If you participate in a rave party you’ll be fined, but no worries: at least you can pay with cash.That’s the bizarre situation outlined by the first measures announced by the Meloni cabinet and being widely discussed in Parliament these days.
While there are many reasons why one could appreciate cash (I mean, who doesn’t?), it seems more difficult to imagine the reasons behind a specific aversion against rave parties.
Ms. Meloni, Italy’s newly appointed Prime Minister, decided to define this course of action in her second Council of Ministers, held on the 31st of October, just before Halloween night. In this sense, we acknowledge with no surprise the spooky proposal that Mr. Piantedosi, Minister of the Interior, decided to bring to the table during the meeting: wiretapping of chats and social media for rave parties’ organizers.
Despite being rejected by Antonio Tajani – incumbent Minister of Foreign Affairs – and therefore not specifically included in the final decree, the motion can help us make sense of the future conduct we may expect from Minister Piantedosi.
A former prefect and chief of cabinet in the Ministry of the Interior, he switched between the two roles many times before joining the new government. Since Piantedosi is part of a right-wing administration, he was largely expected to adopt a security-oriented approach; the measures proposed so far, however, have been harsher than anticipated and may reflect Ms. Meloni’s line of conduct more effectively than the ones of any other Ministry. Less than two days into his term, the Minister even enacted directives prohibiting two NGO ships carrying immigrants from entering Italian ports. The measure signals Piantedosi’s stance as being close to the one of Matteo Salvini, the League’s leader, and a former Minister of the Interior, and is another important sign of discontinuity with the previous administration.
Speaking about discontinuities, it seems that, for the tenth time in the last twenty years, we are going to witness an amendment to the act regarding the maximum amount of cash citizens are allowed to spend in a single transaction. At least this is what filtered through to official sources and such revision looks likely to be discussed with the next budget law. Modifying this piece of law has become customary for the government that happens to be in power and can also represent a signal of its stance on tax-evasion fighting. The upper-bound to the usage of cash has been set nearly everywhere in the last two decades, from Monti’s 1000€ in 2011 to Berlusconi’s 12,500€ in 2008. Today, it is 2000€, and following a bill passed in the previous legislature, it was expected to drop to 1000€ starting in 2023. This decision now looks set to be overturned in the next budget law, with a new cash payment limit of 5000€.
Awaited by the end of the current year, it would be the first measure of this kind to be signed by both Giancarlo Giorgetti – the new Minister of Economy and Finance – and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. It would certainly be a significant indicator of their stance not only on economic policy, but especially on how far the government is willing to go in meeting its electoral promises: Ms. Meloni’s narrative during the electoral campaign was in part based on “shielding common people from the financial elites”; she is finally going to have the chance to show what she meant, keeping in mind that any bad move could affect both the country’s and her own credibility.
But what do economists think of the above-mentioned measure? A recent article on lavoce.info, an economic information website, presents an economic study on the matter. What arises is a positive correlation between fiscal evasion and the usage of cash money across European countries. It has also been shown that an increase in electronic payments decreases such evasion. While certainly not being the only one, limiting cash payments seems to be a useful instrument to foster the development of electronic payments and, in turn, combat tax evasion.
What we have seen so far are two quite different acts, somehow showing two opposite faces of the new government. The one about the cash limit’s softening (which has not been approved yet) is allegedly aimed at increasing individual freedoms, especially for those citizens who “earn their money in an honest way.” While paying with cash is certainly a right in Italy, it seems unreasonable to give up the opportunity to fight tax evasion and collect more taxes in the name of such right. That is particularly true nowadays, as digital payments are widely available, with little to no cost for consumers.
On the contrary, the other measure (already passed as a decree and being discussed in Parliament these days) poses some sort of limits to individual freedoms. It stems from rave parties, but it actually does not mention them. It does not establish a specific felony for rave parties but refers to any assembly of more than 50 people that poses what is ambiguously defined as a “threat to public order or health.”
The decree currently features a fine up to 10,000€ and a penalty of imprisonment up to 6 years for those who organise such assemblies (just participating carries a lighter sentence).
The issue here is that, according to Italian law, the authorities are allowed to wiretap alleged culprits of felonies featuring a penalty of imprisonment of at least 5 years and from this fact stems the proposal, currently being discussed in Parliament, to reduce such penalty to 4 years of imprisonment.
Other issues are represented by the threshold of 50 people, which seems lacking a scientific base, and by the potential unconstitutionality of the measure: the definition of assembly is ambiguous and who decides what poses a threat? Some perfectly legal meetings could potentially be judged as unlawful, was this decree to be converted into law as it was written in the first place.
The creation of this new felony seems out of place and somehow more unnecessary than harmful, especially in light of the many challenges facing our country at the moment. High inflation and the energy crises are pressing issues, and the new government would probably gain more popularity trying to address them (perhaps even failing to do so) than focusing on other topics.