As the private sector shriveled, government grew. Since 1946 the island has enjoyed the official status of an autonomous region, with its own parliament and laws. In most cases elsewhere, self-determination encourages responsibility. In Sicily, the effect has been the opposite. The island’s residents pay the bulk of their taxes to the central government in Rome, which then funnels money back to the region to spend. “The citizen has the perception that what was taken was taken by Rome,” says Francesco Piro, who served as the region’s budget minister in the 1990s. “But what gets given is given by the region.”
As a result, Sicily’s politicians became dispensers of benevolence, handing out jobs and favors, with little incentive to worry about waste. “The politician sees the need and says, ‘I’m going to create a job for you,’ ” says Enrico Del Mercato, co-author of Dead Weight: Waste and Privileges in the Free State of Sicily. “And from that moment begins your relationship of dependence on the politician.” Meanwhile, every reform that gets pushed through the national Parliament in Rome has to be passed once again—often months, if not years, later—in the regional capital, Palermo.