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A Country for young people

Milan, 18/02/2020, Roundtable for Aspen University Fellows

The fourth Aspen University Fellows roundtable was devoted to the theme of Italy’s compatibility with the newer generations and the role of those generations in a society whose complexity often generates uncertainty and pessimism.

The “brain drain” caused by lack of opportunity and investments in their country, the ageing of the population and falling incomes all contribute to making the response to the question of whether our country is currently one for young people or not a resounding “no”. The discussion foregrounded the three main concerns that most influence that response: participation, meritocracy and generational conflict.

Participation consists of the two-way relationship between government and citizens, and it is strengthened principally by reciprocity. The point was made that reciprocity is in short supply in Italy when it comes to trust, but also to understanding. Young people tend at times not to fully understand their civic role and to interpret their constitutional rights as promises and guarantees (the right to work, for instance), neglecting to consider the importance of their own ability to act. On the other hand, the government’s scarce involvement in the future of young people and in understanding their needs is perceived as a profound lack of trust.

With regard to what the government can and must offer young people, the importance of merit was repeatedly underscored along with the right to have their abilities adequately evaluated. Specifically, much discussion focused on evaluation as a necessary instrument, yet not for that reason any less a source of apprehension among young people, stemming as much from fear of the outcome as of the process itself, since the criteria often applied are, yes, pertinent to the public and social debate but also frequently in scarce correspondence with the reality of being a young person. 

Finally, some questions arose regarding generational conflict, which, although less intense than in other periods of history, is still part of the problem. This is especially true in a country as demographically lopsided as Italy. The most glaring issue concerns the assumption of responsibilities that go beyond one’s own generation and the awareness that remunerating the past rather than investing in the future is having a serious impact on youth today.

In conclusion, it can be said that what is going to push Italy to become a “country for young people” is a reciprocally proactive attitude. On the one hand, the government must boost the number of opportunities – both quantitatively and qualitatively – along with efforts at young people’s engagement with the job market and, more broadly, the entire society. On the other hand, however, young people must react with enthusiasm, initiative, and an elevated sense of responsible citizenship.