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Confronting the foe: denigraters of experts, dismissers of women. Interview with Tommaso Valletti

Confronting the foe: denigraters of experts, dismissers of women. Interview with Tommaso Valletti

22/01/2020

Italy is only going to be able to jumpstart its economy if it wages serious battle against the increasingly widespread tendency to denigrate experts and manages to make the most of the under-utilized talent of women. This according to Tommaso Valletti, Head of the Department of Economics and Public Policy of London’s Imperial College Business School and former Chief Competition Economist on the European Commission.

Do delays in the achievement of gender equality have an impact on the country’s economic performance?

According to the latest EU data, we are below the European average; worse, obviously, compared with Scandinavia, but also with France, the UK and Spain, countries with which we deal directly at an economic level. A big difference, which is not always pointed out, concerns the amount of time people work: taking into account activities not remunerated (typically domestic ones), every woman works an average of one hour and ten minutes more than a man, and every day. Equality is clearly closer at hand, but there is still much to be done. There are cultural barriers to be knocked down given that traditionalist views on gender roles still enjoy broad consensus in our country, even among women. Over time, I have personally become more in favor of gender quotas, especially at executive levels. The imbalance is so obvious that modern society will only be able to afford to eliminate quotas when the imbalance has been addressed. Besides, there is an economic principle that underlies such a drastic solution: talent is clearly as plentiful in women as it is in men, and we are under-utilizing that of women. On occasions in which I have been involved in the hiring of colleagues, I have always kept the gender issue well in mind and have done my best to convince everyone to follow suit.  

How and why is the anti-scientific movement on the rise in Italy?

I am deeply concerned about the anti-scientific tendency beginning to spread and that denigrates “experts”. It is important for the democratic debate to be based on facts and, at the same time, for experts not to be considered untouchable and for them to respond to citizen’ queries in comprehensible language. The humanistic imprint made by high school classical studies is part of our country’s cultural wealth and must be preserved, even though in truth it is the legacy of only a small segment of the society. Nevertheless, this does not seem to me to be a hindrance to scientific training; our universities and polytechnic institutes stand on solid foundations, despite a serious lack of study and research resources .

How can the Green New Deal contribute to finding solutions to serious corporate crises in sectors crucial to the national economy?

Corporate crises are not exclusive to Italy but are rather a European phenomenon, as is the slow decline we are experiencing and cannot seem to get out of. There is no simple solution to the problem, given that all the measures undertaken (investments, upgraded infrastructure, an educational system worthy of a major nation) are long-term and will not produce immediate results, so that responses are always ad hoc and quickly cobbled together in the wake of individual events.

There is a possible effective response, and it is the strength that Europe represents. Although it cannot claim to have a lot of fans in this period of rampant populism and nationalism, it is clear to me that the only real chance we have against America and China is precisely Europe. We can promote a societal model founded on European principles that are based neither on the model of major American oligopolies nor on Chinese-style State control and surveillance. The Green New Deal is exactly that: an intergenerational pact based on public/private cooperation; an ambitious program launched by EU Commissioner Von der Leyen, that can only work if the EU and its Member States start in earnest to work together and stop attacking each other.

 

 

 

Tommaso Valletti holds a degree in Engineering from the University of Turin and completed a PhD in Economics at the London School of Economics. He is a Professor of Economics at the Imperial College Business School where he is Head of the Department of Economics and Public Policy. He was Chief Competition Economist on the European Commission (Directorate General for Competition) from 2016 to 2019.