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Demography is Destiny

Have children? Here, have some rural land!

Have children? Here, have some rural land!

by Marcus Roberts | November 10, 2018

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Who wouldn't like to own a nice plot of land somewhere in the Italian countryside? There seems to be a story in the local rags every month or so about some couple who moved their family to rural Italy (or southern France) to live in an abandoned villa that they bought for NZD 1000 or something simlarly cheap, and where they are surrounded by charming locals who incomprehensibly put up with the couple's lack of Italian (or French). For some reason the couple is able to deal with the local bureaucracy and get a market garden business off the ground. 

Such stories should, of course, be filed in the fiction section of the newspaper (a much larger section nowadays than in previous years...) but they never fail to stir in me longings to put down my humdrum bourgeois life in the city and move to Tuscany or Provence (where I would probably be neighbour to another New Zealand family who had exactly the same idea).

Now, the Italian government is offering a shortcut; all I need to do is have three Italian babies. Well not me, personally. In fact, only Italian parents. But if they do have a third baby, then a life as a yeoman (or as a piccolo proprietario terriero) awaits.

This children-for-land incentive scheme is in the latest draft budget which is currently being slapped down by the neo-Holy Roman Emp...I mean the EU -- the European Court of Justice, to be precise. So there is no guarantee that it will get into law, but, as planned, parents of a third child born between 2019 and 2021 will be granted parcels of state-held agricultural land for 20 years. Further, families will be eligible for zero-interest loans for up to 200,000 euros if they opt to buy their first homes near the newly acquired land. This offer will only be for married couples (not those in a civil union -- and it will be interesting to see what the ECJ has to say about that...)

Of course, this new policy is designed to support those having larger families in a country that is suffering record low birth rates. But will the promise of bucolic bliss entice parents to have more children? Could the cost of the project be spent on other policies such as subsidising child care? Will the land be able to be farmed? And will people want the land for 20 years only? 

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