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Cross‐generation roundtable – Italy today and tomorrow

    A cross‐generation pact on ethics, solidarity, merit and competition
    • Rome
    • 25 September 2013

          This roundtable saw the inception of a debate between various generations on issues of common interest to each of them. The event took its inspiration from Aspen Institute founder Walter Paepcke’s guiding notion that “only in such a fusion of talents, abilities, and philosophies can there be even a modest hope for the future, a partial alleviation of the chaos and misunderstandings of today”.

          Opening discussions was the observation that Italy’s age distribution today reveals a marked division between the “old and young”, underscored by a legacy of growing youth unemployment and a public debt that hangs over the head of each and every newborn to the tune of more than 30 thousand euro. Small wonder then that Italians are losing the sense of what it is to be a nation, understood as “a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future”, as Ernest Renan contended. It was accordingly suggested that a modern patriotism should be fostered which embodies values that vindicate a shared future with which Italians can identify as a nation. Achieving economic growth was for this reason deemed essential, as a foundation for building a shared vision for the country with an eye to best practices in Europe. Italy must – it was felt – open up to entrepreneurship and competition, playing to strengths where it can excel by removing obstacles to success.

          The participants also considered the questions of how to become a “youth-friendly” country whilst avoiding the risk of becoming youth-centric; how to encourage a flow of ideas based on merit rather than seniority; and what matters an intergenerational pact should cover to ensure an inclusive, dynamic society apt to engender a positive outlook. Whilst it was acknowledged that rules should be obeyed, it was also conceded that there should be fewer rules and a less stifling bureaucratic attitude. Those present highlighted that being young is not just a biological fact but also entails leading an “ethical life”: engaging with the challenges of the day, taking risks and responsibilities, and not waiting for the older generations to step aside and make room without there being any engagement, an approach which – as history shows – will often lead to conflict.

          It was further noted that ethics, competition, and recognition of individual worth without losing social value and solidarity are issues at the heart of a debate that has failed to materialize for some time – a debate which touches on questions such as where to redraw the line between welfare and a rewarding society that activates social elevators, and how to go about renewing society. Viewed by the participants as being of particular importance vis-à-vis the “intergenerational issue” was the adoption of a development model that reconciles both growth and the environment, which, it was recalled, “we do not inherit from our ancestors, but borrow from our children”. Lastly, it was stressed that especially in an age consumed by the here-and-now, some thought should be given to the duty of current generations to ensure equal prospects for future generations, bearing in mind that the challenges of a globalized world and Europe both present opportunities in this regard.

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