Friday, November 19, 2004

Geraghty's Roman Vacation

Jim Geraghty, the hard-working author of The Kerry Spot, took a vacation to Rome after the election and has an interesting report.

Excerpts (The excerpts are from the negatives. The column has many positives, too!):
The Continent is burning down: I'm not a fan of cigarette smoke, and in Italy, everyone smokes like a chimney. Young, old, man, woman, wealthy, poor, morning, night — every corner, every shop, every café, everybody is puffing away and you feel downwind 24/7.

What's really striking is that this comes from the continent full of folks who lecture Americans about a) healthy living and b) pollution. Hey, here's the deal, Fabio: I'll sign on to the Kyoto Treaty when Europe quits smoking, because for all of the greenhouse gases I'm emitting by using electricity and living in a country with a thriving economy, I'm not constantly burning things. And take your stinky diesel-sputtering cars and Vespas, too.


Now, here's a bit of a political observation (besides the Communist-party march I found myself walking through).

The last evening we were there, Mrs. Kerry Spot and I were sitting in a wine bar when, over at the next table, some British banker was discussing Italian culture with a woman who was (I think) his coworker. The guy seemed like the epitome of British propriety, coupled with an incensed mood — picture John Cleese. The gist of his rant was that Italian society is dominated by a patronage system riddled from top to bottom with rampant nepotism and impropriety. Apparently this made getting anything done nearly impossible, as every business had to find room on the payroll for the boss's mistress, as well as his slow-witted nephews and cousins. One had to wait one's turn for 50-some years to get into any position of responsibility, and then once one got there, the primary method of relieving those decades of stress was browbeating subordinates. Attempting to promote a promising and energetic young employee over an older and mundane employee who had paid his dues by showing up for a quarter of a century was seen as phenomenally risky and a societal taboo.

"It is holding them back in the modern economy," Cleese fumed. "They don't know what's in their self-interest. The Italians are stupid."

"Aren't the Americans stupid, too?" the woman asked, having the audacity to nod her head in my direction. (Cheerio to you too, toots.)

"Of course, but that's different," Cleese said, not willing to be distracted from his current fury at the Italians.

I wouldn't want to base my entire opinion of the Italian economy on the irritation of one wine-sipping Brit, but I would cite it as anecdotal evidence that Old Europe hasn't quite worked out all the details of the opportunity society and the benefits of the free market. Just keep it in mind the next time you read that the EU is going to be the economic superpower of this century.

Sitting in those cafés, eating the good food, it was easy to conclude that Europeans sure know how to live...because they don't know how to work.

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