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You are here: Home > Diritto di Voto / EU, Italy, Turin > A different model of #Italy - using #NextGenerationEU, #COVID, #PNRR as #leverage

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Published on 2021-08-17 07:30:00 | words: 3879

This article is (hopefully) going to be short, and I was actually pondering for few days if I should embed it within a forthcoming article about industrial policy.

_political choices and political attitudes
_another round of cognitive dissonance
_an election looking for a vision
_a long journey starts with the first step
_political systemic thinking and Italian politics

Political choices and political attitudes

Eventually, as I wrote to a friend few days ago, decided to share it as a separate, political article- as theere are some elements, that I shared also in past article, and will be part of a book on hold since a while, that I consider "common ground".

I think that policy is the implementation of political choices, also if we, in Italy, routinely have journalists, politicians, and anybody involved try to present it as "natural consequence of reality", an element of technocracy.

Let's be frank: as I wrote a while ago, I do not think that Italy is the only EU Member States that used requests from the EU to provide answers that were then presented to the national audience as if had been requested by the EU...

Or: do you want to enact a reform that lacks political support in your own country?

You can either go the long, perilous way (focus on collecting Parliament Members support group by group, one representative at a time, akin to the process described in many USA movies about their own political process).

Otherwise, you can use the feed-back loop associated to whatever EU initiative to do the typical political choice: in a press conference, answer the questions that you would have liked to be asked, not the ones that were asked.

Another round of cognitive dissonance

If you read my posts online on Facebook and Linkedin, or articles here, you often found the concept of "cognitive dissonance", when I write about Italian politics.

Recent examples? Members of the Italian Government stating that the COVID19 green pass was almost a matter of trust, not of having a pass, as if Italians had shown, since the beginning of the COVID19 crisis, to have a Pavlovian reflex about health that states "think about the bigger picture, not your own immediate interests".

Well... it does not work that way, at least not in Italy.

Therefore, we had the usual point and counterpoint, until somebody, looking at the bigger picture, understood that we were opening the door to turn the green pass into optional also in environments where, nominally, a green pass would be required.

So, eventually, despite the political minefield involved (before a request was made by shopkeepers, then by trade unions), as usual it went up to the Government overall to state the obvious.

Now, many are complaining that Italians are being "social engineered", i.e. instead of being given a choice, create the conditions so that they make a choice.

We should really ask ourselves: why Italians started rushing to the download of the green pass only after restrictions for those without it were announced? Ditto the peak of vaccination registrations.

Those who downloaded it were entitled to get it before, and for myself and others I downloaded it as soon as available. But millions did not: the "need" to have a pizza inside a pizzeria instead of outdoor had apparently a higher priority than just having it.

As if being entitled to it (e.g. by vaccination or after falling ill to COVID19 and then recoverving), but not getting it, were an act of defiance.

Curious mindset.

Anyway, this can be a micro-example of cognitive dissonance, different in scale but similar to politicians making grandiose statements about "priorities" that imply a paradigm shift...

...only to change them every few days.

So, their perception of reality is not reality, but they are in a position to keep repeating their perception as if it were a description of reality, until... a different element of perception is considered carrying greater political weight.

I would like now to share a bipartisan perspective on the elections that will happen in later this years, specifically for Turin and the Turin Metropolitan Area.

An election looking for a vision

Yes, I was born in Turin, Italy- but I lived there say until I was almost 5 years old, again from when I was 7 years old, and then until the end of high school.

From when I served (compulsory 1 year service) in the Army, until today, I actually lived in Turin only when it was needed for business purposes, therefore, since my return in Italy in 2012, frankly personally I have no local attachment- yes, I was born there, but yes, I consider it without any tribal perception of reality: just bipartisan, if you want even as a market.

Consider the three leading candidates for the role of Mayor of Turin, a town that was well over 1mln residents, now heading toward 800k, has been continuously "losing industrial bits" (i.e. those requiring long-term investments and industrial plans), replaced by short-termist, low paid activities (restaurants, cafes, hotels) that do not require a continuous supply of human capital that has a long training period.

