Commentary. To deal with the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, a decisive state intervention will be needed. Now is the time to consider an alternative economic model.

The ‘entrepreneurial state,’ toward a neo-socialist reconstruction

From the muffled atmosphere which the pandemic has forced onto the political debate, one can hear the underground signs of a clash, perhaps the most uncompromising one in the last quarter of a century. The rubble of the healthcare, economic and social crisis has left behind thick clouds of dust. When it settles, the terms of this clash will appear clearer, requiring parties and social forces to make radical choices, dictated by the extreme simplification induced by the crisis itself.

Two divergent and mutually exclusive schemes will be left on the scene: on the one hand, a model of private recovery, guided by the interests of profit and returns and centered on private enterprise; on the other, a model of neo-socialist recovery, guided by the interests of labor and centered on the entrepreneurial state.

The two models imply divergent axes along which one would need to structure the reconstruction of our economic system, which in turn imply different options of a social nature. Within the current government framework, the fight between the two, as far as we can understand, can be considered to be still undecided, and this represents an important starting point. Any other potential political combination out of those possible in Italy would have tilted (and would tilt) the choices towards a reconstruction based on the private model.

We are well aware of how the private model works, since it has been operating unchallenged throughout the West for many years. We know the general philosophy behind it, namely that it is up to private enterprise to regulate the dynamics of wages, employment and ultimately the social dynamics of the country as a whole. And we are well aware of the mechanisms that are supporting it: tax relief, environmental and urban deregulation, derogations from national labor contracts, cuts to rights and an increase in precariousness. This is what the newly elected president of Confindustria, Bonomi, explicitly asked for, in a message with very little novelty to it, in a recent interview that featured his (preemptive) attack against the government, one he conducted with unusual violence and clarity.

To refute the claim of the effectiveness of this type of approach, simple experience, if nothing else, would be enough and would move us forward: it would be suicidal to continue on a path that has led us where we are today, with the health crisis that has done nothing but exasperate trends that were already in place for years. Widespread poverty and precariousness, the malfunctioning and underfunding of essential public services and skyrocketing public debt that still fails to produce economic recovery, since it is absorbed by the interest paid to large financial groups, based on profitability and speculation.

The alternative path is the path of a total reversal of the trend, the path that is starting to be acknowledged, from many sides, as being that of the entrepreneurial state. But in which direction, and towards which sectors, should the “attention” of this public entrepreneurship be directed? Obviously, first of all towards the natural monopolies and essential services for citizens. Then, it should serve as a lever to promote technological innovation and the ecological conversion of our economy. Finally, it should be aimed towards combating the scourges of unemployment, underemployment, insecurity and irregular work.

The positive effects would be found in three main directions: first, a new development of the country based on innovation, on the environment and on domestic demand for goods and services instead of the continuous decline in wages arising from the export race. Then, a reduction in the relative weight of profit seeking, since, in a time of crisis affecting investments and commerce outlets, private capital cannot be forced away from flowing towards speculation and luxury, so the state must be the one to invest directly. Third, it should result in a resumption of full—and good—employment, with adequate wages and directly addressing the increasingly urgent issue of the reduction of working hours.

This is where our ruling classes are called upon to undertake a Copernican shift in their thinking: the state must not be put into action to create jobs through some bureaucratic stratagem, but must stop creating unemployment, something it has done over the last 30 years. With an intolerable youth unemployment rate, a whole country to rebuild and a systemic need to find a place for the growing specialization of young people, the state has the task of allowing these energies be put in the service of the community and the common good, with adequate contractual guarantees and adequate remuneration and wages. Indeed, maintaining the status quo would involve the most artificial of political operations.

The choice between these two prescriptions, so radically opposed, cannot be left up to technocrats. These involve radical divergences, they involve a struggle between divergent social interests. In short, they involve the return of politics.

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