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Comparative Politics Vol 2: Ease of Doing Business. Malaysia vs Italy

Malaysia ranks 6 in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report 2014.

Source: The World Bank

Source: The World Bank


One of the key variables to make sure to become the location of choice of foreign investors is the ease of doing business. As you can see, one of the indicators in the table above is “Paying Taxes.” So let’s take tax incentives and regulations for instance, as I’ve had the opportunity to interview the CEO of the Malaysian Inland Revenue Board, Tan Sri Shukor.

In Malaysia it is possible to file taxes online, through an e-filing system. The e-filing system not only guarantees efficiency for the government and companies in terms of cost and time savings but it also ensures fair treatment to the public (for instance you can get tax returns within 30 days).

Moreover, in line with the government strategy to develop strategic economic activities (e.g. biotechnology industries, operational headquarters, international procurement centers, regional distribution centers, real estate investment trusts, treasury management centers, 4 and 5 Star Hotels in Peninsular Malaysia, private and international schools, provider of industrial design services in Malaysia, child care centers and pre-school education), international investors allocating resources in specific geographical areas or sectors enjoy tax holidays and don’t have to pay income tax for a certain number of years. Dividends are tax-free and companies willing to re-invest in R&D in Malaysia may be eligible to double-deduction.

Companies that are recognized with the Pioneer Status are eligible to a tax exemption ranging from 70 to 100%. In alternative, another tax incentive is the Investment Tax Allowance (ITA) for projects that imply long-term large capital investments.

The government has created a conducive ecosystem for business to thrive and the private sector aligns profit-making with innovation and socio-economic development. All the ingredients are there to make Malaysia an economic case study of excellence.

Italy ranks 65, after all European countries except for Greece, Romania, Czech Republic, and Malta.


If we don’t want to get stuck in this recession for decades this is definitely an area that we must reform. We need to simplify procedures and digitalize systems. This is also a way to cut public spending. Let’s get rid of red-tapes and reduce excessive costs (e.g. notary fees); a good idea could be to create a one-stop center for opening up a business where you take care of all paperwork/procedures at the same place. Should there be a need to communicate with different offices, this should be done internally and electronically.



Source: The World Bank



Source: The World Bank

Source: The World Bank


Let’s compare the “Paying Taxes” indicator. Besides the fact that our tax rate is equal to 65.8% of profits, while in Malaysia is 36.3%; the time and labor tax and contributions are 2/3 times higher in Italy than the average in OECD countries and Malaysia.

In Italy it takes 269 hours per year to pay taxes against 175 as an average of OECD countries and 133 in Malaysia. Labor tax and contributions stand as high as 43.4% in Italy. It’s 23.1% in OECD countries and 15.6% in Malaysia. How can we expect our unemployment rate to go down? It’s simply impossible for many companies to hire more workers with these labor costs.



Source: The World Bank

Source: The World Bank



Source: The World Bank

Source: The World Bank


In order to be more competitive in the global market we need to increase significantly what here is referred to as “ease of doing business.” Regulations must be simplified; procedures must be streamlined; and systems must be digitalized. A reform in this direction will not only attract foreign investors, but also help us cutting public spending.

Oh, and I almost forgot… English…Because nobody else speaks Italian besides us.


E-democracy à l’italienne

Technology has permeated all social domains and dynamics. Politics has sheltered itself by hiding and erecting walls. Grillo has the merit of introducing the theme of the application of ICT to the political sphere. There are a lot of outcomes to this and also very significant- for instance, the role played by social media during the Arab Spring.

Do you remember the whole debate right before the elections because of the impossibility for a lot of Italians abroad (me included) to cast their votes? Well. A very simple e-voting system would have given voice to 25000 Italians. Is it possible that in 2013 we are able to send robots on Mars but we can’t make people express their votes via internet? In Estonia, the first e-voting took place in 2005. In Italy, in contrast, we are now starting issuing electronic IDs and I have to be fooled around- to use an euphemism- because the people that take a look at my current ID think that it’s a relic of some Eastern European former communist regime (no offense!).