What would other locations do, when are repeatedly asking for resources at the national and EU level to help really start what they are pushing for, a vast array of new initiatives that can be summarized with few words, i.e. attempting to create the human and social infrastructure needed to jump ahead in the next wave of industrialization?

I will let you guess.

What they did instead the local élites (I will avoid sharing which party/coalition)?

_selected a candidate that represents the "compressible investment" line of business (expand if there is consumption, compress otherwise, as anyway your investment in capital ages relatively well, if compared with industrial assets that would become obsolete in years or months, while your human capital does not take a decade or more in universities to be able to expand again when needed)
_selected a candidate who ha a key "feature": has been there within the local town hall machinery for almost two decades, as "continuity" for this successful past (two decades of decline)
_selected a candidate so weak that cannot even dare to openly criticize part of its supporting base that recently went into guerrilla mode against a bit of infrustructure they dislike.

Frankly, would you really consider any of the above able to lead a "coalition of the willing" (to paraphrase a US President whose war on terror results are visible this week) to reverse the decline, as a report on the local economy said not too long ago?

Maybe any of them, should (s)he win, will be able to build up a team able to fill the gaps, a team with no strings attached to the source of their election.

Well... the latter would be something belonging to the realm of utopias, not to that of elective politics.

Trouble is: usually, many get elected by "selling" big dreams that would then be unable to survive contact with reality.

In this case, beside a motto, none of the three leading candidates, for different reasons, is able to even "sell a big dream"- just a kind of "trust me"...

...for reasons undisclosed (except the willingness to be elected).

Therefore, unless the winner will have a stellar team (not just holdovers from contributing parties and tribes) adapt and adept at the challenges that both are existing in the territory and are being created with the various initiatives trying to create local competence centres, the risk will be the usual: tinkering, but at a time when something else is needed.

Now, this was a digression, but was also an introduction.

A long journey starts with the first step

I already used this title- but for an article.

You can look for the source, but sharing a concept that was shared by some politicians does not imply sharing their positions.

As I shared on Linkedin and Facebook over the last few days, the end game in Afghanistan is a déjà-vu of the endgame in Vietnam, and over the last few days gradually I saw more and more pictures from the 1970s evacuation of Saigon appear on the profile of my connections.

If somebody like me could remember those pictures (I was a kid back then, I remember a picture of people trying to get on the last helicopter), how comes that everybody is surprised or outraged now?

Personally, already when the retreat was announced, a while ago, started focusing on one element: getting those nationals of Afghanistan that supported our operations out, to avoid to do what did for many in Vietnam the USA.

When I was living in UK (starting late 1990s), routinely former military friends and collegues (not just from UK) reminded me that, since its unification, the joke about Italy was that we never ended a war on the same side we started it.

I actually reminded them how Italy had in WWII the distinction of being prisoners and attacked by all the belligerants operating on the European theatre.

And a phrase that an Italian politician, who had been Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri few times reportedly said: Italy had to choose if it wanted to be the last country of Europe, or the first of Africa, which actually related to another phrase about Italian foreign policy.

Long, long ago somebody said that Italy was too large to be a second-rank country in Europe, and too small to lead.

As the title of this section states, and the title of this article expands, I think that we should talk about the broader picture.

Getting into a new home those who supported us would be a first sign that, beside talking about an almost mythical Roman Empire, we Italians are also able to act as a responsibile power, not just as the opportunist that many say we are.

Make no mistake: it is a relatively small gesture, and some could call it even a sign of naiveté (who is going to check that none of those "resettled" in Italy is actually a former antenna for the Taliban?)

Nonetheless, as sharing vaccines against COVID19, it can be considered part of what Nye called "Soft power".

Both while living in UK and while living in Belgium, I was also reminded not just that we Europeans were considered more apt in working in the aftermath (the rebuilding of the country after a war), but specifically that the Italian Carabinieri were highly considered for the policing size during such a phase.

Another bit of "soft power".

When I was living in Brussels, I was told how, for a while, to keep a nuclear power station operating, when demand was low (at night and during vacations) all the lights on roads were kept switched on to generate consumption.

