Bruno Baranek, Federico Boffa, Jakub Kastl, 23 August 2021

Carbon pricing is generally considered by economists as a superior alternative for emissions mitigation to command-and control regulation. This column uses data from the Italian electricity market to challenge this view in the context of the electricity sector, showing that carbon pricing schemes may not work efficiently when the major firms in the market are government controlled. As the vast majority of large electricity generators in the world are government-controlled and the electricity sector accounts for more than 40% of global carbon emissions from fuel combustion, the findings have important policy implications. Properly implemented command and control approaches might be more efficient, especially since reliable estimates of the production functions of electric generators are readily available.

Margherita Russo, Claudia Cardinale Ciccotti, Fabrizio De Alexandris, Antonela Gjinaj, Giovanni Romaniello, Antonio Scatorchia, Giorgio Terranova, 02 August 2021

Many countries turned to use contact-tracing apps to help control the spread of COVID-19. Despite public policy efforts, however, tracking apps have not been a success because of public concerns over data privacy. This column compares nine countries to explore the conditions behind the successful use of digital technologies and AI for public purposes. Individuals give over personal data to internet companies but are wary of sharing their data for the public interest. Citizen trust in public interventions and commitment to social goals need to be nurtured in normal times to be effective in emergencies.

Tito Boeri, 16 July 2021

People everywhere sometimes pretend to be sick on a Friday because a day off work means a three-day weekend. In Italy, sick workers may now get a surprise home visit from the doctor. Tito Boeri tells Tim Phillips how effective this has been as a cure for "Friday morning fever".

The paper discussed is:
Boeri, T, Di Porto, E, Naticchioni, P and Scrutinio, V. 2021. 'Friday Morning Fever. Evidence from a Randomized Experiment on Sick Leave Monitoring in the Public Sector.'. London, Centre for Economic Policy Research. https://cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=16104

Joan Costa-Font, 29 June 2021

Covid-19 vaccines exert large positive spillover effects beyond their protective effects for individuals, and thus their value far exceeds their costs. But these benefits are only realised if enough people receive both doses, so policymakers need to ensure appropriate incentives are in place to mitigate vaccine hesitancy. This column explores the potential of different incentives, arguing that creating a narrative of social esteem around being vaccinated may be the most effective way to ensure widespread uptake.

Valerio Ercolani, Elisa Guglielminetti, Concetta Rondinelli, 26 June 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a surge in household savings across the world. This column exploits information from the Bank of Italy’s Special Survey of Italian Households to break down recent saving patterns in Italy. It finds an increase in precautionary savings associated with factors such as higher job uncertainty and fears of a protracted pandemic. Additionally, it suggests that a lasting precautionary attitude could slow the decumulation of piled up savings, even as the pandemic slows down.

Enrico Nano, Ugo Panizza, Martina Viarengo, 25 June 2021

Over the last 40 years, Italy has produced a large number of influential economists. This is somewhat surprising because economics is more likely to require technical training than other social sciences and, until the 1980s, Italy did not have any formal doctoral programme. This column examines how a large scholarship program contributed to the formation of a generation of Italian economists with a focus on gender and socioeconomic status, and on their interaction with social mobility.  

Gianmarco Daniele, Tommaso Giommoni, 10 May 2021

Austerity measures have been widely adopted around the world with mixed results in terms of public debt reduction and adverse political effects. This column examines the effect of fiscal austerity policies on corruption in Italian municipalities. The budget rules have led to a decrease in both recorded corruption rates and corruption charges per euro spent, without a clear effect on local public service provision. The drop in corruption emerges mostly in pre-electoral years for mayors eligible for reelection. Budget constraints might induce local governments to curb expenditures while dampening exposure to corruption.

Megha Patnaik, Andrea Lamorgese, Andrea Linarello, Fabiano Schivardi, 01 May 2021

In response to COVID-19, firms had to adapt to nationwide lockdowns and social distancing measures with little to no prior experience. This column examines the role of management in firms’ responses to the pandemic in Italy, the first western country to be badly hit by the outbreak, and finds that firms with structured management practices experienced lower declines in performance during the post-lockdown period. These firms were more likely to adopt labour-related strategies in response to the lockdown, including transitions to remote work.

Michele Andreolli, Paolo Surico, 29 April 2021

What is the consumption response to unexpected transitory income gains of different size and what are the aggregate demand implications of stimulus packages that target different segments of the population? This column explores these questions using responses to hypothetical questions in the Italian Survey of Household Income and Wealth. Families with low cash-at-hand display a higher marginal propensity to consume out of small gains, while affluent households exhibit a higher marginal propensity to consume out of large gains. For a given level of public spending, a fiscal transfer of a smaller size paid to a larger group of low-income households stimulates aggregate consumption more than a larger transfer paid to a smaller group.

Paolo Acciari, Facundo Alvaredo, Salvatore Morelli, 24 April 2021

Growing wealth disparities can have corrosive effects on equality of opportunity when they crystallise over time and turn into persistent disparities across generations. This column uses newly assembled data from Italian inheritance tax records to show that the wealth share of the top 1% (half a million individuals) increased from 16% in 1995 to 22% in 2016, and the share accruing to the top 0.01% (the richest 5,000 adults) almost tripled from 1.8% to 5%.  In contrast, the poorest 50% saw an 80% drop in their average net wealth over the same period. The data also reveal the growing role of inheritance and gifts inter vivos as a share of national income, as well as their increasing concentration at the top.

