2015 then – Thomas Piketty’s search for different keys of understanding
I read that Thomas Piketty wonders why Italy must pay 6% of its GDP to repay the interests of its debts and only 1% of its GDP for education. Thomas Piketty is a young French economist, internationally very famous for his Capital in the Twenty-First Century, a book that I strongly recommend if you are interested both in history and in macro-economy. He started comparing the rate of capital return in developed countries over the recent centuries with the rate of economic growth, and he discovered that the latter was and is persistently smaller than the first one. Moreover, the resulting wealth inequality (Thomas Piketty works as a professor at the Paris School of Economics especially on the matter of wealth and income inequality) is increasing as each historical period goes by and – this is his thesis – will become bigger and devastating in the future. His suggested solution insists on a different redistribution of the wealth using a progressive global tax, a kind of ‘patrimonial’ tax just to use an Italian and ideological term. Now, there is nothing effectively new in Thomas Piketty’s analysis and suggested therapy – since the nineteenth century, these themes have been discussed in a number of different perspectives giving birth to still-existing ideologies on which it is not worth dwelling now. What is compelling in the Capital in the Twenty-First Century is Thomas Piketty’s rigour – I’d say his severity – and his ability to give us different keys of understanding. The events and the developments resulted as if they were embossed. He is not a dogmatic scholar. He seems to use a sort of flash to illuminate and point out topical situations and figures, and to make us pensive. Of course, this ability is not a simple gift of birth, but the outcome of a great discipline, certainly developed at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, one of the great French schools.
So, his remark about the use/misuse of the Italian GDP is also based on simple and mathematical data and at the same time appears extremely deep and new – I use this adjective to indicate something that people doesn’t know and that politics, journalists and alleged experts are not at all keen to say and clarify.
The message is clear: how can a nation improve, how can it have a brilliant future if it allocates 6% of its GDP to repay the debts and only a poor 1% to education? How is it possible to give opportunities to the young generations if research and education are a kind of Cinderella, lost amidst ‘more important expenses’ (more important to a political class who is revealing all its inadequacy, by the way). Why is it a French professor who dares to underline such obvious and basic figures? Why isn’t there a deep consciousness about the lack of future in absence of education, research and thus culture? Is there a superior interest in keeping the population ignorant and subdued?
I don’t want to start this New Year, this 2015 that I wish will be a fruitful shift in approach, by entering into usual and useless controversy. And I don’t want to talk about Italy only, but I would extend my speech to Europe and generally Western countries to insist on the importance and on the vital need of culture.
I ask myself and I ask you how our slide toward an increasing social injustice, a finance-based structure without roots and values, and a future dedicated only to an elitist group of privileged persons/states can possibly be arrested or adjusted. And I ask myself and I ask you whether the leverage that we can use to change this slide is not but culture. High dose levels of education, education and education. Massive investments in research. A terrific change of strategy by prioritising education and protecting and enhancing our cultural assets.
Is this utopia? Maybe, in our case. But I prefer this kind of utopia to the empty and hypocrite optimism about the bright future told by people who are intrinsically positive and always do nothing. They do nothing to change things and behaviours, and to indicate practical solutions.
Steve Wood (Co-founder and CEO at ManyWho, an innovative online company) says that it is correct to be negative, criticise and complain. “Organisations need to constantly evaluate the negative outcomes. In fact, the most successful boards are paranoid about the negatives. You’ll never hear the leaders of successful companies talking about how ‘great’ everything is at leadership meetings. They are maniacally focused on the negatives and how to fix them… Negativity must fuel positive change… Criticism must fuel improvement… Complaints must fuel fixes… No organization is perfect and we should all be working to make things better – so make things better, take action, make changes. Revel in the honest and open culture and appreciate that you legitimately have a voice and that voice can create positive change!”
It is right to say that we failed in creating our present economic and social model; that our present model is not working any longer – at least in a widespread and fair manner – while we are putting our head in the sand; that there are not architects of our future but only so-called financial wizards, and they have no idea about how to fix the impending problems; that, in the end, the answer can never be found in the ecofin alchemies or in the deceptions of politics.
The strategy must be reversed and we have to restart – changing the goals and the rules of the game.
Going back to Italy and looking at it from outside, what should be the logical recipe to arrest our decline? I ask my non-Italian friends: what would you expect from a new Italy, a further industrial era or an original, creative and imaginative proposal based on the rediscovery of our main assets, not by chance historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural and touristic? Manufacturing or design? Hardware or software? Culture or what else?