Bryan Caplan  

Three Thoughts on Italy

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1. After ten more days of observation, I've grown a lot more optimistic about Italian living standards.  Now I'd say that GDP per capita is overstated by 25% rather than 100%.  If I'm right about this, Italy is a powerful counter-example to cultural theories of underdevelopment.  In terms of work ethic and discipline, almost everyone admits that German culture far surpasses Italian culture.  But their prosperity gap is quite modest.

2. By pure coincidence, I witnessed the 150th anniversary of Italian unification.  But when you tour the enormous achievements of the Renaissance, it's hard to believe that Italians couldn't have prospered just as well or better under disunified Tiebout competition.  Indeed, what better examples of the blessing of Tiebout competition are there than the final centuries of divided Italy?

3. Italian unification wasn't nearly as awful for the world as German unification, but there's a strong case against it.  A divided Italy would probably have stayed out of World War I, saving over 1.2 million Italian lives.  Without post-WWI angst, Mussolini probably wouldn't have come to power, and Italy would have stayed out of World War II as well - and possibly joined with Britain and France to contain Hitler.


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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Cole writes:

From 100% overstated to 25% overstated seems like a large change. I'm curious to know what specific things caused you to change your estimate so drastically.

Telnar writes:

Not planning to be a belligerent doesn't guarantee not becoming one. A divided Italy might have had a WWI experience like Belgum's if things went unluckily.

razib writes:

you get less analytic juice speaking of "italians" than "germans" in an economic sense. north italians have a different work ethic than south italians. probably on par with former GDR vs. bavaria. see here.

David N. Welton writes:

My experience with Italians is that, given the proper conditions, they work their asses off. Large swaths of the economy are excluded from that: public employees, and some people at large companies, and many in the south, according to the popular stereotypes (although southerners transplanted into the right environment in the north seem to do ok). However, it's pretty normal for people to work from 9-7, and fight to finish up something. I have much less experience with Germany, but what I have seen tends to be people very focused, from 9-5, and when 5 rolls around, they are *gone*. The Italians tend to be a bit more chatty during their work, but not much more than people in the US. For many professions where sharing knowledge is an advantage, that's probably a good thing, too.

The major positive difference in Germany's favor seems to be that, while they're as bureaucratic as Italians, they tend to go about it much more efficiently.

Various writes:

My great grandparents emigrated from Italy at the time of the unification. That may seem far-fetched, but the members of my family tree on that side of the family all had children later in life, which is what allows that math to work.

Anyway, my grandparents told me the reason they left Italy was because of the unification. To a person, they detested Garibaldi (sp?) who I understand was the prime architect of the unification. My ancestors were from Northern Italy, and they told me that most of the Italians who emigrated at that time were from the North. They indicated that this was so because, being wealthier than average, the Northerners had the most to lose in the redistributionist policies which followed unification. Just some anecdotal information here....I have no empirical evidence to back up any of this.

Left Outside writes:

As Tyler Cowen has said about the French, the Italians must have a much much much better work effort than the Germans, otherwise given their institutions why the hell do they work at all?

cassander writes:

Telnar> Belgium is flat. Italy, especially the north, is pretty mountainous. No one would want to use it as a highway.

Steve Sailer writes:

"No one would want to use it as a highway."

Until 1943, Italy wasn't seen as a highway for invaders, it was seen as the destination, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It was Italy!

diana writes:
My experience with Italians is that, given the proper conditions, they work their asses off...

my sentiments exactly!

However, it's pretty normal for people to work from 9-7, and fight to finish up something...

Absolutely. (If and when unions allow it, though...)

The Italians tend to be a bit more chatty during their work (...) For many professions where sharing knowledge is an advantage, that's probably a good thing, too

yes, sharing is a plus here, I think.
I also agree on stereotypes about southerners.

ciao,
diana
Roma, Italia

diana writes:

p.s. I just read the other thread on Italy...
pit-toilets? Yes, do send a photo, I never saw one either!

as for the other comments:
Someone wrote:

This is interesting, because Theodore Dalrymple has written claiming exactly the opposite--Italy is a much more livable place than its econ statistics seem to say (and Britain less so).

I think so too. Which is probably in line with what Aldo wrote:

The italians are particularly effective in doing the best they can with what is offered to them.

I am curious now about the pit-toilet follow up, after the ten days visit!
d

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