That’s it? Not at all. E-democracy and e-government can be developed through several instruments whereby individuals can participate to public life. The Municipality of Florence, for instance, has done some steps forward with the introduction of statistics open source. Transparent-Gov is a far better example. The benefits are huge and include essentially a dramatic reduction of the administrative cost; an improvement in the accessibility of public services; and higher transparency in the management of public affairs. This is not little considering that our debt has passed the ceiling of 2000 billion euros and Italy ranks 72- along with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sao Tomé & Principe- for level of corruption according to Transparency International.

Platforms like Liquid Feedback, of which we hear talking a lot among the grillinis, allow the creation of referendums in real time. As the developers write, Liquid Feedback can be seen as a proxy voting system, namely giving the chance to individuals to delegate their votes to others. In the case of Liquid Feedback, representatives would act like proxies for groups of people by establishing a direct communicative channel thereby obtaining legitimization in real time for the decision to be made. E-democracy, therefore, has the potential to redefine the boundaries between representative and direct democracy.

Let’s take a look at the grillino movement. In my opinion, there’s a significant divide between the 5 Star Movement (M5S) and the diarchy Grillo&Casaleggio. M5S has the potential to drastically change the way we do politics in Italy- as it already happens in other countries with the Pirate Party (that also exists in Italy but it’s overshadowed by M5S). E-democracy and e-government can seriously become the emblem of the Third Republic. Personally, I don’t believe that the whole institutional structure could be replaced by “e-institutions.” This is because I don’t believe that representative democracy can be substituted by e-democracy. I’m very much in favor, however, to digitalize as much as possible public services and functions (e-government) and introduce instruments of direct democracy to complement the representative function (e-democracy). But I’ll look at this more in-depth in another post.

Let’s get back to the point. The gap between M5S and Grillo&Casaleggio. As long as M5S will be tied up to the diarchy it will not burst out all its revolutionary potential. Grillo points out how extraordinary the internet panta rei is, an in fieri mellifluous non-place where power means sharing and everything belongs to everyone. Rhetoric. The contradiction within M5S are huge and it only takes a second by looking at Grillo’s blog to realize it. Yes, his blog, because in Italy e-democracy belongs to a private citizen. Let’s take a look at the Non-Charter of M5S.

Article 1: “[…] The “Registered Address” of “5 Star MoVement” coincides with the web address www.beppegrillo.it. Contacts with the MoVement are assured exclusively through the email address MoVimento5stelle@beppegrillo.it.”

Article 3: “The name of the 5 Star Movement is a registered trademark in the name of Beppe Grillo, the only rightful owner for the use of it” (I did the translation myself, so it might not be 100% accurate). In the 7 articles of the Non-Charter, the reference to “Beppe Grillo” appears 8 times considering his name, email, and blog- without taking into account his name in the symbol and two references in each page’s footnote. It’s clear that Grillo claims the “ownership” of the concept of e-democracy. It seems like he’s yelling: “I invented e-democracy!” in an identification between the Subject and E-Democracy that results very scary.

Federico Pistono, a member of M5S, has released a video published by the Huffington Post where he explains that there’s no democratic decision-making process at national level. Other members, Sabetta, Barillari, and Festa have developed a proposal for an Electronic Online Parliament of the 5 Star Movement. Clearly, a lot of members denounce the funnel-shaped structure of the movement where gallons of inputs and ideas enter, but only filtered screams of the owner-non-leader-yet-only-spokesperson come out. I imagine that this internal contradiction on the central tenet of e-democracy will bring about big tensions within the movement. However, the turning point will still have a long way to go if many (maybe the majority of) the militants remain anchored to the idea of “they’re all crap, let’s send them home” and leave the direction of the movement to Grillo&Casaleggio. From this point of view, the M5S just resembles one of the many leader-centered parties. Otherwise, why then- unlike other countries- the promoters of e-democracy in Italy did not follow the model of the Pirate Party? I suggest to compare the pirates’ charter with the grillinis’. In my opinion, there are two simple reasons why the Pirate Party did not have the same success in Italy. First of all, M5S was born as a protest to the establishment and has aggregated a lot of people that belonged to the pirates’ constituency. Secondly, we are just not able to manage ourselves yet. Historically, in Italy people usually go for strong leaders, those who put their names on top of party symbols. And I think Grillo is just part of an old cycle that repeats itself in a revisited fashion.

