The Italian Exodus

PALO ALTO – Antonio is an Italian friend who works in information technology. In his thirties, he already had a job that, in Italy, normally would go only to a person of at least forty-five. Tired of trying to prove to his clients that he deserved his position, he grew a beard and dyed it gray. In the United States, by contrast, the late Steve Jobs co-founded Apple when he was just 21.

That anecdote is worth bearing in mind as Italy and Europe look beyond former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s rococo leadership that ended with his recent resignation. Indeed, Italy’s number-one problem is not, and never was, Berlusconi; it is the country’s entrenched gerontocracy, nepotism, and anti-meritocratic behavior. And Italians are at once the perpetrators and victims of this stalemate.

I did not leave my country in 2000 because of Berlusconi (who was out of office at the time). And none of the 90,000 people who leave Italy every year – almost a million in the last decade, according to the NGO Migrantes, from a country of 60 million – make that decision for political reasons.

We leave because Italy is a stagnant country, especially for its youth. According to OECD data, 90% of Italians under 24 live at home with their parents, while 28% of young people are unemployed – well above the average of 17% in other developed countries.