how tax burdens of his American life were not so low compared to the ones of the places he lived before. In Italy, taxation is higher, but the U.S. doesn’t provide healthcare. “It’s not part of the bargain,” he said, “…or free education, even if S.F. offers good public schools, and in many cities there’s no even public transportation.” That’s why Rampini asked himself, “Where is this superiority of the American model?”
He also explained how, when speaking of the European welfare state, it’s important to consider strong nations such as Germany, or the Scandinavians countries. These are the countries with highest salary, low labor costs, tight regulations and generous welfare benefits, including all entitlements and education.
According to “happiness satisfaction index” taken from studies that Massimo Arrigoni mentioned, people in Northern Europe are very happy and satisfied with their quality of life. Rampini mentioned that Scandinavians also enjoy a better social mobility than the US.
He noted that Italy has grown as one of the most unequal countries in Europe, reaching almost the same American levels of social disparity.
Nevertheless, the “caricature made of the European countries,” together with the given idea of excessive healthcare services provided, is the evidence of sheer ignorance publicized during the last political campaign, with the consequence that people don’t really know about Europe.
Moderator Arrigoni decided it was time to add a tech aspect to the conversation, and remembered how the world wide web was invented twenty years ago. He then asked the Italian author, also a successful blogger and active social networks user, his opinion about the subtle connection existing between democracy and internet.
Rampini said that to his thinking, the internet has probably made everything faster and more complicated. A clear example within the Italian society is the success received by the “Five Star Movement” of former comedian Beppe Grillo who, using only the web, created a wide network of supporters and a strong political consent in less than three years, becoming the party receiving the most votes during last elections.
On the other hand, Rampini believes that sometimes the free use of the internet leads to the creation of conspiracy theories. For instance, at some point during the last electoral campaign, one third of Republican voters thought that Obama was a Muslim. The fact is that “people go to the internet for their information,” finding support for their own convictions.
“Jeffrey Isaac, mentioned in the book, says the reason of social problems is a cultural issue. If it is, what is the solution?”
Sure enough, Federico Rampini deeply agrees to highlight the importance of cultural aspects in his analysis. To find the rational motive of what doesn’t work in Italy, he says, we have to go to cultural roots. Indeed “all economic index of one third of the territories are at the same level, but another third makes us different. When you have low social capital, because your neighbors are not doing the same as you, you have to pay the fair share not paid from everyone”.
The author also identified low collective confidence as the main reason why the majority of Italians voted against Berlusconi last February, as the non-acceptance of the existing social capital, political corruption and economic waste.
Finally, Rampini was questioned by Sean Randolph on how Europe can sustain or calibrate the level of social service.
He believes that Italy has done a good pension reform, but still immigration regulations are inappropriate for a country like Italy, that has become a nation of immigration in the last years. In fact, “Italy is also losing a rich tax base because many immigrants are relegated to black economy, not contributing to pension system,” he said.
“The best welfare system in Italy is still the family, even if a bigger percentage of the population is under the level of poverty.”
During the Q&A at the end of the night, Federico Rampini explained how, in his book, he takes a clear position against the austerity policies adopted in the E.U., which have had the effect of manufacturing a second recession.
Nevertheless, he illustrated to his readers that neither Europe nor Italy are the place of hopeless stagnation that are commonly portrayed in the American society. On the contrary, they are active countries with an important social model. The “brain drain” phenomena for example, shows how many bright minds come here to have their programs or research funded, confirming the attractiveness of a place as California but also the good education provided by our school system.
Thanks to Rampini’s expertise and valuable knowledge, we can still believe that the European social model is by far one of the most successful ever, on the basis of its strong ethical values and great intuitions on which Europe itself was imagined.