Everyone complains about the TV, but there are a few noteworthy programs. One of them is Ballarò in which Giovanni Floris gathers politicians, experts, journalists, professors and such and tries to get them to stay on subject and say things of interest to the public for a few hours without scratching each others' eyes out. He has such an engaging smile and polite ways, that the guests generally behave and do as they are told. Amazing man.
He also keeps an "opinion" column in the Saturday magazine that comes with La Repubblica newspaper and this week he talked about "Raccomandazioni". He says that the system works because the country loves to make it work and then proceeds to give a few stats from various pieces of recent research.
* One out of every two Italians declares that he or she found their current job thanks to friends.
* Seven out of 10 young people think that "a little help" is necessary in order to get a university degree within a reasonable time frame.
* "Recognizing merit" is considered to be "very important for the functioning of society" for just under half of Italian citizens.
* A surprising 44 percent of young people (interviewed) declared that "working better than the others" does not justify an increase in salary -- a company should give an equal raise to all workers, not just to a few on merit.
It is easy to brush off the above, "oh, those Italians", but as Giovanni goes on to say, it is not as superficial and simple as it may seem.
The one who is "recommended" may be incompetent (as we would tend to assume), but he or she may actually be very competent but feel unsure, inadequate, or afraid of the unequal playing field. He or she may not feel confident about the integrity of the people on the other side that will decide his or her future, and assume that someone illegitimate will get his or her position if they do not take pre-emptive action -- "recommendation as legitimate defense" that guarantees equal footing with the other "recommended" candidates. In the end, "if you want to play, you have to accept the rules". As one candidate for a university post-doctoral research position put it, "What person in their right mind would participate in a university "concorso" without a patron?"
What makes me sad is that chasing down recommendations takes up so much energy that young people could put to better use -- in risk-taking, new ideas, innovation. Instead their talents and youthful exuberance get wasted in trying to work the system.