By Paolo von Schirach
June 29, 2012
WASHINGTON – It is amazing how strong statements with really significant implications can be ignored, meaning that their implications are not even discussed. The Wall Street Journal had a piece on the reform of Italy’s labor law that just passed. (Italy’s Official Seeks Culture Shift in New Law, June 27, 2012). The article quoted Elsa Fornero, Italy’s Minister of Labor, saying that: “People’s attitudes have to change. Work isn’t a right, it has to be earned, including through sacrifice”.
Work is not a right
Now, this statement is not terribly shocking for a US reader. But for an Italian Minister to actually say this is truly revolutionary. Italy is permeated by an entitlement culture. Getting something without having done anything at all to earn it –and this would include a job– is considered normal for most. Since this attitude is normal, it used to be impossible to criticize it. The fact that a sitting Italian Minister of Labor, not a commentator, would essentially scold the Italians, telling them that ”work is not a right” is unprecedented.
Not appropriate even in the US
Look, even here in the US it would be difficult to imagine an incumbent Secretary of Labor declaring that “work is not a right”. While a true statement, it would be politically damaging for the Secretary and for the administration. And this is because even in the US it is assumed that the Secretary of Labor is there to protect workers’ rights and welfare. While there is no constitutional right to get or keep a job in America, saying just that in public would be considered at least inappropriate.
No rule of law in Italy
Back to Italy, the really juicy part in the WSJ piece comes when Minister of Labor Fornero declared that “Italy is not a rule-bound place. It’s a land where people rig the system, tweak here and there, and engage in tailor-made adjustments. That’s got to stop”.
Got that? In one short sentence, a Minister of the Republic declared to the WSJ that Italy is not a law abiding country. Enterprising people do as they please, apparently with impunity, (and this would include labor relations in which labor unions always held the advantage). This has got to stop, she said. But it is clearly going on and she did not say that the Government has the tools to make it stop.
Just like a Banana Republic
Now, without exaggeration, the way the Minister talked about Italy is the way in which an unsympathetic analyst would describe a lawless Banana Republic or any other sorry developing country in which people make their own rules because of the absence of rule of law, weak institutions and a lot of corruption.
Minister is not a politician
Well, it is not an accident that Minister Fornero is a technocrat who will be in this job for a limited time, and not a career politician trying to please special interests in order to get votes. But even taking that into account, this is a shokingly powerful indictment coming from straight from the Government.
Well, to all those who would like to believe that Italy is essentially a modern country now experiencing temporary fiscal and economic problems, think again. As the Minister said: “Not a rule-bound place”.