A New Resolution to Save Southern Italy from Social and Economic Stagnation

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A few days before the beginning of August vacations, the center-left government of Italy, lead by Matteo Renzi, announced reforms and investments to lunch the economic take off of the regions of the south after long years of stagnation.

Following the meeting of the PD party (democratic Party), held on the 7th of august, the Prime Minister presented a long-term plan for investments worth a total of 100 billion to be spent over the next 15 years. The main goal of the resolution is to boost infrastructure, create new opportunities for entrepreneurs and offer more opportunities for growth in the tourism industry.

The resolution comes after a very harsh letter published in the national newspaper La Repubblica, in which the internationally renowned Italian writer and journalist, Roberto Saviano, wrote: “Dear Premier, the south is dying: Everybody is leaving, even Mafia.”

The opinion piece that generated the reaction of the institutions was based upon a yearly report released by ISTAT (Italian National Institute for Statistics) that looks at the economic and social condition of each region along with aggregate data on the macro regions, such as north, center and south. The outcomes present a critical situation in Southern Italy compared with the rest of the country. The report lead in the past few weeks to manifestations of concern from all parties, calling for the government to react to the situation, which threatens to endanger the economy of the entire nation.

According to the report, in the past 15 years Southern Italy grew at half the speed of Greece, despite having a population of approximately 20 million people compared with Greece’s 16 million. Svimez summarized its analysis by declaring: “Southern Italy is at risk of industrial desertification, with the consequence that the lack of human, entrepreneurial and industrial resources might lead it to miss the opportunity for an economical and financial recovery. The cyclical crisis risks to become chronic underdevelopment.” 

The report shows that only 5.8 million people (of 20 million) are employed and that only one woman out of five has a job. The employment rate of women between 35 and 64 years of age in Italy is 64%; in the south it is 35%. In 2014, the number of families that went below the poverty threshold rose substantially. Last year, 390 thousands new families became “poor.” 37.5% are in Southern Italy (Sicily 41%, Campania 37,7%). The study showed that in the north one family out of 10 is at risk of falling under the poverty threshold. In the south the ratio is much higher, it is one out of three.

In accordance with the aforementioned situation, the government has investment plans, which are supposed to raise the GDP, creating new job opportunities and fostering the recovery and stabilization of the market. Minister of Economic Development Federica Guidi, defined this plan as a new “Marshall Plan” for the south.

The new resolution, which will be published by the government in the next few weeks, tries to address a series of problems that affected the south for decades and that constitute the so-called “Southern Question.” The chronic inability of the south to grow is due to a series of elements, such as the infiltration of criminal organizations within the economical and political texture of the society, the mismanagement of public assets, the strong lack of parameters and means of control of the state and of privates, the inability of the state to properly manage public resources and investments in an efficient and effective way, the structural stagnation of the market and the difficulties to properly connect the region of the south with the rest of the nation and eventually with Europe as well. Those are some of the elements that led to the straightening of organized crime (such as Mafia and Camorra), substantially contributing to slow down the economical and social development of the southern regions.

The aforementioned elements are some of the main causes that also led many people, both from the left and the right, to heavily criticize the government for the choice of investing even more resources in the regions in Southern Italy. Many politicians and journalists criticized the government for proposing reforms which do not tackle the problem at the source. Il Giornale, a national center-right newspaper, reports that from 2009 up until 2014, the state spent 45 billion, along with other 390 billion from 1951 to 2009. The outcomes of these investments, it says, produced 20% unemployment and 56% of youth unemployment. The national unemployment is 12.8 and the youth unemployment is 42,7%. Southern Italy is considerably below the national average. As the right-wing parties underline, Premier Renzi should revise his model of development.

The reply of the center-left government was the creation of a commission, supervised by Renzi itself, with the aim of efficiently managing the funds addressing investment without wasting important resources.

By the end of august, the government will publish a detailed dossier along with the first set of reforms.

Analysis by Cesare Baccheschi

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

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At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

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The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

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When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

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Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

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WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.