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Monday, April 17, 2006

On Being Italian: Statali, Autonomi & Dependenti

Italians can be split into three classes based on their job. These three classifications do not include people born to wealth or the super affluent, successful businessmen such as Silvio Berlusconi.

The Statali: These are people who work for the government. Statali cannot, for anything short of murdering their boss, be fired. They have absolute job security until they reach retirement age, which is in their late forties to early fifties. They have superior benefits, including paternity leave with pay; very generous retirement programs and the absolute right, after a few years on the job, to be transferred to the same job back in their home town. They work a 35 hr week but do not have to show up if they do not want to and because they work such short hours they can moonlight and make extra, unreported income. They have many paid days off each year, get special government rates at hotels and resorts, receive higher earnings on their savings and pay lower loan interest rates. They are both envied and despised by the Italian general population. One of the most egregious stories of Statali benefits involves elected office. When an individual is elected to the Chamber of Deputies--that is, becomes an elected representative of the people (there are 620 such positions), he only has to serve one term (less than 12 months) in order to receive a lifetime state pension that is significantly greater than that received by school teachers and lesser state officials who must work 35 years before reaching retirement.

The Autonomi: These are the self employed. They own their own business and have one great advantage over both the Statali and the Dependenti; they can avoid paying income taxes. In Italy, it is a fact of life that, if possible, one avoids paying taxes by under-declaring income. The Autonomi say to themselves: “It is a given that since the government babies the Statali workers and wastes money on them, it is furbo (clever) of us to figure out as many creative ways as we can to cheat the government since it will only waste our tax money on the Autonomi.” It is also a given then, that the Autonomi, since they do not have the benefits or extra perks that the Statali have, chronically gripe about how they are forced to lie and cheat to avoid paying taxes to support the Statali who live off the government’s big tit.

Our experience of an Autonomi member in action was Marisa, the woman who rented us our apartment in Rome. Within minutes after meeting us she asked that we sign a letter stating that we were paying only half the amount of rent that we were actually paying. Since she makes a living renting her apartments, she is self employed and part of the Autonomi group. Thus, she believes it is only fair that she cheat the government out of taxes in order to survive. That is also why she was not at all self conscious asking us to sign an untruthful statement.

Also, when we bought books at either of our two favorite bookstores in Trastevere, we were almost always given a hand written receipt because Autonomi store owners, for the most part, do not run sales through their cash registers. Predictably, both book store owners complained mightily about taxes and how they have to cheat to survive.

The Dependenti: These people are the employed; they work for others. They have limited benefits, work long and rigid hours, cannot moonlight, make far less money, and are the unhappiest of the three groups. They are the ones who are most angry and who are most apt to complain about the lousy work ethic of the Statali and the cheating, tax avoiding Autonomi. They complain that they alone are carrying the nation on their backs because they are paying high taxes and the other two groups are either gobbling the taxes up with their benefits or almost completely avoiding paying taxes and coasting.

When the Autonomi and the Dependenti talk they complain about the Statali and their easy, lazy life. When the Statali and the Dependenti talk, they put down the Autonomi because they pay very little taxes. When the Automoni and the Statali talk, they make clucking noises about the “poor working stiffs” who have it so bad. Bruno, our Florence, physician-surgeon friend, falls into an interesting category in terms of these three groups. He is technically a self employed professional (Autonomi), but since his surgery and practice hours run through a hospital and a group practice, he does not have the option to launder and hide income and so he is taxed as though he were part of the Dependenti group.

Despite all the anger and resentment directed toward the Statali by two thirds of the working population, most Italians would give their last pot of sugo for a Statali job. The general belief among Italians is that: "Once you get on the big tit you never have to work or worry again."


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