04/18/2014 - 05/11/2014
It's no use trying to stop my brain entirely from looking at the world through a policy lens while on this adventure. So instead of fighting it, I'll attempt to nurture it with the occasional "wonky thoughts" entry. I hope readers chime in with their experiences, thoughts, and of course corrections along the way. That said, I can't imagine a better first wonky post than one from Italy.
Italy's changing demographics have been written about ad nauseam. Among the reasons, broadly speaking are immigration from people fleeing poverty, low Italian birth rates and the economic crisis that has effected much of Europe's Mediterranean countries. But an underlying component that is now even more glaringly obvious to me is the role of organized crime that fuels the immigration piece. Of course, everyone knows the mafia and its influence on business, but I underestimated its role in the world economy.
During dinner with a friend from work when they lived in New York City, Dan and his wife Elisa, who moved to Rome a couple of years ago, Elisa recommended Gomorrah: Italy's Other Mafia (a best selling book and now mini series) after I had mentioned the obvious increase in the African and Chinese population that was shocking to me since my last visit here in 2006.
Reading the book written by Roberto Saviano, a journalist from Southern Italy, it is part thrilling autobiography and part lesson in economics of organized crime, (the business model is too complicated for me wrap my head around) I realized that the mafia is the glue between the rise of immigration in Italy and access to cheaper fashionable consumer goods for not only Europe by the U.S. The Africans hawking cheap Gucci and Prada bags on the streets of Rome and Florence made by Chinese workers help fuel this demand.
Certainly, the factories of Tuscany and Naples that make the clothes and leather goods were difficult to work in when mostly skilled Italians labored in them. But if history is any guide, I can only imagine the awful working conditions endured by these recent immigrants. I've always peered at the goods being sold on Canal Street in Manhattan with more than average skepticism. But now, I presume there is a similar, if not the exact same, business model taking place in Italy and parts of the United States. If you read the book, the beginning is particularly a page turner, I suspect you'll never look at buying clothes the same way again.