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Italy Is Dying

Welcome to a country that traditionally discourages geographic mobility.
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St. Peter's Basilica. (PHOTO: PUBLIC DOMAIN)

St. Peter's Basilica. (PHOTO: PUBLIC DOMAIN)

I have met my match. The best I can do, "Italy Is Dying." Beppe Severgnini brings a gun to a knife fight, "Italy: The Nation That Crushes Its Young." Delivering on a title's hyperbole:

Italy is still one of the world’s most attractive countries, a land graced by the arts and blessed by the weather; it is sumptuous at table and abounding in elegance. But clearly this is not enough. Many young Italians have begun to flee their iconic, pythonic homeland.

It would be sad if Italy’s emigration went back to the way it was in the 1950s, when people had to leave for Northern Europe, the United States or Australia to feed their families. And yet that seems increasingly likely. About 60,000 move abroad every year, seven out of 10 taking a college degree with them.

Almost 400,000 graduates have left Italy in the past decade, and only 50,000 similarly qualified foreigners have arrived. This is not the healthy, free movement of people that the European Union was set up to encourage. This is a nation on the run.

Young Italians who leave to find a job sometimes do so at great risk. Joele Leotta was a 20-year-old waiter who had relocated from Lecco, in Lombardy, to the British town of Maidstone, southeast of London. He was kicked and punched to death by a gang of Lithuanian immigrants who accused him of stealing their jobs.

Italy expels its youth to certain death in order to secure a cushy retirement. Fear mongering or shame? The New York Times op-ed postures like a shaming of Italian Boomers. It stinks like a self-serving last ditch effort to keep the gravy train from leaving the station.

No matter how much you scrimp and save, you need the generations behind you to pay into the system. Demographic hubris defines this system, Italian baby machine über alles. For every one person who buys in 1950, 10 will pay in 2013.

Ten turns out to be only five, with three of them going abroad to dodge Lithuanian immigrants playing the same game. That leaves two highly-skilled interns to support one geriatric scrounging for a spa subsidy. Welcome Southern Mediterraneans? Nah.

Too little brain drain, too late. Italy traditionally discourages geographic mobility. Severgnini is telling tall tales:

In Italy, where I grew up, most people spend their entire lives in the city where they were born, which is often the city where their parents were born. Young Italians are particularly immobile. In a study published in 2005, I calculated that Italians tend to live with their parents until quite late in life: 83% of Italian males 33 or younger still live at home. And when they do leave the parental nest, they don't move far away. Young people commonly get an apartment in the same neighborhood as their parents, often in the same building. Though Italians may be an extreme case, Europeans are generally much more geographically rooted than Americans.

I repeat, "young Italians are particularly immobile." The nation on the run is stuck in the past. The old farts don't trust newcomers. There aren't enough natives to convince to stay in order to save retirement.