Posts tagged with: italy

PowerBlog readers will have noticed a strong, and from my point of view justified, negative reaction here to Elise Hilton’s Aug. 11 post titled, “The Lost Girls of Romania: A Nation of Sex Trafficking.” Commenters referred to the post as offensive and poorly researched. As editor with overall responsibility for the PowerBlog, I want to address the many comments we’ve received that take issue with Hilton’s characterization of Romania and Romanian women.

Before we go any further, I want to note that anyone who writes regularly for publication will invariably make errors of fact and error of analysis. In a long career in journalism and other editorial work, I certainly have made my share. The responsibility of the writer and editor is to be accountable to readers and correct the record when needed.

This post missed the mark. It should not have relied on a single Al Jazeera article to make assertions that in Romania “women and girls have virtually no rights.” What’s more, the sweeping generalization that in Romania if women “are not hidden, they are trafficked” is patently untrue. I’ve been to Bucharest, a beautiful European capital, and this statement does not describe what I saw there. I’ve also been blessed to get to know many Romanian families who worship at my Greek Orthodox parish and have found them to be unfailingly kind, hospitable and productive. Romania is an overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian culture, but has significant populations of Roman Catholics and Protestants and small numbers of Muslims. As for the Church, Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Daniel has been unequivocal in his condemnation of human trafficking. The following is from a statement he made in 2009: (more…)

Radio Free ActonIn this edition of Radio Free Acton, we speak with John Horvat, author of Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society, about what’s gone wrong with our economy and culture and how to fix it. John’s book was featured this year at Acton University (you can pick up a copy for yourself at the link above), and he writes about his AU experience in this post on his blog:

…the students really cared. It was hard not to be impressed by the unified “diversity” that characterized those in the course. Dispelling the myth that diversity is only on the left, some eighty countries were represented, including sizable delegations from Africa and Latin America. At the same time, people from all ages were enrolled providing that delicate balance between wisdom and enthusiasm. Acton proves year after year that young people are attracted to free markets and moral values.

We also look into the latest on Greece’s financial problems and how Europe is trying to save its common currency, with analysis of the situation by Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg. As he notes, Europe’s economic troubles run much deeper than just the Greek debt crisis.

You can listen to this week’s podcast via the audio player below:

When divorced from God’s plan,  work is merely labor, a rudderless everyday job.

 Today May 1 is Labor Day in Italy and in virtually all of Europe. Alas, it is hardly festive. There is not much to celebrate here in terms of job growth and wealth creation. Economic figures across this Old and Aging Continent are like proverbial diamonds in the rough: there is much potential for glory, but with a lot of precision cutting and polishing still to do.

Simply read the latest statistical lampoon on European GDP in The Economist on April 14 Taking Europe’s Pulse. With a walking-dead growth of 0.3% in the first quarter of 2015,  nation after European nation is stifled by union strongholds on hiring and firing practices, crony capitalist deals born in Brussels’ backrooms, governments’ insatiable appetite for taxation to prop up bankrupt social welfare programs, and many other politico-economic and cultural tentacles holding back a not so free European Union.

Here in Rome, few are celebrating in an anemic peninsula with 12.70% unemployment and virtually no growth in the last 20-plus years. Absolutely no fist pumps are raised on this day in traditionally leftist Spain (23.78 %), nor in the communist party-run Greece (25.70%), and by no means in the rebuilding nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (43.78%).

Nonetheless today, for good measure, is a public ‘holiday’, whether the economic mood is truly merry or not. At least it is a day to put workers’ worries aside. It is a day to forget about the sorry state of many economies on this extended weekend when Europeans head to the mountains, sea and its many cities of art.


The secular ‘holiday’.


The religious ‘holy day’.









May 1 is also a ‘holy day’, the Catholic Feast of St. Joseph the Worker instituted by Pius XII in 1955 in response to the May Day communist celebrations installed across Europe. Therefore, it is no small coincidence of calendar or etymology. (more…)

European workers and trade union reps protest in Brussels

Things really aren’t looking good across the pond.  Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, has written quite a bit about the decline in Europe. His latest ‘Meanwhile, Europe is (Still) Burning’ in the American Spectator, discusses the inability or unwillingness of European governments to respond to economic trouble.