Luca Bellodi, Massimo Morelli, Matia Vannoni, 07 April 2021

Populism is once more becoming a dominant feature of the political landscape in many countries, but little is known about its consequences for the quality of government. Using Italian municipal-level data, this column shows that populism has a negative impact on bureaucratic expertise and government performance, ultimately to the detriment of society and the economy. 

Bruno Caprettini, Lorenzo Casaburi, Miriam Venturini, 01 April 2021

In the aftermath of World War II, the 1950 Italian land reform expropriated wealthy landowners and redistributed their land among rural workers, with substantial and long-lasting electoral rewards for the initiating Christian Democratic Party. The electoral effects of the reform were visible even 40 years later, arguably because the reform strengthened local Christian Democratic grassroots organisations and because Christian Democratic governments continued to invest in reform towns. The episode offers insights into the persistence of the electoral benefits of redistribution.

Emanuel Moench, Loriana Pelizzon, Michael Schneider, 23 March 2021

In March 2020, a ‘dash for cash’ driven by the Covid-19 crisis affected the liquidity of the US Treasury bonds market as well as numerous other financial markets around the globe. This column investigates how euro area sovereign bond markets fared during the same period. While deteriorations in sovereign debt market liquidity are evident, these appear to be driven by a ‘dash for collateral’ in euro-denominated safe assets. This suggests some differences from the US experience, as well as variations across European countries. 

Francesca Carta, Francesco D'Amuri, Till von Wachter, 16 March 2021

Population ageing reduces labour supply and burdens pension systems. At the same time, delaying the statutory retirement age may have an impact on firms’ productivity and risks crowding out younger workers. This column exploits an unexpected pension reform in Italy in 2012 which sharply increased the full retirement age for workers aged 55 or above to show that such concerns may not be warranted. A rise in employment of older workers led to an increase in value added while holding labour costs constant. Employment in other age classes also increased. This suggests older workers are valuable to employers and that pension reforms postponing retirement can remove a constraint rather than placing a burden on firms.

Massimiliano Ferraresi, Gianluca Gucciardi, 12 February 2021

In the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, central governments around the world played a central role in defining policy options to combat the pandemic, while the local authorities saw their executive powers temporarily reduced or even cancelled. This column examines the change in policy decisions induced by the pandemic that led to centralised decision-making in Italy. Using an indicator of local governance approval, it investigates the difference between cities politically aligned and non-aligned with the central government before the pandemic, when municipalities enjoyed the usual discretion in policy decisions, and after the COVID-19 outbreak, when decisions were centralised. The findings suggest a public ‘discontent’ with the policy decisions of the central government, which might reflect a sense of a lack of government preparedness against the pandemic.

Augusto Cerqua, Marco Letta, 18 December 2020

There is widespread concern about the toll of the pandemic on local economies, but little causal evidence to assess its real costs. This column presents an impact evaluation of the local economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis in Italy, based on a counterfactual application of machine learning algorithms. It documents that, to date, impacts on employment and firms have been dramatically uneven across the Italian territory and spatially uncorrelated with the epidemiological pattern of the first wave. It shows that this heterogeneity is associated with sectoral specialisation, exposure to social aggregation risks, and pre-existing labour market fragilities. Finally, it argues that such diverging local trajectories call for a place-based approach in the policy response to the crisis.

Guido de Blasio, Alessio D'Ignazio, Marco Letta, 27 November 2020

The use of artificial intelligence in preventing crime is gaining increasing interest in research and policymaking circles. This column discusses how machine learning can be leveraged to predict local corruption in Italy. It highlights how such algorithmic predictions could be employed in the service of anti-corruption efforts, while preserving transparency and accountability of the decisions taken by the policymaker.

Alex Bryson, Lorenzo Corsini, Irene Martelli, 24 November 2020

Public spending on education in Italy has been falling for many years, limiting the hiring of new permanent teachers and thus raising the average age of teachers in the country. This column considers the effect of allocating permanent teacher contracts to older teachers on student performance in upper-secondary schools in Tuscany. The findings suggest that a higher proportion of older teachers in a school has a negative effect on student performance. The government may need to do more to recruit younger cohorts of teachers into permanent posts, preferably through periodic intakes.

Daron Acemoğlu, Giuseppe De Feo, Giacomo De Luca, Gianluca Russo, 28 October 2020

Right-wing populist movements often come to power by exploiting people’s anxieties and fears. Following WWI, fascists in Italy likely exploited the perceived threat of socialism to gain support among the elite and the middle classes. This column explores the link between the threat of socialism and Mussolini’s rise to power and finds a strong association between the Red Scare in Italy and the subsequent local support for the Fascist Party in the early 1920s. Local elites, especially large landowners, played an important role in boosting Fascist Party activity and support.

Nicola Borri, Francesco Drago, Chiara Santantonio, Francesco Sobbrio, 23 October 2020

In response to the Covid-19 outbreak, many countries imposed lockdowns to control the spread of the virus. This column evaluates the Italian economic lockdown and its effect on mortality due to Covid-19. It finds that the intensity of the lockdown is associated with a significant reduction in mortality among people aged 40 and over, with larger and more significant effects for individuals over 50. Back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate that in the 26 days between 5 April and 30 April 4,793 deaths were avoided in the 3,518 municipalities which experienced a more intense lockdown.

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