Thursday, September 15, 2011

Could this be a sensible future?

From the NY times

With only 960 residents and a handful of roads, this tiny hilltop village in the arid, sulfurous hills of southern Sicily does not appear to have major traffic problems. But that does not prevent it from having one full-time traffic officer — and eight auxiliaries.

The auxiliaries, who earn a respectable 800 euros a month, or $1,100, to work 20 hours a week, are among about 64 Comitini residents employed by the town, the product of an entrenched jobs-for-votes system pervasive in Italian politics at all levels

“Jobs like these have kept this city alive,” said Caterina Valenti, 41, an auxiliary in a neat blue uniform as she sat recently with two colleagues, all on duty, drinking coffee in the town’s bar on a hot afternoon. “You see, here we are at the bar, we support the economy this way.”

Maybe this is the future of declining developed nations. All this talk about austerity seems to forget that not everyone welcomes competition, not everyone has an inner entrepreneur that is waiting to be woken up; some people (and I am inclined to say that it is a sizable minority if not a small majority) simply want to work a little, without stress, and only with the goal of being paid enough to live.

If you are someone working for example in manufacturing in the West and see your fairly good job disappear somewhere else, you might reply, I don't want to be retrained to be a software engineer or something else, I don't want to move somewhere to struggle to find a job, I want things to be as easy as they were before. Of course the reply is, keep dreaming, but what can a government really do? Of course all western governments would love to have a population like Hong Kong; ready to put up with a hard life without complaining and without expecting much with the hope one day of setting up a winning business venture. Unfortunately the average seems to be closer to those who find a definite benefit pension a standard.

What can one do? Unless you can expel all the undesirable (which are most of the times the natives and not the immigrants), those who refute to compete, something must be done. These people must be taken care somehow either with unemployment benefits or public housing or even through prison should they turn to crime. They will not disappear.

So, isn't the model of Comitini suddenly attractive? Clearly the traffic wardens' salaries are not for the work done but to keep them employed and to keep the town employed. I am of course against government jobs being too nice, i.e. definite benefit pension, unsackable, etc., but if you have an amount of money to spend on taking care of that part of your population which could not cope with a fully competing society, would you rather spend it to create the bitter environment of public housing and prisons or to create the pleasant one of a small Sicilian town's coffee bar?