As Italy’s Economy Implodes, Gov’t Offers Citizens ‘Bread and Circuses’

Newly elected Democratic party (PD) general secretary, Florence's Mayor Matteo Renzi gives a press conference on December 9, 2013 at the PD (Democratic Party) headquarters in Rome. Renzi won a resounding victory yesterday in the race to lead Italy's centre-left Democratic Party, part of the coalition government. The 38-year-old Renzi, …
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In the midst of falling employment, rampant immigration, failing banks and general economic malaise, the Italian government is offering young people 500 euros each to spend on “cultural” entertainment, such as rock concerts and movies.

The ancient Roman poet Juvenal coined the expression “bread and circuses” (panem et circenses), a term that came to mean government pandering to people’s more superficial desires to curry their favor, rather than addressing the real problems ailing society.

Being the “Eternal City,” some things never change in Rome, and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is once again applying a shallow remedy to a deep and festering wound. So as graduating high school seniors prepare for a bleak future of unemployment and economic stagnation, the government is offering each one an “allowance” worth some $560, allegedly to increase their level of cultural appreciation.

Starting this month, Italy’s 550,000 18-year-old residents can register online, download an app and receive their money, which can only be spent on “cultural activities.” But since the program does not differentiate between pop culture and more erudite pursuits, young people are free to use the funds for atlases or comic books, ballets or death metal concerts, Verdi operas or Marvel movies.

One teen named Daniele Montagna said his first purchase would be tickets to a Justin Bieber concert.

The measure is also meant to integrate foreign residents into Italian culture by exposing them to Western art and ideas in order to make dangerous ideologies like Islamic extremism seem less inviting, a puzzling notion that has left many people scratching their heads.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi first announced the “Culture Bonus” last November after the Paris massacre, when Islamist jihadists killed 130 people in coordinated strikes on several different venues.

“They destroy statues, we protect them,” Renzi announced at the time. “They burn books, we’re the country of libraries; they envision terror, we respond with culture. We will never change our way of life, they will surrender first.”

Renzi said that the gimmick will cost Italy a billion euros, a sum that Italian taxpayers can ill afford.

Meanwhile, youth unemployment in Italy is nearly 40 percent, and more and more Italians are opting to emigrate rather than struggle in a broken economic system.

On Monday, the President of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI), Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, laid out the grim data that define the Italian economy, while deploring the forced exodus of much of Italy’s young talent.

“The official figures speak for themselves,” Bagnasco said, enumerating Italy’s gloomy economic statistics.

“New contracts have decreased by 12.1 percent, GDP is not growing, unemployment among those aged 15 to 24 years has risen to 39.2 percent and industrial production has diminished by 0.8 percent,” he said.

In his stern address, the Cardinal said that the worst fallout of the economic crisis may very well be a drain on Italy’s most precious resource: its young citizens.

“We are deeply concerned that the patrimony of skillfulness and ingenuity of our people is being forced to emigrate, thus impoverishing the country,” he said.

It is doubtful that Renzi’s gift of concert money will do much to stem the tide.

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