Italy's cultural voucher for 18 year olds
By Alberto Mingardi
If I read him correctly, Tyler is moderately positive on the idea. I suppose we may agree that this is a relatively harmless kind of policy. Young people turning 18 are given some cash by the government to buy books and movies and concert tickets of their own liking. The government is expecting to spend some 290 million euros.
A few details that could perhaps be of interest:
(*) The measure is funded for 2016 and will be administered through a website. The website isn’t up yet, but if I understand correctly the government preferred to prepare an e-commerce platform of sorts, instead of giving people a kind of ATM card to use in shops. I think this may be a sensible choice: I’m no expert, but the option chosen seems instinctively to have lower set up costs than the other. But of course if the measure ends up not being funded for 2017 and the following years, that government platform will end up in the graveyard of websites.
(*) The rationale offered by the Italian government for this measure relates to building a sense of community and reminding young people of the importance of culture. Which raises the question: will all kinds of cultural consumption be available to them? Really? We don’t know that yet, but the spirit of the voucher would entail that people could use the money to buy a movie by Wim Wenders as much as an Adam Sandler one. If this is the case, it is safe to predict that some intellectuals will raise their eyebrows. If this is not the case, and the government is somehow selecting some “worthy” cultural consumption, the obvious questions will come: who is doing the selection? Who controls those who select? Can government distinguish between high- and low-brow culture, and if so where do George Simenon’s novels or Alan Moore’s comic books fit?
(*) What about an 18 year old buying a book for his mother? Or for his younger sister? If the government is ok with that, this looks more and more like a stimulus attempt under the pretense of a cultural measure. If the government is not, how can it seriously make sure that only 18 year olds will benefit from this?
(*) My colleague Filippo Cavazzoni, an expert in the economics of culture, pointed out to me that the voucher should be disciplined by a legal decree to be produced one month after the budget law was approved. That happened on December 28, 2015, but the decree hasn’t been published yet.The voucher is supposed to be operative as of September 15th. Matteo Renzi practices what we may call “government by announcement”. My sense is that he is not alone. The legal infrastructure of contemporary government has became so complicated, that while politicians aim at intervening instantly whenever a problem arises, they take months just to make sure that the new laws of their writings are consistent with old ones. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced in Italy but, again, I fear it is not a uniquely Italian one.