The scandals, speeches, sex, and partisan scheming of Italian political life have always grabbed media attention. Yet the central question of Italian politics often goes unasked: How did the most successful country in postwar Europe become a basket case? In 1987, with much fanfare, Italy's per capita income overtook that of the United Kingdom; in 20 years, if current trends continue, it will be overtaken by Romania's. The interdisciplinary group of authors in this collection sets aside short-term factors and explores long-term structural reasons for Italia malata (ailing Italy). They offer new insights into well-known problems: the poor productivity of small firms, a lethargic legal system, weak universities, rampant corruption, the absence of meritocratic advancement, and the continued underdevelopment of the south. They also highlight problems known only to experts: little government support for families, the spread of organized crime outside of Naples and Sicily, low levels of social trust, and anti-immigrant sentiment.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.