- Published: Wednesday, 07 November 2018 07:35
This post is both a promise (that I posted on Whatsapp), and a public riposte.
The idea was to post my next post about Turin and Italy not from the starting point of my short journey from Turin to Frankfurt, but once reached my destination.
Which implies: while reading Castiglione’s “The Courtesan”, I was actually thinking and assembling the bits and pieces for this article.
Anyway, in the end decided that it was better to release it “the day after”, than on the evening of my arrival: wise choice, as there was enough communication to manage.
I will not assume that you read previous posts in this blog, dirittodivoto.com, but you are welcome if you want.
A note: as initially the posts were in Italian and for Italians, mainly in Turin, some might be obscure if processed by GoogleTranslate and the like, or even if read from those outside Turin.
When I will have time, I will add as a “Post Scriptum” the English version of previous posts- but let me know if you want some of them translated.
Now, the starting point of this post is to adopt something different, akin to XIX books, i.e. to start with a list of the “threads” that it will cover.
First, it is my disagreement with the model adopted over the last few decades for the development (somebody would call it “deindustrialization” or, in Italian “deindustrializzazione/terziarizzazione” of the town).
During that time, I was mainly living abroad and returning now and then (I am a “local-local” partially since 2012, and really since summer 2015).
I lived and worked since the late 1980s in many towns that went through one or more rounds of “gentrification”: just to stay “abroad”, London, Paris, Zurich, Brussels.
Now, “gentrification” implied that by restoring, cleaning up, bringing up to a different level of quality (and cost-per-use) everything, the old “locals-locals” often were pushed outside the areas where they were used to live.
Whenever an area became “the new trendy”, generally it became unaffordable.
I have my qualms with the model, as it is ludicrous: except when simply is a matter of creating “higher quality real estate” for new, more affluent inhabitants, most of the “gentrifications” I met actually started by being attracted from the existing “culture”- and then killed it.
But this is not the issue here.
In all those “non-Italian” towns were I was around while one or more rounds of gentrification went around, the local economy of the town wasn’t at the same time destroyed.
Turin used to be a company town, FIAT (now FCA) stands for “Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino”.
When you have a behemoth in any town, that attracted various services and additional developments, including on the “knowledge supply chain”.
So, universities, technical universities, and the like, along with cultural institutions, etc.
Up to the late XX century and its associated lowering of logistics costs: then, the whole picture increasingly changed albeit many politicians and self-defined intellectuals seem to be stuck in the past.
A recent report (https://www.rapporto-rota.it/) talks about a declining mix of services- but referring mainly to the economic value per capita; I shared already few weeks ago my “footnotes” on that report and a convention on thinking about the future of Turin, called “Torino Stratosferica”.
Personally, I think that that is an issue worth thinking about, when you have to maintain the infrastructure and services of a town that used to be well above 1mln and now is heading toward 800k inhabitants, and with much lower salaries than before.
But the real difference between London, Paris, Brussels, Zurich, and, yes, also Berlin gentrifications (on the latter, you can read my 2012 fact finding “on the ground” for free on Slideshare) and the one in Turin isn’t about money.
Is about the knowledge and corporate culture mix of the new jobs that replaced the old employment opportunities in manufacturing and related value-added services (engineering, management consulting, etc)
.Salaries are a side-effect of the value assigned by each society and economic system: a “social construct”, not an objective measure of value.
I prefer to use instead the “knowledge density”, if you really need to use a neologism to summarize it.
The idea is simple: the denser the knowledge required, the longer it takes to “stabilize it”.
Many craftsman jobs probably now have a low “social value”, if you look at the salaries e.g. of newly hired.
But require a long, long time to develop an adequate level of skills.
Moving to modern times, the same applies to many of the health services- also if by looking at their salaries often they have lower income that others in professions where the “knowledge stabilization cycle” is shorter.
Now, Turin lost many of its manufacturing jobs- and therefore also many of those associated not just with manufacturing, but also partially or seemingly unrelated services.
“Knowledge density” has two dimensions, one related to the knowledge mix itself (e.g. to train an engineer or a doctor takes a long, long time), and the other one related to the structural complexity of the organization where that knowledge mix is deployed, in short the “corporate knowledge mix” (it applies also to the public sector).
Meaning: yes, it takes a long time to train e.g. a doctor- but then, before all that training can be applied, there is a sometimes even longer “acclimatization period”, to get used to rules, processes, and overall the culture of the health ecosystem where the doctor will work.
Do you want to avoid the latter, and start being a doctor immediately?
Then, you are probably considering a model that worked in pre-industrial times, when in a village (it was so also when I was a kid in Italy), the doctor, along with the priest and the mayor, and few others, were “the” authorities.
A model still useful, but then you will have to accept a simpler society, unable to cope with and deliver e.g. complex surgery.
Complexity isn’t just related to bureaucracy: it is a matter of efficiency (to simplify: how many resources you use to produce a result), efficacy (that the result is useful), and overall aggregate impact.
If you achieve perfect efficiency and efficacy in a single point in a complex social system (e.g. Italy) by bypassing the rules and relying only on the “informal social contract” and “informal social structure”, it might work in that single point, but the message that delivers to the other parts of the structure is that it is ok to toss away rules, bureaucracy, and do as you see fit.
Italian newspapers often have a dalliance with heroes overcoming the hurdles of bureaucracy by using “common sense”, but forget to consider the consequences.
So, knowledge in and by itself isn’t enough, “knowledge density” in individuals is just an element of a more complex mix.
