Friday, August 03, 2007

Scrap the CAP!

A friend of mine sent me an unintentionally amusing article from the Guardian (emphases mine; she reads it so I don't have to!):
Because China has no tradition of dairy farming, there is a shortage of home-produced milk. A third of all the milk produced worldwide is now being transported to China, much of it from the EU and a significant amount from Germany, which produces 27bn litres a year.
EU dairy farmers would like to increase production to cope with a current shortfall, but are prevented from doing so by EU milk quotas, imposed in 1984 and in force until 2015. Instead German dairy farmers have taken the obvious step of putting up their prices, which they have long claimed were artificially low. Blaming the Chinese has helped to deflect criticism from the farmers.
Now outraged consumer groups and politicians have called for the government to raise unemployment benefit to cover the rise.
The only effective way to increase global milk yields without breaking the milk quotas, according to experts, is to encourage the breeding of cows outside the EU.
This is simply hilarious! China wants more milk, EU farmers would be more than happy to offer it to them (presumably this increased demand would help the European agricultural sector, which the CAP is supposedly meant to protect), but since the farmers are not allowed to produce more, prices are skyrocketing. What's the German solution? Raise unemployment benefits! Wouldn't it just be easier (and more beneficial) to remove the milk quotas?

Italian women

A few weeks ago the Financial Times had an interesting essay by Adrian Michaels about feminism (or lack thereof) in Italy, which even ruffled some feathers back home. In my experience the tone and content of the piece are accurate, and indeed there is a serious problem on this front, as I noted a few years ago. Michaels writes:
If you are home before the 8pm news on Rai Uno, Italy's main television station, you will discover it is preceded by a quiz show called L’Eredita' ("The Inheritance"). In the middle of the programme, four ritzy women interrupt the competition to dance. "My jewels!" the male host exclaims. The dancing has no connection to the rest of the show; Rai Uno explains on its website that the "girls... with their presence and beauty, cheer up everyone watching, particularly men".
Bonino points out that Italian feminism was vigorous in the 1970s when abortion and divorce were legalised – "even with the church next door and the Pope on television every day". In 1976, she says, 11 per cent of members of parliament were women, the same as today. "Most of my colleagues fell asleep in some way… the women's movement never pressed for structural reforms and there is still nothing on the agenda. When women fell asleep they followed the cultural mainstream."
The problem is evident in both parliament and the boardroom. Italy came above only Cyprus, Egypt and South Korea in 48 countries surveyed by the International Labour Organisation for female share of legislators, senior officials and managers. In the largest Italian companies, women represent about two per cent of board directors, according to the European Professional Women's Network, compared with 23 per cent for Scandinavia and Finland and 15 per cent in the US.
Indeed, the statistic about corporate boards may be even worse than is initially apparent. As a part of my job I analyse the corporate governance of the largest Italian companies (specifically the constituents of the FTSE Eurofirst 300 and MSCI Europe indices - about 30 companies), and a cursory glance shows that several of the women on these boards (approximately 15 out of 500 board members) have family connections which suggest they did not reach their positions exclusively by dint of their strong will and hard work. This is not to say that they haven't earned their current positions, but I don't think one can count people who grew up under the strongly entrepreneurial influence of having a parent who founded or ran a blue chip company as average women. Only one Italian large cap company is run by a woman, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore SpA, a publishing house, and the CEO is the daughter of the controlling shareholder, Silvio Berlusconi.
In fact, even well-known (in Italy) managers of smaller companies that I do not generally analyse, such as Diana Bracco and Emma Marcegaglia run companies they inherited.
The FT article goes on to mention the role of television in this sorry state of affairs:
"Television is still in the hands of men," says Parati at Dartmouth College. "This recreates the illusion of how women can be subjugated and is reassuring... Berlusconi has not created the situation but he has made it bigger."
Striscia La Notizia ("The News Slithers"), a satirical news programme, is one of the most popular shows on Canale 5, one of Berlusconi's channels. It goes out six nights a week at 8.30pm presented by two men but regularly interrupted by two gyrating and minimally dressed women. Competitions to replace the two female dancers are deemed newsworthy in their own right.
The show is just one example of the astonishingly restricted use of women on Italian television. A study last year of almost 600 television shows on the largest channels by Censis, an Italian research institute, showed that women mostly appeared as actors, singers and models. "The most common image seemed to be that of women in light entertainment," Censis said. When women were present as experts, they tended to be talking about astrology or handicrafts. Professional or political women were extremely rare.
I am skeptical of the idea that Italian men are in thrall to the "illusion of how women can be subjugated" and that this is "reassuring." I think the women's role in this state of affairs must not be minimised. It seems that becoming a velina (one of the skimpily dressed dancers on Italian television) is the ambition of many Italian teenage girls, and the competition to get one of these roles is fierce. Ironically one of the only executives without family connections who serves on the board of an Italian blue chip company is Gina Nieri who works for Mediaset, Berlusconi's television company (the other being Sabina Grossi).
Some of these problems are not exclusive to Italy. The Times last week had an editorial which skirted on a related issue:
A while ago I read the results of a survey that asked a thousand teenage girls what they'd like to be when they grew up. Sixty-three per cent replied glamour model. That's glamour model. Not a catwalk model, where you get to jetset around the world, snort piles of cocaine and wear outfits that occupy that fraught Sudetenland between high fashion and care-in-the-community.
Nope, they just wanted to take their clothes off for the papers, ideally in Swindon. If their horizons were any lower, they would be, technically, ants. Their favourite role model (chosen from a list that included Germaine Greer and – one of the world’s most successful people – J. K. Rowling), was Abi Titmuss, a woman so pointless that she is a valid argument for the reintroduction of slavery. A quarter of them said that they would be perfectly happy to be lap dancers one day. I think that's what our society has been lacking in this age of frenzied economic change – an eighth of the population becoming lap dancers.
The rest of the editorial is not of particular interest, but there was a more in-depth analysis in the health section of the paper. I hope to put down my thoughts on whether and how such attitudes should be countered in a future post.