I liked this passage from Sylvia Poggioli, NPR’s Europe correspondent, in her report on Italy’s reaction to its new economic woes:
Berlusconi faces daunting opposition. Labor leaders are on the warpath against possible pension and health care cutbacks. They’re demanding much tougher action against tax evasion, which has reached a record of nearly 40 percent of working Italians. Unions also want to see drastic cuts in the massive amounts earmarked for salaries and perks of some 150,000 politicians.
Business leaders are also worried that more austerity measures will further curb economic growth, which has been stagnant for a decade. Massimo Muchetti is an editorialist for the authoritative daily Corriere della Sera.
(Through translator) What is really needed is a hefty tax on wealth which will substantially help balance the budget. But you need credibility to impose that, and this government does not have a sufficient stock to ask for help from its citizens.
Now, I’m sure there’s a defensible argument for increasing taxes in Italy (and certainly for doing a better job at enforcing tax compliance). But I’m also sure there’s a perfectly defensible argument for not imposing a “hefty tax on wealth.” But we don’t hear about that. And why should we? The “authoritative” Corriere della Sera says the answer is simple. I don’t dispute that it’s an important and respected newspaper. But just imagine if an Italian reporter consulted an “editorialist” with the “authoritative” New York Times who said “What is really needed is a hefty tax on wealth.” It’s not hard to imagine of course, but it would hardly capture the fullness of the debate in America either.