And “traditional parties”? They’re literally stuck watching oblivious. It’s completely true that they have no idea of the importance of e-democracy. The M5S has established a new standard in doing politics that can’t be ignored. Political and economic reforms aside, the challenge for traditional parties is all about the epistemology of e-democracy and e-government.


La tecnologia ha ormai permeato quasi tutti gli ambiti e le dinamiche della società. La politica si è finora salvata, nascondendosi e trincerandosi. Grillo ha il grandissimo merito di aver introdotto in Italia il tema dell’applicazione dell’Information and Communications Technology (ICT) al mondo della politica. I risvolti sono molti e davvero significativi. Si pensi, innanzitutto, al ruolo che i social media hanno giocato nella Primavera Araba.

Vi ricordate tutto il casino scatenatosi alle elezioni di pochi giorni fa per gli italiani all’estero che non hanno potuto votare (me compreso)? Bene. Un semplicissimo sistema di voto elettronico avrebbe dato voce a 25000 italiani. Ma io dico, è possibile che nel 2013 mandiamo robot su Marte e non riusciamo a far esprimere un voto via internet? In Estonia, il primo e-voting è avvenuto nel 2005. Noi invece oggi stiamo iniziando a introdurre le carte d’identità elettroniche e io mi devo sentire preso in giro- per usare un eufemismo- perché coloro che vedono la mia carta d’identità pensano che sia una reliquia di qualche regime comunista dell’Est dell’Europa (no offense!).

Tutto qui? Nemmeno per sogno. L’e-democracy e l’e-government possono essere sviluppati con tantissimi strumenti attraverso cui ogni singolo individuo può partecipare attivamente alla vita pubblica. Il Comune di Firenze, per esempio, ha fatto dei passi avanti con l’introduzione di dati e statistiche open source. Un esempio ben più strutturato è quello di Transparent-Gov. I benefici sono enormi e si tratta principalmente di una riduzione significativa dei costi di amministrazione e di un miglioramento nell’accessibilità ed erogazione dei servizi nonché di un incremento di trasparenza nella gestione della Cosa Pubblica. Direi che non è poco considerando che il debito ha sfondato il tetto dei 2000 miliardi di euro e siamo al 72 posto- insieme a Bosnia Herzegovina e Sao Tomé & Principe- per livello di corruzione secondo Transparency International.

Piattaforme come Liquid Feedback, di cui tanto si sente parlare nei circoli grillini, permettono in parole povere di creare referendum in tempo reale. Come scrivono gli stessi sviluppatori, Liquid Feedback può essere interpretato come un sistema di proxy voting, ovvero la possibilità di delegare il proprio voto ad un altro soggetto. Il meccanismo del proxy voting esiste già in diversi Paesi e in diverse forme. Nel caso di Liquid Feedback, il rappresentante agirebbe come proxy di un gruppo di persone stabilendo un canale comunicativo diretto e ottenendo legittimazione in tempo reale per le scelte da intraprendere. L’e-democracy ha quindi il potenziale di ridefinire i confini tra democrazia rappresentativa e democrazia diretta.

Guardiamo ora un attimo al movimento grillino. Il mio punto di vista è che ci sia uno scollamento significativo tra M5S e la diarchia Grillo&Casaleggio. L’M5S ha il potenziale per imprimere davvero una svolta rivoluzionaria nel fare politica in Italia- come già accade in altri Paesi con il Partito dei Pirati (che esiste anche in Italia, ma è nell’ombra a causa dell’M5S). La Terza Repubblica italiana può davvero iniziare all’insegna dell’e-democracy e dell’ e-government. Personalmente non credo che tutto l’assetto istituzionale possa essere sostituito da “e-istituzioni”. Questo perché non credo che la democrazia rappresentativa possa essere sostituita dalla e-democracy. Sono però favorevolissimo a digitalizzare quanto più possibile servizi e funzioni pubbliche (e-government) e introdurre strumenti di democrazia diretta per complementare la funzione rappresentativa (e-democracy). Ma approfondirò questo tema in un altro post.