Two of the world’s large economies, France and Italy, are examples of this. In France, workforce unemployment is 11 percent, the government has engaged in possibly illegal activity by hiding the fact that it hasn’t cut its fiscal deficits, and it won’t actually get around to making these cuts until 2017. The situation in Italy is even worse: unemployment is at 12.6 percent, youth unemployment is at 42.9 percent, and the country is ranked as one of the worst in the world in terms of “labor market efficiency.”

Despite these problems, necessary changes are not being made:

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is the latest Italian head of government to propose some marginal labor-market reforms. Alas, he too has discovered that Italy’s unions are essentially opposed to anything except the status quo. That’s why an estimated 1 million Italians marched in the streets on October 25, claiming that “fundamental rights” (which evidently don’t extend to Italians below 30) were being endangered.


What a sweet spectacle it is to observe Rome’s pastel-colored cityscape and glowing white marble churches from above St. Peter’s Basilica just before sunset. But this is not what one Italian entrepreneur had in mind late Monday evening and years since experiencing any kind of dolce vita in his native land.

According to local press reports, around 6:00 pm on May 20, Vatican police and tourists discovered a businessman from Trieste, Marcello Finizio, atop the massive dome of St. Peter’s, the one famously redesigned by Michelangelo to awe the millions of visitors to Rome each year.

Clinging to an upper window ledge and support cable, he unfurled a white banner with Italian and English words of protest and plea:

Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Instituto Acton in Rome, Italy, joined France 24 News today to discuss the pontificate of Pope Francis I as he assumes his new office of leadership.

New York Post illustration

New York Post illustration

In the New York Post, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at “the spread throughout America of economic expectations and arrangements directly at odds with our republic’s founding” and asks what the slow walk to “Europeanization” means for the long term. Gregg:

Unfortunately there’s a great deal of evidence suggesting America is slouching down the path to Western Europe. In practical terms, that means social-democratic economic policies: the same policies that have turned many Western European nations into a byword for persistently high unemployment, rigid labor markets, low-to-zero economic growth, out-of-control debt and welfare states, absurdly high tax levels, growing numbers of well-paid government workers, a near-obsession with economic equality at any cost and, above all, a stubborn refusal to accept that things simply can’t go on like this.

It’s very hard to deny similar trends are becoming part of America’s economic landscape. States like California are already there — just ask the thousands of Californians and businesses who have fled the land of Nancy Pelosi.

Europeanization is also reflected in the refusal of so many Americans to take our nation’s debt crisis seriously. Likewise, virtually every index of economic freedom and competitiveness shows that, like most Western European nations, America’s position vis-à-vis other countries is in decline.

Is there a way out, even as the “fiscal cliff” negotiations vividly illustrate the inability of Washington’s political elites to take spending and tax problems seriously? Gregg holds out hope: (more…)

In what was dubbed the “Bailout Game” of the 2012 European Championships, the German national team defeated their Greek counterparts, the 4-2 score only slightly representative of the match’s one-sidedness. The adroit, disciplined Deutscher Fuβball-Bund owned 64% of the ball, prompting at least one economic retainment joke and the asking of the question: What does this game mean for Europe?

Not much, according toIra Broudway of Bloomberg Businessweek, who last week issued a preemptive “calm down” to the throngs of journalists, broadcasters and politically-aware fans itching to work their witticisms into the soccer-as-political-grudge-match conversation. Chill out, he says; thinking soccer could have any say in the realm of global affairs is “mass lunacy.” He’s right, the German’s systematic defeat of the Greece’s beloved Blue-White’s won’t spur any continental economic legislation or seal Greek’s fiscal fate. But maybe Broudway’s treatment of the match’s relevance is a tad too dismissive.

To deny the social influence of sports, especially in soccer-crazed Europe, is to forget about a history of cultural milestones. Less than two weeks before Germany and Greece met on the pitch, international tensions between Poland and Russia, together with a poorly-scheduled game-time resulted in violent riots on the streets of Warsaw. For a brighter recollection, think only of the Miracle on Ice, the 1995 Rugby World Cup or you name that sporting-event-turned-movie. For better and for worse, athletics have an undeniable ability to inspire and incite.

But what’s behind this potential? Social scientist Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, has written and spoken widely on the topic of “earned happiness.” It’s difficult to think of a realm that encourages earned happiness more than athletics. Sports pit conflicting dreams of teams, cities, nations against each other and promise fulfillment to the winner. Done fairly, competition even maximizes potential for all involved parties.

