Crisis-weary Maura Corinaldesi, for instance, joined a fast-growing Facebook group this month called “Friends of the Receipts” with more than 4,000 members naming and shaming tax-dodging trattorias and invoice-allergic plumbers. Corinaldesi, a 30-year-old public servant, took it one step further, calling the cops on a recent afternoon when a fruit vendor refused her a receipt.
A poll released this week by the Italian polling firm Demopolis found that 73 percent of Italians surveyed are now demanding tougher action against evasion.
Italy’s financial police are even taking the fight to elementary schools, trying to nip in the bud a cultural exaltation of the smartest evaders with a comic strip starring Finzy, a cute feathery cop who busts jewelry-wearing tax cheats and sniffs out loot stashed in exotic tax havens.
“If Italians are really going to fight this economic crisis,” Corinaldesi said, “there is only one place for us to start. We have to look at ourselves. We have to look at tax evasion.”
Cordinaldesi and others here appear to have a powerful ally in the anti-evasion crusade: Mario Monti, Italy’s new prime minister, an economist who took the reins from Silvio Berlusconi, the playboy billionaire who openly sympathized with the tax-cheating classes. In contrast, Monti put the nation on notice last week: He will try to pull the country out of its fiscal hole in part by targeting tax evasion, a societal ill seen as more damaging to public coffers than a bloated state sector or overburdened pension system.
Proposed new laws could soon change the way Italians buy and sell services every day, altering local traditions to combat a problem of evasion estimated to equal more than one-fifth of Italy’s entire annual economic output. Monti is also moving to reinstate one of the hardest duties to dodge — property taxes, abolished in Italy under Berlusconi.
The focus on tax evasion — a crime Italy has made surprising inroads against in recent years, only to stir up deep-seated resentments — comes as this nation and other southern European countries including Greece and Spain are coming under international pressure to tackle a host of growth-draining societal norms. In Italy, high evasion levels, for example, have dramatically forced up the tax rates for corporations and individuals who do pay their fair share, severely hurting competitiveness, constricting job creation and contributing to years of low to negative growth.
Failure to fully address such problematic traditions has directly contributed to the debt crisis threatening the global economy. At the same time, it has widened the divide between nations such as Italy and the other more modern, dynamic economies that share the euro, including Germany and the Netherlands.