Make America Great Again? Look to Italy

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There was a time when Americans took pride in their jobs and their country. It didn't matter what you did as long as you did it to the best of your ability and that you took pride in your work. That work ethic paid dividends. You were paid well for your work and when your time came to an end you were able to retire in honor and dignity.

For most Americans those days are now behind us. Jobs once held with pride have been sent overseas. The time when one was paid enough to put money away for retirement has evaporated.

Today if you are able to put enough money aside to retire those funds would be wiped out as soon as you get sick. Eliminating the prospects of retiring in dignity eviscerates one's pride in their work. Why take pride in what you do and work hard if you know that at the end of the day you're not going to be able to make it? It wasn't always this way. In the mid 1960's I saw my father's paycheck. It was for $110, which paid his mortgage and expenses. Mom stayed home and raised three boys. We were able to afford a nice used car. We never felt rich, but we never felt poor. Had he not died of heart disease (he was treated at the V.A. hospital so we weren't financially ruined) he would have worked out his days and retired reasonably well.What happened to that America? It wasn't all that long ago that the workforce was talking about moving to a four-day work week so that more time could be spent with the family. In the past 50 years we've morphed from that ideal to a place where people now need two, and sometimes three, jobs just to make ends meet. No one is "putting money aside" to be able to retire.

Most people who are working hard are barely treading water. God forbid that you get sick in America. The prescription drugs alone, pushed by greed driven corporations, would be enough to wipe you out. We traded in a decent life of hard work and promise for a life where simply hanging on is now the norm. Recently I had the privilege of spending ten days in Italy. We could learn a lot from these folks. For instance, a waiter in Italy is not paid minimum wage and at the mercy of tips for his/her survival. An Italian waiter is paid a very good wage. There is no tipping (although you can if you wish, but it's not mandatory). They have national healthcare and do not fear losing everything they own should they become ill. They have a national pension plan to augment their savings. After thirty years of work they are able to retire in dignity and security. As a result they take enormous pride in what they do for work. And the competition is fierce.

I was told by our tour guide that where the United States went to war with other countries Italy had been at war with itself. For a couple of thousand years one Italian town was trying to overthrow its neighboring town. On March 17, 1861, around the time America was entering into its more divisive era, Italy declared itself a nation. No longer would towns fight against each other. They would unite under one flag.

This unity did not mean that they would get along. Far from it. There is still great animosity from one town towards another, but instead of using swords they now combat each other with exquisite food and wonderful wine; and they are paid a decent wage for their work.

Let's hope we don't try to Americanize this country as they seem to have done well on their own. This year I'm thankful for Italy; a country that seems to have it figured out.

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving

Bob Stannard is a regular Banner columnist.


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