Italy got it right: temporarily

7 June 2006

One sunny morning, forty or fifty years ago, I was having breakfast on the roof garden restaurant of the Royal Danieli in Venice. Several of the tables next to the parapet overlooking the Grand Canal had been taken, but I found one for myself. The rest of the restaurant was empty.

The Grand Canal was blue, and the church on the other side – Is it called San Giorgio? – looked splendidly magnificent. But, as I turned away from the view to butter a slice of toast, I noticed the headwaiter had turned the large glossy menu into an imagined machine gun and was imitating, under his breath, the stutter of the gun as he sprayed the breakfasters with imitation bullets.

I caught his eye and wanted to say, “I agree, but would it be wise, it might make things worse.” But he put the “gun” down.

I put this in to make the point that not everyone looks upon the comfortably off with grateful affection. I’d put the numbers living on the other side of the Mediterranean, who could easily be made to feel like the headwaiter, at about one billion.

Happily, Italy did not go for revolution and the class war, but went for population control and capitalism, and is now so prosperous everyone wants to get into it. The headwaiter may even own a hotel of his own.

Unhappily, Zambia and many other countries across the world did not follow Italy’s example. They did not go for population control and capitalism, so poverty, conflict, and turmoil have been their lot, and – when possible – flight from their homeland their only hope.

(Note 1. Of course, Italy – like Germany and Japan – despite the devastation of a terrible war, had a head start over many nations in skills and education. This contributed greatly to their success, but population control and avoiding the class war was essential also.

Note 2. Though capitalism – as can be seen in the Far East – can produce food, make clothes, build houses, provide effective medicines and make many other improvements to the human condition better than any other economic system in history, it does have faults. It only works well and reasonably fairly when accompanied by population control, which enables scarce labour to bargain effectively. Also, if uncontrolled, it may make the earth uninhabitable, which is a serious flaw in an economic system.)