If you consider just the economic value of aggregated salaries, you have a practical reference that it is easier to assess and monitor than the “individual and corporate knowledge density”.
But, from a political perspective, it is the latter than impacts on long-term development and social resilience, or, to streamline, the ability of society to adapt.
I heard often engineers complain, and recently heard also architects during the Q&A at a local conference, stating both the same: they have to go to Milan if they want to work and get paid.
This morning I received on Linkedin a post from the local Industrialists’ Association, stating that companies will join a protest against the Mayor of Turin and Town Council decision to withdraw from the high-speed link with Lyon called TAV.
My comment (you can read it on Linkedin) was that I am for TAV, but against the protest, as it is presented as “neutral”, while instead it is a political element in a long campaign that will lead to the election of a new Governor of Piedmont.
Moreover, those now protesting were there over the last few decades and frankly delivered a development model based on the “hourglass”, i.e. assuming that the industrial past of Turin was a lost cause, and working on creating an attractive open air shopping mall.
Somebody said that that is just “gentrification”: sorry, it is not.
In gentrification, it might well be that you create a local point “hourglass” separation, but overall the town economy creates various types of jobs with various “social recognition” levels- yes, including when looking at the mere economic value represented by salaries, bonuses, etc.
E.g. in some areas in London a colleague originally from Asia said to me over a decade ago “I am the only non-millionaire in my street”.
In Turin, I saw few rounds of transformation that routinely developed the real estate and the “posher than thou” status of various areas in the centre, but with a model that is much more structured than what I observed elsewhere.
E.g. there was a time when nicer shops were in Via Garibaldi, then via Roma while via Garibaldi started to fill with lower-cost shops; then the same happened to via Roma, replaced by via Lagrange; and now again.
The only continuity is that the first shops kicked out in each round of “shifting” are… bookshops.
Alphabetically: Brussels, London, Paris, Zurich- they do have shopping areas, but their centre isn’t just an open air mall, and you can still find offices and people working there.
A curious element of Turin is that, when I write something, I get comments as if there were a need for an “imprimatur” to approve sharing your ideas.
Well, I have some ideas, some experience, some skills- all developed initially through political activities, and then for the last 30 years plus by working around in various industries.
If somebody doesn’t like my ideas or even reading them… can simply stop reading.
I like the song from Peter Gabriel’s album “So”, “We do what we are told”, about the Milgram experiment (https://genius.com/Peter-gabriel-we-do-what-were-told-milgrams-37-lyrics).
But it is a dangerous model for the XXI century, as I wrote in the post on Linkedin, as innovations and competitivity will require continuous collection and processing of “signals”- and this could happen only if the “soclal elevator” works for youngsters, at least potentially works (I am way beyond that age and I do not have children, so, it is not a "Cicero pro domo sua").
I shared few ideas about what I think could be the natural evolution in the XXI century of business models that I worked on or observed since the late 1980s in other articles (see http://robertolofaro.com/rethinking-business).
To be and stay competitive, we do need “knowledge priesthoods”, as befits a complex knowledge society.
I am not the originator of this idea: a Nobel Laureate in Physics, Abdus Salam, who founded a research centre in Trieste (Italy) said something similar decades ago, as a way to cope with increasing complexity and research projects that were actually closer to a cathedral (developed over generations) than ordinary “build up a career” ones.
But we need every citizen to turn into an antenna, connecting the dots with other fellow citizens, to help those “priesthoods” to develop ideas or suggestions into plans, projects, and eventually sustainable reality.
Otherwise, Europe (and most of all, Italy and Turin) will keep being the one that creates R&D-based “hard” innovation, and then uses it only for incremental innovations (i.e. those understood by those already within the “priesthood”).
Continuously developing and funding what the Amazon and Alibaba and Google of the future will then turn into both gold and knowledge mines.
There might be a day when, as in Star Trek, money is a relative value, and in most cases irrelevant to fulfilll the Maslow scale of each individual.
But I doubt that there will even be a time when knowledge will lose value.
And knowledge is a strange beast: you have to keep challenging it to see it develop- resting on your laurels is the best way to do what happened to Roman aqueducts a while after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
Italians have just to look at Manzoni’s Promessi Sposi and compare with what Rome had during the Empire to see how a complex society can decay fast, and take over a thousand years to be able to do what was able to do before… where Rome had water and waste disposal pipes, the XVI century described by Manzoni had open-air sewers…
Because there is an element in the “individual and corporate knowledge mix” that is currently consolidating: you can study as much as you want, but, in the end, the skills that you use in your job are easily transferrable to another organization, with limited or no need to adapt to new processes, organizational structures, etc.
As the current mix of services sees a continuous ebb and flow (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebb_and_flow) of workforce demand, with a lower complexity organizational culture involved.
But a “cahier de doléances“ is easy to write.
As I wrote yesterday morning, if all this intelligentsia that still has means, structures, knowledge wants, a worthwhile endeavour is not to keep publishing articles on newspapers where those in power locally take round at complaining, but instead trying to assemble abilities to develop a new model.
Because I am a nobody- but it is puzzling that, since months, each week brings representative of those in power routinely complaining about their inability to do anything, and in each round complaining really… about the others.
Otherwise, the “hourglass Turin” will see it newly built and expanded knowledge infrastructure decay in a decade or so: what a wasted opportunity.
And now, will go and spend a couple of days thriving into updating myself on a different perspective.
Have a nice day!