This morning, I noticed this jaw-dropping headline: "Farewell to la dolce vita." Italy is in decline and fading fast, goes the commentary from abroad. In this case, it's from the UK's Independent. The source behind this macroeconomic dissertation? Two out-of-work guys from Genoa and Bergamo moaning that it's tough to find a job these days. Sadly, it is a familiar story. The over-educated in Italy are under-worked and under-compensated. The ideal of course would be an ecomony where those with even marginal intelligence are over-worked and under-compensated.
I've been thinking a lot about employment these days, seeing as I have (by choice) no desk job. I no longer slave away for the man, as I now frequently say, to utter confusion. But I still get up early and follow the routine I always have -- read the papers, fire off emails, write a bit. But in my free time, I've taken a real interest in two species : 1) employed people and 2) unemployed people. They live side-by-side, but usually species 1 pays species 2 little heed, while species 2 obsesses abous species 1. Why can't I be a member of species 1?, species 2 is wont to ask. (A growing number of species 1 secretly conspire to join species 2, it must be noted, but usually stay in their cohort when they are reminded of: mortgage, spouse, parents.) Both species have a lot to offer each other, but, my guess is they will forever remain isolated (at least during the hours of productivity, say between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.)
Employed people, from my findings, are looking a bit haggard these days. They express feelings of being unfulfilled, over-worked and under-compensated. On a plus side, employed people work with jerks. Colleagues in the jerk category are a constant source of discussion for employed people as they seem to bring some sense of perspective, if not meaning, to employed peoples' lives. You can discuss the latest jerk episodes after work with loved ones and sometimes with people you've just met. If this jerk colleague is particularly outstanding, the employed person can sometimes gain sympathy from outsiders.
Meanwhile, unemployed people are similarly haggard, though they may be able to conceal this with a few extra hours in the gym or a few hours sunbathing. Like employed people, unemployed people are under-compensated and unfulfilled. So, what's the difference? Clearly, it is (the workplace) jerks. Unemployed people don't have an idiot person sitting near them everyday, peppering them with inane questions, making colossal screw-ups or inappropriate comments and gestures to coworkers. Unemployed people can't mutter: Who hired this joker, anyhow?
On a macroeconomic level, countries with superior economies are not necessarily the most advanced societies. It's just that they can afford to keep more idiots employed than struggling economies. (I call this the George W. Bush axiom.) By my calculations then, the United States and Britain employ the most idiots (on both an absolute and per-capita basis -- I know this as I have held multiple desk jobs in both countries), whereas Italy is doing pretty well. They employ considerably fewer idiots.
Using this idiot or jerk scale then, one can calculate the true economic price of unemployment. So, don't be surprised if you hear Berlusconi commenting on the state of the economy by highlighting we in Italy have the fewest employed jerks of any G8 nation. It's tough to argue with such logic.