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Italia, víctima de sus feudalismos

10 Jul 2006, by Quiñonero, Categories: Italia

Insensible a los encantos del patriotismo futbolístico, Wall Street Journal estima que Italia continúa siendo víctima de un Estado feudal, víctima, él mismo, de un vasto archipiélago de feudos corporativos, profesionales, sindicales, comerciales, etc., que “vampirizan” la producción de riqueza.

Follow up:

WSJ destaca un comentario de Alberto Mingardi subrayando que los cinco años de gobierno Berluconi dejaron Italia tan “rígida” como antes, y, curiosamente, parece esperar algunos síntomas de liberalización de la heteróclita coalición que lidera Romano Prodi.

Wall Street Journal, 10 jul. 2006:

Shaking Italy's Feudalism

By ALBERTO MINGARDI

TURIN, Italy.- Providence works in mysterious ways. With the notable exception of easing the rules for part-time and temporary work contracts, the five years of Silvio Berlusconi's center-right government have left the Italian economy as rigid as before. Enter Romano Prodi and his razor-thin majority of Third-Way Social Democrats, environmentalists and unreformed Communists and suddenly liberalization is in the air. Last week, Industry Minister Pierluigi Bersani announced a rather ambitious program to break up Italy's outdated guild system that shields academic professions and taxi drivers from competition.
In his legislation, Mr. Bersani even spoke of the "citizen-consumer" -- the first time in Italian political history that a government is waving the flag of consumerism in the face of powerful lobbies. Corporatism has been a pillar of Italian politics ever since Fascist times. Most of the "professional orders," the compulsory associations for academic professions, are the children of Benito Mussolini. But they multiplied on fertile grounds in republican times.
Mr. Berlusconi had very little interest in touching the privileges of people who largely voted for right-of-center parties anyway. Conversely, Mr. Prodi has been accused of "punitive liberalization," designed only to punish those who voted against him. But Mr. Prodi's plans can hardly be dismissed as a mere "strafe-expedition."
Consider Italy's arcane rules that have kept the number of pharmacies locked at around 16,000 (versus about 20,000 in Spain and more than 22,000 in France). Italians need a pharmacy degree not only to run a pharmacy but also to own one. The access to licenses is basically hereditary. The death of a pharmacist doesn't necessarily open the door for newcomers. The family of the deceased can keep the pharmacy under provisional management for up to ten years until one of the children has acquired a proper degree and can take over the pharmacy.
The new rules will allow supermarkets to hire pharmacists to sell non-prescription drugs, which account for 10% of the pharmaceutical market. This is expected to lower the price for these drugs by up to 20%. It is the first blow ever inflicted to Italy's drug Brahmins.
Last week, the traffic in Milan and Rome was paralyzed by the protest of cab drivers who are outraged that the Bersani decree would make it easier for municipalities to issue new taxi licenses. Unfortunately, they partially won their battle: the government is ready to negotiate. Rome also promised to scrap plans that would have made it possible to operate three cabs with just one license. Apparently, this would have been too much of an entrepreneurial challenge for the drivers' guild. Alas, even if the restrictive license system as such remains largely untouched, just issuing more licenses should at least substantially increase the number of taxis -- a move long overdue as anyone who ever tried to hail a cab in Rome or Naples can confirm. In Milan, for instance, there are just 1.6 cabs per 1,000 people. This compares to 9.9 in Barcelona and 8.3 in London. Taxi drivers complain that increasing the number of cabs would reduce the value of their licenses, which can fetch up to €300,000 in cities like Florence. However, the government plans to use part of the revenues generated by the new taxi drivers to compensate old license holders. Prices, though, are likely to remain relatively high, more at a level of cities like London and Paris, where the overall cost of living is higher. Unfortunately, a true liberalization of taxi prices is not yet on the table.
Italian lawyers are at war, too. They will be on strike for twelve days starting today because the law will weaken the corporatist structure of their profession by lifting both minimum and maximum prices and abolishing the advertising ban for professionals.
To implement such changes, though, the government has to overcome a veritable obstacle course. First, the demonstrations and strikes by the different guilds and targeted groups. Mr. Prodi is no Margaret Thatcher but his executive will need Thatcherite resolution to prove its seriousness. Second, these reforms can only be the first round in a more ambitious program: telecommunications, energy and the banking sector are the obvious next steps in a country where privatization and liberalization did not always go hand in hand.
Of course, Mr. Prodi's government is far from turning completely free market. Its fiscal policy, for example, is still very much rooted in the typical left-wing obsession with higher revenues at the expense of economic growth. Alarmed by the status of the country's public finances, Rome is trying to fight tax evasion in truly Orwellian fashion -- including a fiscal registrar reminiscent of the dark times of currency controls. The general idea would be for banks and other financial institutions to report any financial transaction above ?128 €1,500 to the tax authorities. The idea that maybe cutting and simplifying taxes might be a better way to choke off the informal economy and generate revenues has not yet occurred to the Prodi government.
But whatever happens next, it is truly remarkable that this leftist coalition would even try to aim at what is the dark heart of the Italian corporatist spirit. From pharmacists to lawyers, the era of the professional aristocracy in Italian society will be over. Modernity is knocking at the door of the most feudal of the European states.
Mr. Mingardi is general director of Istituto Bruno Leoni, a Turin-based free-market think tank, and a senior fellow of Brussels-based Centre for a New Europe.

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