Italian most authoritative financial paper Il Sole 24 Ore reports a colorful Wall Street Journal commentary on the Italian government's reform of shops, restaurants and bars hours-of-operation, freeing them to open whenever and for as long as their owners like, even on Sundays.
This as a measure seeking to spur commercial activity in this time of crisis (a law passed last month).
The most traditional argument against this type of retail "deregulation" is that it hurts the smaller businesses, to the advantage of corporate retail giants that have the resources to keep storefronts open 24/7. I am philosophically pro-liberalization, with strong government competitive oversight, but don't you/we think that this may lead to a "Walmartization" of Italian retail? Is it already happening? What happens then to smaller/local suppliers?
I agree. In San Francisco we are lucky to be able to dine at great independent restaurants, buy at local bookstores and find lots of hand made products at local shops. That's not the case in most of the rest of the United States, where PF Chang is the height of Chinese food and independent coffee shops and bookstores are practically non existent. I think Italy should find a way to make things easier for businesses while protecting what makes the country truly special: small businesses. Not everything from the United States is better: see the recent decision to allow Starbucks in the country. We'll see how the new legislation plays out...but I do hope we do not end up with big corporate chains, low wages and fast paced consumerism.
It's always difficult to implement changes from the top, but we might all agree that if there's one thing that Italian small/medium businesses (from micro to household names with established brands) could improve is "service".
From remembering the Saturdays wasted waiting in line at the hairdresser in Italy (busy commuters hardly could make the 7:00pm week-day closing time, and God forbid staying open over lunch!), to having to point out that -nowadays, as a US buyer (importer)- I might sometime enjoy a conference call at my preferred time, not always after Midnight or before 8:00am, PST, I feel Italians business owners and their teams could benefit of some flexibility. The times of opening "the shop" (il negozio) and waiting for passing-by-customers are gone: you have to do some marketing (I don't care which one), and you have to go get your customers, because otherwise somebody else will.
I'm not going to recommend legislative measures, but it would be enough to liberalize the opening/closing, while keeping the maximum weekly hours under control. Or mandating (substantial) higher salaries for after hours work.
As Massimo and Robert say here below, it's about competition, about empowering business owners to do what they are supposed to: business. Being entrepreneurial, take risk, work hard, be rewarded. Be it a high tech start-up, or an "acconciatore per uomo"...
We need a "like" button!
We look forward to get a freedom injection in the country, becouse we know that having a free market is the base to become competitive, for real. It's just a first step, but it is the beginning of a revolution (we hope).
This step will likely do little to improve the economy because the economy is in desperate need of cash and courage. Removing restrictions on the hours during which a business can be open will be helpful once the economy is healthier, but at the moment the economic pump has to be primed with additional cash that has been placed in the hands of consumers. The infusion of disposable income can come from only three sources at present, one of which is automatically eliminated by the government's austerity measures, i.e. the government itself. The other two are increased wealth from export activity and loans from other governments. The ECB seems not to be ready to taken on the burden of bailing out Italy, so it is left to Italy's exporters and government regulators to pull more money into the country which ultimately would trickle down to its citizens. This is not a promising scenario, and while it is understood that Italy is a country that is too big to fail, it is also true that the ECB and all of the EU are incapable of rescuing it as it slides toward an economic cliff.
It is fashionable among those who want to advance business to say that innovation and consumerism can turn an economy around. I would agree with that as long as there is money that is being conserved by individuals and businesses that can be used to spark new business activity, but the economy is in a stranglehold of fear. Organizations and individuals are resisting change out of fear of the future. This is not an irrational fear, but the fear is palpable and has real economic consequences. Business groups, business owners, and consumers have to be prudent yet courageous. They have to be willing to take risks, more particularly to risk failure, if they are ever to succeed in producing a vibrant and prosperous economy that creates opportunities for all Italian citizens. If they don't change, however, and if they succumb to the consequences of fear, job formation will cease, the numbers of the permanently unemployed will increase, and the divisions between the haves and the have nots will become more obvious and more unacceptable, potentially leading to civil unrest and an acceleration of economic descent.