I do not know if it was true or not- but then was told that, to retain the capabilities involved in nuclear-related activities, the "knowledge supply chain" was kept alive using the laser industry.

When I was told so? During a workshop discussing the support to the creation of an African Laser Centre, based on the same concept, and keeping alive the "knowledge supply chain" that had been developed e.g. for the South African nuke.

Helping to develop competencies in technologies that will be even more useful in the future than they are today is another form of "soft power".

There are many other areas where Italy could carve its role (cultural and business knowledge exchange programs such as the one I applied for in Japan in 1995, for example), both independently and along with other EU partners (hopefully eventually the whole EU).

Anyway, again, it takes many first steps (with potentially many mistakes) before identifying what is sustainable, and create an "ecosystem" around it.

Which is not what we, Italians, usually are really good at: talking talking talking and delivering speeches that show how compassionate we are.

Personally, in terms of "positioning" of the country, I think that one "crisis management centre" well run, supporting also other EU Member States or helping to coach non-EU countries into developing their own way of managing crises would be worth, in terms of global goodwill, hundreds of speeches and celebrations.

Do you remember that famous question: "how many divisions has the Pope"?

Italy lacks the fossil fuels that were needed in the previous and current industrialization, but could improve the management of its waters and become an active actor into the next generation of industrialization.

The rationale of the multiple "first steps" is the same of the "nine islands" I wrote about recently (and as part of my "testing the waters" with the Chinese language, almost a decade ago).

Many look at the NextGenerationEU and PNRR as a collection of billions (of EUR) and projects, plus KPIs that each country communicated (see the first section of the article for the concept).

Instead, as usual, I think that the PNRR should be considered not as a collection of items, but systemically.

Political systemic thinking and Italian politics

When I worked in the public sector, and when I had contacts with political environments in Italy, I was surprised to see how many lawyers or people with a degree in law were "leading".

It reminded me a joke from an American classmate of an American friend that I met in summer 1994 at LSE, and whose graduation in Michigan attended in 1996.

My friend, when extending the invitation, asked if I could take a couple of weeks off, so that I would see America not as a European tourist.

Intrigued, I said yes. And the explanation? We were to travel by car from Ann Arbor in Michigan, down to Phoenix, Arizona- but, as I saw when there, first we travelled from Ann Arbor to Chicago, where our Japanese classmate was to continue his journey toward New York (I do not remember if he was already starting at Goldman Sachs in New York, where he was to be on 9/11, where luckily he was instead in Japan having missed a flight).

I met locals and, as at the time I was already working in cultural and organizational change, I was curious about how society was evolving.

I could write a book about just that trip, as did for my two weeks in Berlin, but shared in the past bits (and will do again in the future, whenever relevant).

A long travel, makes for a lot of talking, if you start in four, continue in three, but all along the way meet others (by car- maybe my old readers remember when we had a rock struck the radiator before entering the desert, so, having not air conditioning... we had a block of ice).

One of the items we discussed was if it was still true that USA was the land of opportunities, where potentially anybody could progress.

Well, one of our travel companions described something that, to me, was quite "European" and "unamerican": he said that the son of a factory worker could get through law school with the same results of the offspring of generations of lawyers, they would be both hired.

But the former would become the work-horse, while the latter would have a chance at becoming a partner faster.

Reason? When you did job interviews for those roles, technicalities counted, but then networking was built on saying the right thing at the right time, having the mindset that anticipated what others were heading to (i.e. being "tuned to the mindset")- something that the offspring of generation of lawyers had absorbed as a kid, while would take a while to develop for the factory worker son (if did not get lost in technicalities, oblivious until much later to the "informal" culture element).

In Italy, whenever I had contacts with lawyers for my customers, directly (e.g. for negotiations) or indirectly (e.g. contract writing or labour negotiations, but filtered via my partners), I was struck by two elements.

Most were really generalists, except those focused on specific "branches".

And most say reality (e.g. as represented by a contract) not as a purpose supported by details, but as a collection of pre-digested details that was to be assembled into a single unifying element that de facto transcended reality.

