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The Greatest Italian Hero


Faster than a speeding inflation rate. Able to leap over unscrupulous retailers in a single bound.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
No, it’s “Mister Price,” a so-called superhero paid by the Italian government to combat the country’s soaring costs of living.
Italian newspapers are a bit like mines, you have to slog through a lot of rubble to hit paydirt, and the first headline I read about this sounded like a joke.
It read: “High cost of living: Mister Price is Back!” with a subhead mentioning Superman. This isn’t my first trip to the coal mines, so I read on, thinking I misunderstood something.
It made me laugh out loud, but it wasn’t a joke.
One of the niggling clauses in the 2008 budget (approved by a tiny margin after much squabbling late December) calls for a Mister Prezzi (lit: prices).
This government-appointed watchdog will, according to deputy economic development minister Sergio D’Antoni, keep retailers in line by performing more price checks and generally threatening would-be gougers into obedience by his very presence. (The microscopic percentage of women in government here means that there’s little chance of a crusading Ms. Price).
With inflation at a four-year high and rampant speculation over staples like pasta and groceries, I just don’t have much faith in supermarket superheroes.
Italy already has finance police (guardia di finanza) whose job it is to deal with all kinds of fiscal wrongdoing.
And not only is the idea redundant, it’s not even original. The Swiss, a populace to the best of my knowledge not known for innovation or even trace amounts of irony, came up with “Monsieur Prix” in the 1990s. The face of the current Monsieur confirms my suspicions.
One of my Christmas presents — I want to say from a well-wisher, but now I’m not so sure — was a book called “The Caste” (La Casta) written by two bulldog journalists with a disturbingly light touch from leading daily Corriere della Sera, Sergio Rizzo and Gian Antonio Stella.
Basically, it’s a witty, well-documented 245-page invitation to emigrate: the premise of the book is that Italy’s political class is stealing the country blind and it’s full of details on how, despite little things like referendums to cut public funding to political parties, they push laws to do just that.
And now we’ll be saved by another government-appointed watchdog?
Somebody find me the Kryptonite.

Share  Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 12:08 PM | Permalink

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