Imagine the consequence of a Greek victory. No, a victory wouldn’t have paid back billions of euros of debt, but it might have reaffirmed the possibility of achievement for a people decimated by a burdensome fiscal situation. It may have at least modeled the idea of earned happiness for a society that today knows more about learned dependency.

Who knows, maybe that dream still exists for one of Europe’s debt-ridden nations. Germany’s next opponent? Italy. Squaring off on the other side of the bracket? Portugal and Spain. Soccer fans and the globally-concerned can at least speculate about the cultural implications of the coming week of soccer, and what it has to say to Europe’s present economic context. Vamos!

How about a tax on fires?

On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg examines the push for a “transaction tax” to solve some of the fiscal problems in the European Union. The move would, Gregg explains, “levy a tax on any transaction on financial instruments (securities, loans, deposits, derivatives, and various asset classes) between banks, hedge funds, insurance businesses, investment companies, and other financial organizations whenever one contracting party is located in the EU.” That may not sound like much, but would apply to literally millions of financial transactions daily. The scheme has drawn the support of “EU apparatchiks” but the opposition of the British who see the tax proposal as a threat to London’s financial competitiveness. Gregg sees what’s behind it:

In short, the EU’s transactions-tax scheme reflects a long-standing desire to “throw sand” in the wheels of financial globalization. Its origins lie in what’s called the “Tobin tax,” named after the American economist James Tobin, who argued in 1972 for the levying of a 0.5 percent tax on all spot-currency conversions. The point, for Tobin, was to discourage “speculators” who “invest their money in foreign exchange on a very short-term basis.”

Unfortunately for its advocates, there’s considerable evidence that Tobin-like taxes on financial transactions don’t reduce volatility. In the midst of financial crises, long-term and short-term investors behave in very much the same way — they get out, and transaction taxes don’t prevent them from abandoning ship. Greece, for example, currently applies a transaction tax to the sale of Greek-listed shares. That, however, isn’t doing much to prevent the present exodus of capital from Greece.

Taking the broader view, it’s hard to avoid concluding this latest EU harmonization boondoggle is about two things. First, it’s a way for EU officials and governments to appear to be punishing European financial institutions for their contributions to Europe’s economic crisis. Second, it reflects the general European failure to come to grips with some of the deeper problems contributing to Europe’s debt crisis.

Read “Financial Fiddling while the Euro Burns” by Samuel Gregg on NRO.

Kishore Jayabalan, the Acton Institute’s Rome office director, was interviewed by the Zenit news agency in an article titled, “Is Taxing the Church a Real Solution for Italy?” In the article, Jayabalan discusses the history of the Italian state and its imposition of property taxes on the Roman Catholic Church’s land holdings, residences and non-profit businesses.

Sometimes in the past, particularly under Napoleonic rule and before the Lateran Pacts, the institution of property tax was often a subject of state persecution of the Church in economic terms. Mr. Jayabalan answers critical questions about the reasons behind Italy’s evolving (or rather “revolving”) fiscal policies and historic land expropriations to the Church’s detriment.

The Church has traditionally been exempt from paying ICI [property tax] on non-commercial entities because they serve a social purpose. The old law actually exempted entitles that were ‘predominantly’ non-commercial. The new law exempts simply non-commercial entities, so there will be some re-defining of what is non-commercial or not by the Italian Ministry of the Economy. Jewish, Muslim, and other religious, and for that matter secular, non-profits were also ICI-exempt, so this was not a case of special pleading for the Catholic Church in Italy, even though Catholic institutions dwarf the others numerically…

Of course this is not the first time the Church has been muscled out of land. Napoleon’s massive cash taxes upon his conquest of Italy were designed to force noble families (generally with very close ties to the Church) out of their lands and titles. Napoleon spared the Church the niceties of taxes, choosing to simply expropriate the property. The unification of Italy as well saw Church lands, art and lives lost as the new nation was formed. But even this was nothing new. After all Nero had blamed the Christians for a fire he set to clear some land in downtown Rome, so in the end Sts. Peter and Paul and 900 other Christians were killed for a real estate deal.

To read Jayabalan’s full interview, go here.