Italy seen from the USA: narrow debate and real knots

L’Italy travels towards the future with its eyes glued to the rear view mirror. This is the impression it makes on those who, like me, live in the United States and look outside their own country. Compared to the emergencies that worry the whole world, the Italian debate is often narrow, dominated by marginal issues, or which suck us towards the past. The imperatives of national security in a world crowded with hostile powers; the solutions to our hunger for energy; the relaunch of national industry in the post-globalization era: these issues have had less visibility than the POS and pensions. the past devouring the future. The story of the Pos is emblematic, for those who live in the United States: where it is the small merchants who ask you to use your credit card or the app on your mobile phone, because they have now switched to all-digital accounting. As for pensions: the two advanced countries where people work the longest, America and Japan, are also the ones with the least youth unemployment.

I find no trace of any real national attention to defense. Vladimir Putin, the other man of the year, the one who tried to turn 2022 into a new 1939, has just decided to increase Russia’s military budget by 30%, a huge amount that shows how much the war in Ukraine risks turn into a protracted conflict. Our sanctions don’t bite enough on Russia because China and India bankroll it.

LMilitary collaboration with Iran supplies Putin with drones and missiles at will. The West, recovering from a long pacifist hibernation, to supply aid Kiev sees its defensive arsenals thinning dangerously. America, even on the eve of a probable recession, in turn increases the Pentagon’s budget by 10%. China continues an all-out rearmament that has already led it to surpass the American military fleet, an unheard-of overtaking until ten years ago. What does Italy want to do? Together with Germany, one of the countries that does not even do the minimum essential to respect the commitments made with NATO, below 2% of GDP invested in its own security. Without an adequate military presence we delude ourselves that we count for something in the Mediterranean, where the countries on which we will still depend for a long time for gas (to replace the Russian one) also overlook. Our North African and Middle Eastern neighbors respect those who make themselves respected. The alarm for the sacrosanct Qatargate; it must be accompanied by a lucid analysis of the new geopolitics of energy.

Speaking of energy, one gets the impression that government aid to ease the shock of bills has also eased the sense of urgency. We live in a fake truce, gas prices have fallen since their peak, but for the wrong reasons. On the one hand, because we hoarded gas (at the highest possible prices) to fill our winter stocks, then our bulk purchases moderated. On the other hand, the worrying slowdown of the Chinese economy reduces purchases from the most energy-intensive nation on the planet. But when it comes to restock for winter 2023-24, where will we be? Germany is activating three times our regasification plants, in order to be able to buy liquid gas from a diversified range of suppliers. A large number of countries, from the UK to Japan, are relaunching nuclear power. Joe Biden has passed new laws – and a diplomatic initiative towards Africa – to guarantee secure supplies of minerals and rare metals essential for making solar panels or electric cars. Where does Italy fit in these strategic movements?

The energy question is linked to that of our reindustrialization. The world is entering a new chapter in the history of globalization. A thirty-year phase in which the world economy was marked by growing integration between the West and China is coming to an end. That symbiosis has been in crisis for some time and for various reasons, the first in chronological order being Beijing’s sovereignty breakthrough in 2008 (long before sovereignty became a buzzword in the West). Putin’s war has accelerated the consolidation of new blocs. Western companies today have a vital interest in keeping up to date on strategic scenarios, in order not to end up on the wrong side of some embargo, sanctions or reprisals. The friend-shoring, the relocation of industrial activities to friendly, allied or reliable countries, in theory opens up opportunities for Italy, the second manufacturing power in the European Union. It will be difficult to seize these opportunities if energy costs are prohibitive for those who do business in Italy. The high cost of energy is added to the bureaucratic and fiscal handicaps, as well as the delays in digitization.

Another problem in the new phase of globalization concerns the environment. In the last thirty years we have relocated to China not only because the cost of labor was lower there, but also because we wanted to remove from our eyes and our consciences any dirty activity: including the extraction and processing of essential components for clean energy. We want lithium and silicon, for example, in our photovoltaic panels and in our electric cars, but we don’t want to know how and where they are produced. Other lines of research on the energy of the future — from green hydrogen to nuclear fusion — receive sporadic attention, even if many Italian scientists and some Italian multinationals are present in those challenges.

Little has been said about industrial policy, the conditions for attracting or bringing manufacturing excellence back to Italian soil. Nothing compared to the immense attention paid to a flat tax reserved for limited categories of self-employed and professionals. Today’s perma-crisis is no more serious than that of the 1970s, when the first energy shock hit an Italy already exhausted by high social conflict and terrorism. Crises can serve to innovate. Elsewhere, the 1970s gave a boost to research into the electric car and solar energy. We must also prevent this crisis from generating opportunities only elsewhere.

December 18, 2022, 8:35 pm – edit December 18, 2022 | 8.35pm

Italy seen from the USA: narrow debate and real knots