The European Union (EU) has tried to create widespread and relatively equitable economic growth in Europe for the sake of continental stability and tranquility. For the most part, this has been achieved as personal and aggregate economic growth has increased over the past several decades. However, following the 2008 financial and eventual economic crisis, there is a greater percentage of people who are not only objectively ‘poorer’ but also feel a heightened risk of economic adversity due to economic struggles in both their own countries and the EU.
“A combined review of indicators from the European Quality of Life Survey and those obtained from the Eurobarometer (for 2009 and 2010) highlights the fact that, on the whole, the economic and financial crisis has led to a decline in quality of life [in Europe]. This is more apparent for those living in countries most affected by the crisis. Vulnerable groups such as the unemployed, the elderly and the retired, as well as people suffering financial difficulties, have experienced a considerable drop in their well-being following the crisis.” (Abstract of the Eurofund Report 2012)
Democratic governments have struggled to address these issues and Europe faces a period of crisis that forces us to consider both the quality and direction that European politics and economics have taken. Specific to Italy, although national-level income inequality has remained relatively steady over the past 20 years, it has consistently been among Europe’s highest. As worrisome and potentially devastating to the future of Italy, unemployment in 2014 for 25-34 year olds was 19% (6 percentage points higher than the EU average). Even for those with a university degree, graduates aged between 25 and 34, the unemployment rate was 16%. Since 2011, this rate has increased by 46%, real wages have decreased by 20%, as well as use of temporary contracts, long-term unemployment and over-education all increased.
This trend in unemployment – as but one example – is a harbinger for continuing and deeper troubles for the generations coming into the workforce and finding little. Inequality and unemployment hinder social mobility, educational opportunities, and higher life satisfaction, thus creating a vicious cycle for the future generations of Italians. Based on current research, we know how corrosive these vicious cycles are to the politics, economics, and societies in which they emerge. It is not subsequently surprisingly to note that satisfaction with the performance of democracy in Italy remains among Europe’s lowest.
At the same time, many European countries are struggling with addressing continuing immigration and migration. The multi-layered issue of within and into European migration has challenged individual European countries as well as coherence at the EU-level. Equitable and humane solutions have failed to materialize on the basis of the uneven distribution of countries’ responsibilities, increasingly polarized European politics, and larger international events that appear to stimulate rather than alleviate migration flows.
If the economy cannot function in service of society and politics is seen to provide little relief for this and other challenges, we are faced with important and timely questions about the future of Europe. While both the disciplines of Economics and Political Science have identified and studied these convergent phenomena, there has been limited confrontation with entrenched thinking about the roles of the modern nation-state and the economy.
The Center for Research and Social Progress was established to promote and support new research as a means to provide potential answers to these dilemmas. Our hope is to stimulate leading-edge thinking and analysis that strengthen the relationship between academics, policymakers, and citizens by producing, supporting, and promoting new research that is not only salient to the challenges of our time but also accessible to all.
The Center for Research and Social Progress was founded by two Economists and a Political Scientist that felt forward-looking, policy-relevant, and rigorous research is crucially important and relevant to many of the problems faced today in Europe. The Center is designed to provide a venue for academics to pursue original, innovative, and empirical analyses of the highest academic standards on the current state of modern politics and economics both in Italy – and in Europe.