Good Italy Bad Italy, Why Italy Must Conquer Its Demons to Face the Future by Bill Emmott, Yale University Press, 2012, ISBN 13: 978-0300186307, 304 pp., $19.78 hardcover, $16.50 Kindle.
Emmott's book might have been titled more appropriately Bad Italy with Some Good Despite all Odds, A Warning of What the West Faces If It Doesn't Get Its Act Together. Emmott, a former editor-in-chief of The Economist and a regular columnist for The Times in London, is also the author of Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan will Shape our Next Decade. Readers of The Economist will feel right at home with Emmott's journalistic account of what ails Italy today and how the last two decades, particularly during Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's nine years in power, failed to address the underlying problems that brought about the earlier financial crisis of 1992-94.
While Emmott salts the book with success stories to show Italy does have pockets of success, and even excellence, I found these examples unpersuasive as counterbalances to all the bad he details. It's good to know that Ferraro candy maker employs 22,000 people in 18 factories around the world and Luxottica, the world's top eyewear company, employs 60,000 people worldwide. But why wouldn't the eighth largest economy in the world boast successful enterprises like these?
Particularly underwhelming were his accounts of social movements attempting to cut down on the payment of protection money to local gangsters and, even more challenging, take on the mafia. Even Emmott, while giving the good folks engaged in these efforts a lot of ink and credit for their courageous work, admits that these groups are barely making headway in tackling these endemic drags on Italy's success. In fact, he notes that Italy's mafias continue to thrive and grow despite demonstrations and arrests of leaders.
Emmott points out that Italy began the latest world debt crisis with conservative banks, high rate of household savings, and a large and impressive manufacturing sector, all factors that set it apart from the European economies under initial attack. He then goes on to explain that none of this saved Italy--with its public debt at 120% of its annual gross domestic product and minimal growth--from onerous bond costs. It has joined Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain as a source of concern in the Eurozone. But, as the world's eighth largest economy, and the third largest in the Euro area, Italy is too big to...