Italian Corruption: A Professor’s Anecdote

Italy constitutes one of the world’s more developed countries. It has one of the globe’s largest economies (on par with California), relatively high living standards, and all the perks that come along with being a modernized, industrial giant of Europe.

Yet Italy is also stagnating. When Europe falls into recession, Italy falls more than average; when Europe grows, Italy grows less than average. The influence of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a politician who could reverse these problems but who has most definitely not, is not helping matters.

Recently a professor of this blogger – let’s call him Professor X – hailing from Italy, provided some inside knowledge on Italian stagnation. He referenced Italy’s post-graduate education system, where students like him would conduct research and apply to become professors at Italian institutions.

America’s post-graduate system is the best in the world. According to Professor X, however, Italy’s system is entangled in a web of corruption that is slowly asphyxiating it. In the United States potential professors get their Ph.D. degree and then solicit employment at a university. In Italy, however, post-graduate students must pass a test conducted and graded by current professors. The problem is that while in theory the test results are based on merit, in actuality the relationship with the grading professor is what matters.

All types of discrimination occur. Younger students, for instance, must “wait their turn” as professors pass older students. Only once it is “their turn” will the grading professor permit them to pass.

Moreover, degrees achieved at foreign institutions are not transferable. An American professor teaching at an Ivy League institution, were he or she to with to teach at an Italian one, would theoretically have to get an entirely new Italian degree and take the same test. Professor X theorized that perhaps that years-long process could be shortened for an Ivy League professor. But – again – this would depend on said professor’s connections with Italian professors in the system.

The negative consequences of this corruption are readily apparent: motivated, highly intelligent Italian post-graduate students are leaving in droves. They are trying their talents in foreign countries, rather than braving the entrenched corruption of the Italian system. When Professor X returns to Italy, he advises Italian post-graduate students to get out of the country. That is undoubtedly bad for Italy.

From the words of Professor X, this type of corruption is apparent all throughout Italy. It is rotting the country from within. He worries about the country’s future.

There is reason to worry. Italy is still rich and wealthy by global standards, and will probably remain so for many decades. Yet a country can still decline, slowly and almost unnoticeably, until it is shocking to compare the status of it before and after the decline. In 1900 Argentina was one of the ten wealthiest countries in the world. Today it is often considered part of the Third World. One hopes Italy rights itself before that happens.

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