“Giarre, a town in eastern Sicily, sits above the sea on the slopes of Mount Etna. It was once a collection point for the wine produced on the hills above, which was rolled down its main street in barrels to the port below. Today, Giarre bears a far more dubious distinction. The city of 27,000 hosts the largest number of uncompleted public projects in the country: 25 of them, nearly one for every 1,000 inhabitants. So spectacular is the waste that some locals have proposed promoting Giarre’s excess as a tourist attraction, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Oct. 8 edition.
"On an afternoon in September, I toured some of Giarre’s most notorious eyesores with Turi Caggegi, a journalist who has been writing about government waste since the 1990s. Caggegi showed off a partly built, graffiti-covered theater where work has started and stopped 12 times. It has yet to host a show. Not far away stood a hospital that took 30 years to build and was outdated before it was ready to open. Later, Caggegi drove past an Olympic-size swimming pool that was sunk but never completed.
“So much money wasted,” he said. “And it wasn’t that they were spending it on productive investments. They were buying votes.”
"In 2011 the Sicilian regional government ran a 5.3 billion- euro ($6.8 billion) deficit on a 27 billion-euro budget. This year, with the island’s credit rating hovering just above junk status and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti cutting subsidies to the regions in an effort to shore up the national budget, Sicily has reached the breaking point..
"..In Giarre, Caggegi led me to the unfinished stands of what would have been a 20,000-seat polo field.
“The whole population of Giarre, babies included, was supposed to come here and watch polo,” he said. “We don’t even have horses. It was like building a hockey rink in Nairobi.”
"From a door in the base of the stands, Caggegi and I made our way up the raw concrete steps. Below, we could see runners circling an oval track. Grass grew on the bleachers from a layer of fine black pebbles--coughed up during Mt. Etna’s periodic eruptions. The view from the top was spectacular: the volcano on one side, the sea on the other.
“Bread and circuses,” said Caggegi. “That’s what the Romans used to say.” Italians are discovering what happens when the bread runs out.”
- From Bloomberg News, ‘Sicily on brink of fiscal collapse is symbol of dysfunction’, by Stephan Faris, 5.10.2012.
“Riot police were out in force in Tehran’s main squares yesterday as merchants kept their shops shut in protest at the falling rial, despite threats of prosecution.. The rial has fallen 30 percent in the past week, raising questions about Iran’s economic health in the face of tightening international sanctions. Wednesday’s strike by bazaar merchants in the capital, accompanied by unexpected protests by currency traders, led to clashes between riot police and demonstrators..”
- From the Financial Times, ‘Iran riot police on alert as merchants step up protest’, 5.10.2012.
That roaring sound you hear is the noise of chickens coming home to roost across the western world. We have had four decades since President Nixon took the US dollar off gold in 1971, during which time our politicians have happily promised us the earth and made up for the inevitable shortfall by borrowing from the bond markets, and therefore from the future. But even governments cannot live beyond their (taxpayers’) means indefinitely. As the likes of Greece and Sicily are now discovering, the future has caught up with us.
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