Un mio ricordo di Giorgio Napolitano

Un mio personale ricordo di Giorgio Napolitano, del suo incontro con gli economisti liberal di MIT (Modigliani, Samuleson, Solow e Thurow) nel 1978 e la difesa della sua azione nella crisi del 2011-2012.

(da un mio intervento al Consiglio Italia-Usa, Venezia, 7 giugno 2013).

Let me recall an episode that goes back to the 1970s and owes much to Richard Gardner, who is today with us and at the time of the Carter administration was an highly esteemed ambassador in Rome.

As he recalls in his memorable book of memories, in 1978 Richard managed to convince the US administration to give a visa to Giorgio Napolitano for entering the US. The political context in Italy was that of the governments of “national solidarity”, advocated by Aldo Moro, the prominent leader of the main Italian political party. During this trip, Napolitano had a private meeting at MIT with four leading economists, in the Keynesian – liberal camp: Robert Solow, Franco Modigliani, Lester Thurow and, last but not least, Paul Samuelson. Being an Italian graduate student at MIT, and well acquainted with Napolitano, I was given the honor to take part in the meeting. Two things did strike me very much and may still be of some relevance today.

The first one, all those liberal economists were appalled by the amazing economic mess that prevailed in Italy: stagflation, high deficits, recurrent financial crises. They clearly pointed at a shameful lack of responsibility of political leaders and at a continuing illusion that a country can live beyond its means. Paul Samuelson was even more severe than usual, more than I had ever heard him do with Milton Friedman or Richard Nixon.

The second one, I was hit by Giorgio Napolitano’s response. He showed full awareness of the problems of Italy and argued that the left was ready to undertake at least some of the IMF – style reforms that were needed to save the country. That was the very sense of national solidarity governments, which meant that political opponents were willing to take on a common responsibility for the good of the country, setting aside the historical divide that had characterized Italy and many other countries after WW2. I had the impression that his arguments convinced the table.

It would be tempting to say that we are still there, though of course time never passes in vain.

Italy is still a problematic country, essentially because it tries to live beyond its means. This no longer takes the form of high inflation, but in the course of time it has taken two forms: 1) a high and increasing public debt and 2) a creeping inflation year after year that over the years has cumulated into an amazing loss of competitiveness vis a vis Europe, especially Germany. These are the two key problems of Italy today, which are at the root of both a deeper recession than elsewhere and high unemployment.

Giorgio Napolitano is still the one person that can effectively appeal to a sense of national responsibility to save the country. And, thanks to his action, we are once again engaging in a “national solidarity” government, that puts together political parties that until a few weeks ago regarded each other as “enemies”.