I think I learned what a countdown is by watching the launch of the Saturn V rockets from Cape Canaveral many years ago. I remember the tension rising as we approached zero because I knew that at that point something important was going to happen. And I imagined a hand pushing a button. And I knew that at that point I would see the fire come out of the huge nozzles and the rocket climb, accelerate and finally disappear from sight. What an emotion!
Our country’s 2021 is already full of countdowns, at the end of which, however, very little is likely to happen, at least in the short term, for the lives of citizens. I try to give some examples: the birth of a new government, the entry into force of the vaccination plan, the definition of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR), the elections in some large cities, the arrival of European funds on the PNRR, the G20 under the Italian presidency, the COP26 on climate under the Italian co-presidency. For the avoidance of doubt, I confirm that these are very important events for the economic and social life of the country. But if we put all the media attention – and psychological – on the countdown and not on what must happen after “zero”, we risk a year of continuous disappointment, and therefore of frustration.
Imagine if, once the countdown to the departure of a rocket is over, nothing happens. Or if, once the rocket is launched, the mission goes wrong. How would you react? Where would your trust in the teams that prepared and managed the mission end? Here, my concern is that in 2021 public opinion focuses on the wrong moments, also fueling unnecessary anxiety in people. Here are some examples.
The possible change of government. Much is being discussed in these hours about a possible government crisis and we will see what happens. The polls tell us that citizens expect the government (current or future) to work to overcome three emergencies – health, economic-social and environmental – and give a new development perspective to the country. But we know that this will take a lot of effort and a lot of time. If, therefore, every measure is presented as “decisive”, while at best it is only “useful”, the risk of disillusionment and distrust in the current government is very high, whoever leads it.
There is no public statement that does not speak of the importance of involving the new generations for the post-Covid restart. A network of professionals and scholars under 35 then elaborated the 2021 Plan with concrete proposals addressed to Parliament and the Government. The answer? Silence
The vaccination campaign. Started with the European “Vaccine-Day” at the end of December, the campaign is monitored daily and promptly triggers controversy over alleged and real delays. Obviously, monitoring is used to intervene on the inefficiencies of the health system, but from the point of view of citizens, the “Victory-Day”, the real “V-day”, will be the one in which the campaign will have reached such a large number of people drastically and permanently reduce the number of deaths, hospitalized and infected people. This should be the time to count down. In recent days, the end of September has finally been indicated to think about a possible return to normal, provided that the virus does not change significantly. And we want to fill the newspapers and the news broadcasts with data on the number of vaccinated people every day, knowing that the real turning point (we hope) will take place in nine months?
The Recovery and Resilience Plan. After months of work (and it is undoubtedly a difficult job), the government has not yet put its final proposal on the table, to be discussed with Parliament and the political and social forces. In this case, the launch of the rocket – that is, the sending of the Plan to Brussels – is expected at the end of February: therefore, the times would still be there, even if increasingly tight. But once the PNRR is sent (i.e. once the launch button is pushed), public opinion will take care of something else or will rightly expect to know when the various projects will start in practice and what results they will obtain and when this is expected. happen? That is, what will happen to the mission once it leaves?
I’ll stop here with examples, but the same reasoning could apply to the other countdowns that will characterize 2021. The key point is that public opinion tends to focus a lot on what economists call “intermediate goals” (such as the adoption of the NRP), rather than on the “final objectives” (implementation / conclusion of projects). And it is no coincidence that, so far, neither the vaccination campaign nor the PNRR have made explicit the expected outcome indicators (broadband everywhere, the reduction of water supply losses, the improvement of the employment rate, etc. .), which are very different from those (input) expressed in terms of vaccinations carried out or funds committed or even spent.
The cognitive distortion induced by the excessive emphasis on pressing the button and not on the conclusion of the mission is typical of our country, in which – not surprisingly – a preventive or subsequent evaluation of the laws and projects in terms of improving the condition is substantially absent. economic, social and environmental. Perhaps it would be appropriate to learn once and for all, even from the dramatic past year, that the ad policy no longer works; and that, on the contrary, risks fueling a growing mistrust of institutions. What a tired and frightened country would need is the sincerity and clarity of what are, and when they will happen, the real crucial steps on which to focus all the energies and define in a transparent way the final objectives and the indicators to be used to measure non what has been done, but how much is needed to reach them. A quote attributed to Winston Churchill reads: “Italians lose football matches as if they were wars and they lose wars as if they were football matches”. Since in football matches there are not tens of thousands of deaths, unemployed people, businesses that close, I quietly remember that we are not experiencing a sporting event, but a crucial passage in our life.
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