Torniamo al punto. Il gap M5S-Grillo&Casaleggio. Finchè l’M5S non si slegherà dalla diarchia, il suo potenziale rivoluzionario non si sprigionerà. Grillo discute di quanto sia straordinario il panta rei della rete, un non-luogo mellifluo in fieri dove il potere è condivisione e tutto appartiene a tutti. Retorica. Le contraddizioni interne all’M5S sono enormi e basta guardare il blog di Grillo per rendersene conto. Sì, il suo blog, perché l’e-democracy, in Italia, è di proprietà di un singolo privato. Prendiamo il Non-Statuto dell’M5S.

Articolo 1: “[…] La “Sede” del “MoVimento 5 Stelle” coincide con l’indirizzo web www.beppegrillo.it. I contatti con il MoVimento sono assicurati esclusivamente attraverso posta elettronica all’indirizzo MoVimento5stelle@beppegrillo.it.”

Articolo 3: “Il nome del MoVimento 5 Stelle viene abbinato a un contrassegno registrato a nome di Beppe Grillo, unico titolare dei diritti d’uso dello stesso.” Nei 7 articoli del Non-Statuto, il riferimento a “Beppe Grillo”, tra nome, blog e email, appare 8 volte- senza contare i riferimenti nel simbolo dell’M5S e due altre volte per ogni pie’ di pagina. E’ evidente che Grillo rivendichi la “proprietà” del concetto di e-democracy. Sembra un altro dei suoi strilli a mo’ di Pippo Baudo “L’e-democracy l’ho inventata io!”, in un’identificazione tra Soggetto e E-Democracy che non può che far paura.

Federico Pistono, membro del M5S, ha rilasciato un video pubblicato da Huffington Post, in cui spiega che in realtà non c’è alcun processo democratico di decision-making nel movimento a livello nazionale. Altri esponenti del M5S, Sabetta, Barillari e Festa, hanno messo su una proposta di Parlamento Elettronico Online del Movimento 5 Stelle. E’ chiaro che molti denuncino la struttura ad imbuto del movimento, dove entrano litri di input di idee ed escono spruzzi di urla filtrati dal proprietario-non-leader-ma-portavoce-unico del movimento. Questa contraddizione interna sul concetto cardine dell’e-democracy immagino porterà grandissme tensioni all’interno del movimento. Se, però, molti (forse la maggioranza) dei militanti rimarrà ancorata all’idea del “fanno tutti schifo, mandiamoli tutti a casa” lasciando in pratica la direzione del movimento a Grillo&Casaleggio, allora la svolta non ci sarà. Da questo punto di vista, M5S mi sembra una replica di uno dei tanti partiti leaderistici. Altrimenti perché in Italia, a differenza degli altri Paesi, i promotori dell’e-democracy non hanno seguito il modello del Partito Pirata? Suggerisco di fare un confronto tra i documenti costitutivi dei pirati e quelli dei grillini. Secondo me i Pirati non hanno avuto lo stesso successo in Italia per due semplici motivi. Uno, M5S è nato principalmente come protesta all’establishment e ha aggregato molta gente nel bacino dei pirati. Due, non siamo ancora capaci ad autogestirci. Storicamente in Italia ci si affida alla figura del leader forte, quello che mette il suo nome sul simbolo del partito. E penso che Grillo sia solo parte di un vecchio ciclo storico che si ripete in maniera rivisitata.

E i “partiti tradizionali”? Stanno letteralmente a guardare. E’ verissimo che non hanno la minima idea della portata dell’e-democracy. L’M5S ha segnato un nuovo standard nella politica di tutti i giorni e non può essere ignorato. Riforme politico-economiche a parte, la sfida dei partiti è tutta sul terreno epistemologico dell’e-democracy e dell’e-government.