Shelf Life

In Italy, money makes a good read

Marketplace Staff Nov 20, 2007
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Shelf Life

In Italy, money makes a good read

Marketplace Staff Nov 20, 2007
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TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: It’s a tale of shady deals, secret pay-offs, and wretched excess. And Italians can’t get enough of it. Megan Williams reports from Rome on Italy’s latest must-read.


Megan Williams: “The Caste” centers on a group of men driven by greed, arrogance and privilege. An oligarchy that has become, in the words of the Italian best-seller, “increasingly indifferent to the common good in order to nourish itself.”

No, this isn’t a tale of the mafia. It’s a fact-filled account of Italy’s most powerful and untouchable politicians. Since the book was published in May, it’s sold more than a million copies in a country where 20,000 is considered a best-seller. And sales show no signs of slowing down

Co-author Sergio Rizzo:

Sergio Rizzo (interpreter): Politicians here don’t consider public money belonging to the public. And that means they help themselves.

One after another, Rizzo and co-author Gian Antonio Stella lay out the excesses. The budget for the president’s palace? It’s four times that of Buckingham Palace. The salary for a typical member of parliament: $23,000 a month, tax-free.

Historically, Italians have been forgiving about such extravagances. But now, they’re struggling to pay the rent, and they want to know where their money is going.

Rizzo (interpreter): Politicians have created defensive walls that are incredibly difficult to take apart. When you have this kind of entanglement of power, you realize it’s created specifically not to function.

Beppe Grillo is a comedian turned political activist who’s using The Caste to tap into Italians’ disgust with their leaders. This fall, he organized a day of nationwide protests, with a slogan that told politicians where to go — in no uncertain terms.

Grillo wants Italy’s parliament — the only one in the world with 25 convicted criminals — cleaned up. Authors Rizzo and Stella say lowering political salaries and reducing government would also be a good start.

In Rome, I’m Megan Williams for Marketplace.

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