Friday, May 29, 2009

The Italian Economy: Day 2

So, on day two of class in Rome, the professor says "meet me outside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the center of the city." So I drag myself out of bed and get there... what an awesome experience. He had started to explain the structure of Italian government in class and then we went and saw each building, to get a different flavor. It would be *fantastic* to have a Mason professor walk a group around DC and say, okay, this is the White House, this is the Treasury, and point out all the different things, though of course it is impossible with classes of hundreds of students.

Walking around Rome is great, of course, because every couple blocks you see something really really old. Every street goes either up or down - I don't think there's anywhere flat in the entire city. But still, it's great to get to the top of some flight of stairs, look out and see the Vatican. Or to walk around a street corner and say "oh hey, there's the Trevi Fountain," like I did today.

Most interesting aspect of class today? Patnia explaining things about government to us, such as "there are two police forces, the Polizia and the Cabinieri, that do the exact same thing. One reports to the Minister of Interior, the other to Minister of Defense. The two were created as a check against one another to prevent a coup, but of course today this is completely unnecessary. It's a huge waste of money but nobody wants to give up the power of controlling a police force."

The explanation itself isn't fascinating - it's easy to point out waste in government - but the tone, which was very nonchalant, interested me. Picture him delivering this in a monotone and then shrugging at the end. In the US, I can imagine a discussion would have two sides, each equally passionate: "We need the two police forces to check each other! It's not wasteful!!" vs. "Just another example of too much government spending - abolish them both!!" Each side of the debate in America would have talking heads and I can't imagine a professor teaching it without showing some passion. Patania simply admits it's wasteful and shrugs.

Same reaction when discussing provincial government - think county-level of government in America. He said, "this is the most worthless branch of government, but too many people are connected to abolish it." And again, kind of a shrug. He needs to put an "oh well" at the end of each sentence because that's exactly how it's delivered.

This type of discussion is really fascinating to me. I'm not sure if it says something about Patania vs. every other professor I've had, but I'm inclined to believe that's how Italians view this sort of thing. They just don't get worked up, as long as they have their afternoons off (future post). It's completely wild and I really love it.

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Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. ~Fredrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty