We are all outsiders

There was a time when ideology moved the masses, now the masses are moved by swear words.

This is a disturbing sign of the times, the result of a change of mindset and morals that afflicts Italian society. A society where people, having lost all sense of “common good”, are passionate and divided on all sorts of topics, from cheap scandals to serious political matters.

In this context, the categories of Right and Left lose much of their meaning. In the songs of Giorgio Gaber ( there is a famous one called ” Destra- Sinistra”) even prosciutto and mortadella could be classified as left or right.  In the days of minister Calderoli  and of the Hon. Pecoraro Scanio the labels are barely able to give a proper account of the gerontocratic  political landscape. They are just a badge that divide the parties, no more.

Sarkozy’s ministers and our own industrial elite are heading Left, the workers of Mirafiori vote for the Right, and Gordon Brown meets Margaret Thatcher in great pomp at Downing street.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s impossible to find a meaning in this “unhappy” and ill-mannered society. In order to understand it, we may need to consider new paradigms. Among the many proposals, the use of the binomial insider – outsider could prove particularly useful, for it allows us to explain very diverse political and social phenomena. It has its distinguished theorists.

Among these, the first that comes to mind is Franz Kafka, who described, back in the’20s, in “The Castle”, the efforts of K, agronomist and frustrated ancestor of all the outsiders, to enter the Castle of Count Westwest.  His aim: to climb the social ladder by exercising his profession under the wings of power. But there are many other theorists.

Pietro Ichino, for example, has effectively used the insider-outsider label to describe the unfair dualism that plagues our labour markets, where hyper-protected lazy or constantly sick or absent workers live in a citadel of benefits, safeguarded by Article 18 (which represents the walls of the citadel) and oppose the young, the poor or the unlucky who are forced to make up for the unassailable lifetime contracts of the privileged.

But the combination works even if you try to give an account of the disaffection towards the bad politics that have characterized the interminable transition to the so often proclaimed Second Republic.

What else are the members of the “Cast” admirably described by Gian Antonio Stella and Sergio Rizzo in their book, if not insiders? What was the electoral system used to elect the last Parliament, if not a perverse process of co-optation for throngs of courtiers?

Similar considerations apply to the mechanisms of “social dialogue” that define how the organizational insiders decide in what manner the reforms will affect the rights of all, particularly of the outsiders, when it comes to those changes that will cost sweat and tears.

In this sense the welfare reform established by the Protocol of 23 July 2007 with the support of the trade unions is exemplary. It applies an increase in payments made by workers under short term contracts (co.co.pro.) to finance the pensions of those fully employed workers who decide to retire at 58, rather than at 60. The money, to the tune of 4.4 billion euros, could have been used to protect workers under short term contracts, who after all were paying for it.

And what about the competitions that purportedly are meant to select pharmacists, notaries, diplomats and many other categories of professionals or notables but in fact are just a cover for the decisions made by “fathers” and “godfathers” of the candidates themselves?And wouldn’t you call insiders those taxi drivers who inherit their license and oppose granting new licences to newcomers who would be ready to work the night shift or the holiday shift when finding a taxi is impossible, even in Rome and Milan? And what about those workers who rise in the ranks thanks to seniority and reject wage increases based on merit?

What about those entrepreneurs who were shopping for businesses at the time of privatizations and are now firmly opposed to any liberalization? And those bankers that, as soon as they became acquainted with the imminent bankruptcies of Cirio and Parmalat, hastened to unload the shares onto unwary customers?

The problem is that a society in which the insiders flourish, gradually declines to zero growth. And if the country declines, the first to be impoverished are the outsiders, who already have little (only in Turkey and Greece are wages lower than in Italy) and are generally young. If the outsiders, excluded from power, are impoverished, after a while they grow angry. And when the outsiders are angry, they can easily become violent, at first verbally and then, perhaps, physically — unless they find a way to better their condition through their effort and merit.

The danger today is clear and present, since Italy has the lowest rate of social mobility in Western countries and is becoming poorer every day ( in the United States an outsider has a 20% chance of improving his social status and perhaps to become an insider, compared to our country where the rate is 6%).

Thus, the real danger for  this “blocked ” country,  in which the insiders prosper and the outsiders protest, is that one day we will all wake up as outsiders, on the edge of a world that grows and runs  at the speed of light.