Pandemic, war, crisis: Italy has performed a miracle but the South is still behind

The three-year period 2020-2022 will go down in world history for a double leap in the dark: first the pandemic, then the war. A double global crisis that has brought with it an impressive recession, a very harsh energy crisis, the acceleration of an inflationary process that has not been seen for some time.

We cannot say that we have left everything behind. However, we have crossed the eye of the storm twice and we can at least state without fear of contradiction that so far Italy has not fared badly. Few would have bet on it. And the result is even more flattering if read in a comparative key.

Some essential data. At the end of this year – regardless of what the fourth quarter of 2022 holds for us – Italy will conclude a two-year period of growth in GDP above 10%. It is the only large country to have experienced constant cyclical growth of its domestic product in this period of time. We can boast of having surpassed the economic level of the pre-pandemic period more quickly and with greater dynamism. And, in this context, in the last year the rate of inequality has also decreased and even more significantly the risk of poverty.

These data cannot be considered a simple “rebound”, as well as many had feared. There is something structural behind it. In the first place, there is a manufacturing sector which has converted into strengths what appeared to be weaknesses at the outset of globalisation: the prevalence of medium-sized or at most medium-large enterprises; excellence in niche productions with a very high characterization; the organization for short supply chains and relatively small districts. All of this has led to flexibility and adaptability, and therefore the ability of the Italian production system to better respond to geopolitical crises, the correlated volatility of international markets and the sudden shortage of raw materials. Add to this the effects of the push towards modernization and digitalisation, produced by the success of Industry 4.0. Consider the still not fully explored (and ultimately at least partially exploited) growth margins of the tourism sector. Calculate how much, despite the hardships of the Superbonus, the restart of construction has yielded. And we will be able to begin to understand the reasons why, even in a very uncertain historical period, we start talking about the “mini Italian miracle”.

But why can’t all this influence a narrative on the state of the country that remains in gloomy colors, tinged with an irrepressible pessimistic note? Why is an indisputable success so little advertised and even so little claimed?

It could be a question of dutiful prudence: faced with a winter with the unknown factor of bill increases, with inflation that does not give up and a PNRR clearly lagging behind, it is objectively too early to sing victory. But it seems to me that there are at least two other reasons underlying the enduring defeatism and that the first concerns us closely.

The fact is that the undoubted fragility of the recovery largely depends on the South: it is growing less and forecasts tell us that it will soon not grow at all to the point that the specter of new poverty is feared. A paradox, given that many of the strengths of the Italian recovery seem to be well suited to the South. In fact, the limited size of businesses, short supply chains and the ability to adapt have always been characteristics of the southern economy. Add the growth margins of sectors such as tourism and food and wine, and the propensity of this part of Italy to energy diversification strategies, and it becomes really difficult to imagine an imminent recession. Yet this perspective is a fact, just as it is a fact that despite the stabilization of the recovery of the entire country depends on the South, no political force has so far been able to express, on this point, a strategy worthy of the name. Also for this reason the “citizenship income” retains an undeserved centrality.

Then there is a question that pertains to public debate in general. A politics still conditioned by the season of populism cannot allow itself to spread hope, trust, optimism; he is much more at ease with distrust, anger, fear. To pass this stage, it is necessary to move from propaganda to facts. But the facts that are starting to become evidence are largely the legacy of a unitary yet “orphaned” government, which none of the main factions can or wants to claim. The 5 Stars have openly repudiated it. On the left there are forces that have fiercely opposed that executive (and the Pd enemies on the left prefer not to have any). Two of the three parties that make up the current majority helped bring him down and also creepily opposed his foreign policy choices.

Thus another paradox has arisen. The current Prime Minister’s party was the only one to have opposed Mario Draghi and yet it was perceived as the one most loyally in continuity with his executive, and not just for the attitude taken on the war in Ukraine. In politics, perceptions and sensitivities are important even if they wear out quickly. It will be necessary to understand whether the current government and the one who presides over it will be able to overcome the stage of impressions to lead Italian politics towards a new post-populist phase. To this end, neither open claims nor proclamations are needed. We need facts and the new year will tell us if they will arrive.

Pandemic, war, crisis: Italy has performed a miracle but the South is still behind