The Italian Job

NYTimes: 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.”


Even if Italy were able to reduce its debt from 120% to 80% of GDP, these practices would take it right back to that level. I might say that thanks to the debt mountain, clientelism has had some restraint in recent times.

All countries have problems like that. It's just that while their economies are booming nobody cares about them, and while they're in recession everybody blames such trivial problems as if they magically caused ECB to tighten their monetary policy.

Do you think that nobody caring about them during booms might allow it to increase? A smidge?

I believe the point is: the jobs never should have been created in the first place

No doubt they are inefficient; but looking back at Sicily's bloody past it is hard to be sure this is entirely as horrible as it sounds. Better a sinecure than a mafioso hitman?

The two things are related. Those hiring hitmen are the same selling jobs.

Yep, they should take a cue from paragons of corporate responsibility like Berlusconi's media empire in Italy's efficient free-market mafia--I mean private sector.

Can't stand Berlusconi, myself.

But I'd still say to you: "Sure, because after the socialist revolution, those kinds of jobs will disappear?" Yeah right.

These practices actually started a long time before the advent of Berlusconi, the main culprits were Democrazia Cristiana and Partito Socialista...

Pathetic how some people's (maybe a majority of the population) goals in wealth obtainment are simply rent seeking behavior rather than actually creating something of value. I understand the interest in stable income especially in areas with limited economic activity, but why not employ people productively in some way?

They are employed productively - the product being "la dolce vita".

I really don't understand some of these comments; this Sicilian part-time auxiliary traffic officer gig sounds like my dream job -- where do I sign up?

As much crap as federal employees get for not doing their jobs, things are far worse at the state and local level. In part because local politics are often more about distributing resources rather than ideology, and in part because fewer people care, and many of the people who do care benefit from the bad practices.

It is truly a miracle that we have (somewhat) functioning Democracies in the first place. It is amazing to me that we don't have more of that kind of abuse in rich countries. I mean, a lot more. Or maybe we do and the press simply doesn't report on it. Makes you think that our current crisis was way overdue.

I was in Comitini three years ago by car. Nice little town. No problems with parking. However, when I walked around and supported local economy by having had ice cream in the said bar and wanted to get out, I found myself trapped in a system of one-way roads. Getting out without violation of traffic signs was a feat, indeed. Maybe that's the way they keep tourists in the town.

You make it sound like an isolated Italian issue - isn't this an unavoidable problem of every political system including democracy? It resonates with people because they see it all the time in their own local community.

If Greece and Italy were companies instead of countries, they would be put into Chapter 11, the creditors would run them and straighten them out and then leave. This is what Germany should do with Italy and Greece. You know, sorta like war except no armies, guns or bombs.

They've got 960 population, 64 employees. I live in America in a town of 550. We run this town with 6 employees plus a non-paid mayor and town council.
We're pretty broke. How do they keep doing this?

The gubmint sends them a check.

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