So, sometimes, I had both in the public and private sector those with a degree in law asking me, notoriously without a degree (albeit I worked on contract and negotiations and interpretation of laws and regulations since the 1980s), to... do what was expected from them, e.g. file a request that as presenting the merit of the case and "linking up" with supporting legal elements.

In the end, I always said to those that asked me: first, define your purpose- then, involve the legal experts, but keep focusing on having something in writing that can be implemented by you and your counterpart, not just tinkering around legal balances that satisfies both your lawyer (who knows little about how the activity involved) and your counterpart(s) lawyer(s).

I read many contract that were legally sound, but impractical.

Now, many Italian laws and regulations traditionally were just that: cross-referencing everything to this or that, but highly impractical.

Over the last few decades, by adding "forecasting the past" experts (economists, as I heard first from an American colleague in Italy, then at LSE), we even shifted to attempts to "lighten up" laws, but retaining the same approach.

You can read on this website the webapp about the Legge 77/2020, notably the "timeline" part, to see the consequences.

Now, way too many recent Prime Ministers (let's adopt this journalists' shortcut for the formal title of Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri) who had the mindset of a lawyer, and lacked systemic view.

Their view was what they were used to see, forgetting that:
_reality just seems a collection of elements
_you as a mere human will never include all the elements composing reality
_moreover, what makes reality is the interactions between elements.

And interactions, notably in a country like Italy, isn't something that follows "mechanical" rules cast in stone by all-seeing Solons generations ago.

Adapt, evolve, restructure- all following the magmatic evolution of the tribes' real and perceived balance of power.

Now, as I wrote in the past, I am no blind supported of Prime Minister Draghi- but I acknowledge that he is one of the few within the Italian Government in charge now with a real systemic view.

Probably, he had already that mindset developed in his childhood, following the USA lawyers example of above, even before a famous professor spotted his talent and started the steps that resulted in his career, steps that only reinforced that mindset.

What matters is that if we look at the NextGenerationEU and its Italian side PNRR as a collection of six missions, KPIs designed by each Member State for their own PNRR-equivalent purposes, and a list of projects (plus the association of the national KPIs with EU KPIs), we are doing again the same mistake, i.e. getting a collection of trees and calling it forest.

We are missing the whole picture, made by supporting non-tree entities (to keep up with the Chancey-speak, as in "Beyond the Garden" with Peter Sellers), what we call "ecosystem".

As I wrote here and there in previous articles, NextGenerationEU and PNRR are an opportunity to do something systemic and cross-generational, as anyway their direct and indirect costs will impact generations to come.

Instead of grandiose schemes, I think that some signs of a "new Italy", building up a systemic (and national, at last) view that transcend the electoral cycle could "seed" change.

No, I do not think that these cultural changes would be delivered within the current term of the Parliament (even if it were to continue until 2023, its natural lifespan, which is quite a big "if").

But "seeding" with something small that can be self-sustainable and expand is the only way I saw since the 1980s make cultural change initiatives succeed.

And, as my motto on Linkedin says, "with and without technology".

Be it to introduce "quantitative decision making" (Decision Support Systems first, then data warehousing, then business intelligence), or to introduce "new" mindsets (e.g. ISO9000, flattening decision hierarchies, getting used to shorter projects but within an overall "grand design", etc), making many small interventions before expanding is useful on various counts:
_allows to tune (i.e. make mistakes, admit them, learn lessons, move on wiser than before)
_allows to generate self-sustainable initiatives (as smaller "firsts" can produce previously non-existing results that lower the costs and resource needs of future steps)
_generate a widespread "folklore" that further motivates and frames new initiatives.

What's next?

Stay tuned- and if you want to see here and there comments on specific issues, follow me on Facebook (the social-political side) and on Linkedin (the business-political side), or even on Kaggle (the data-socio/business/political side)

PS no, I am not positioning myself to be coopted- I do not belong to any tribe, and I am unwilling to join any, as I repeated even yesterday on Facebook
PPS yes, I will continue writing about this subject: I do not really care who takes up or recycle what is worth recycling of my scribblings, provided they use it for something more than just announces