Entrepreneurs in Italy

Italy_Venice_Misc_Signs

Photo of a Chinese restaurant in Venice by Peter Vistonay found here: http://www.earth-photography.com/Countries/Italy/Italy_Venice_Misc_Signs.html

from this convo between Tyler Cowen and Italian economist Luigi Zingales:

COWEN: Here’s an article from Quartz. Let me read you the headline. Maybe you saw it from a few months ago. “The most common surnames of new entrepreneurs in Italy are Hu, Chen, and Singh.” If you look at Milan, you have to go through 20 names, and at number 20 is the Italian name Colombo for the most common or most frequent names of entrepreneurs.

Is this sustainable culturally, or is this Italy’s future, in essence, to be economically colonized the way parts of Southeast Asia have been by Chinese, Indians, Sikhs, whoever it may be. Maybe Germans.

ZINGALES: One friend of mine was saying that the demise of the Italian firm family structure is the demise of the Italian family. In essence, when you used to have seven kids, one out of seven in the family was smart. You could find him. You could transfer the business within the family with a little bit of meritocracy and selection.

When you’re down to one or two kids, the chance that one is an idiot is pretty large. The result is that you can’t really transfer the business within the family. The biggest problem of Italy is actually fertility, in my view, because we don’t have enough kids. If you don’t have enough kids, you don’t have enough people to transfer. You don’t have enough young people to be dynamic.

Here’s more from Luigi, predicting the coming of Trump and comparing him to Italy’s Berlusconi:

Trump and Berlusconi are remarkably alike. They are both billionaire businessmen who claim that the government should be run like a business. They are both gifted salesmen, able to appeal to the emotions of their fellow citizens. They are both obsessed with their looks, with their hair (or what remains of it), and with sexy women. Their gross manners make them popular, perhaps because people think that if these guys could become billionaires, anyone could. Most important is that both Trump and Berlusconi made their initial fortunes in real estate, an industry where connections and corruption often matter as much as, or more than, talent and hard work. Indeed, while both pretend to stand for free markets, what they really believe in is what most of us would label crony capitalism.

Berlusconi’s policies have been devastating to Italy. He has been prime minister for eight of the last ten years, during which time the Italian per-capita GDP has dropped 4 percent, the debt-to-GDP ratio has increased from 109 percent to 120 percent, and taxes have increased from 41.2 percent to 43.4 percent. Italy’s score in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom has dropped from 63 to 60.3, and in the World Economic Forum Index of Competitiveness from 4.9 to 4.37. Berlusconi’s tenure has also been devastating for free-market ideas, which now are identified with corruption.

How can such a pro-business prime minister wreak havoc on the economy and on the idea of free markets? Because “pro-business” doesn’t necessarily mean “pro-market.” While the two agendas sometimes coincide—as in the case of protecting property rights—they’re often at odds. Market competition threatens established firms, which often use their political muscle to restrict new entries into their industry, strengthening their positions but putting customers at a disadvantage. A pro-market strategy, by contrast, aims to encourage the best business conditions for everyone. That’s in fact the opposite of what a real-estate tycoon wants: to keep competitors out and enhance the value of his own properties. By capturing (or more precisely, purchasing) the free-market flag in the same way one might acquire a business brand, Berlusconi likely has destroyed the appeal of the free-market ideal in Italy for a generation.

 



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