On Radio New Zealand ‘Sunday Morning’ programme Chris Laidlaw spoke to economist Stefano Zamagni about the success of the the northern Italian province of Emilia-Romagna. The province is possibly best known as the birthplace of the slow food movement, a movement which symbolises the idea of quality over quantity. With a population of just over four and half million the province has one of the highest levels of GDP per capita in Italy and was recently ranked second with regard to the quality of life. Unemployment numbers are among the lowest in Europe and the gap between high and low income groups is much narrower than that of its neighbouring provinces. It also has the highest concentration of cooperative businesses in the world with the cooperative sector responsible for a quarter of the provinces GDP and unusually a large proportion of those cooperatives are worker cooperatives – businesses owned and managed by their employees?
The Emilia-Romagna Model
The region of Emilia-Romagna has a co-operative sector that employs approximately 600,000 people – this accounts for over 40 per cent of the businesses in the region. Furthermore there exist over 325,000 manufacturing enterprises which make it one of the most concentrated industrialised areas in the world. However, what is significant about these enterprises is that 90 per cent of them employ fewer than 50 workers. The region now has the highest GDP per capita, the lowest unemployment rate, and the highest output of research, innovation, and overall performance in the EU. Testament to this is Emilia-Romagna featuring in the top ten of Europe’s 122 economic regions. According to Stefano Zamagni (former economist at the University of Bologna) the success of Emilia-Romagna is due to “Economic Democracy”. In the 1970s a movement driven by academics and community activists sought to challenge the paradigm of the country’s highly corporatised private and public sectors and bring about a more democratic and accountable system for running the economy. A left-wing coalition government in the 1970s instigated a period of restructuring in which the new ruling government transferred the control of social services and economic development to the country’s 20 administrative regions. You can read a longer version of this post in the June edition of econoMAX