Cultural war tax

In Italy people can choose to assign a small amount of their taxes, 0.8 percent, to a favourite good cause, the so-called otto per mille*. This contribution either goes to the Catholic or Lutheran Churches, or the State. The State is supposed to use the money for well-defined humanitarian, environmental and cultural causes. At least, that is what I gleened from the wikipedia entry. I am sure our Italian readers could expand on this.

To my surprise I had to learn from Middle East expert Juan Cole that the Italian government used the otto per mille contributions to fund… the Italian war effort in Iraq. Now, it could be argued that the Italian contingent in Iraq is engaged in humanitarian activities but I doubt all those generous Italian citizens had that in mind when they allowed the government to spend some of their tax money on a good cause.

However, the AGI article Juan Cole mentions is the only English language source I could find for this, so maybe we should be careful before we start talking about kleptocracies. Are there any Italian readers or Italy watchers who could tell us more?

Quick update: Italian online daily Affari Italiani quotes Forza Italia senator Giuseppe Vegas, who estimates the amount of money that went to Iraq at 80 million euros.

*Thanks to reader Stefano for correcting me on the definition of otto per mille

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Culture and tagged , by Guy La Roche. Bookmark the permalink.

About Guy La Roche

Dutch translator and subtitler living in Brittany with his three cats. Has also lived in the Flemish part of Belgium. Speaks English rather fluently and in a former life used to have a decent command of Spanish. Knows swear words in German and Russian. Not quite francophone yet, but slowly getting there. Vaguely centrist observer of the world around him, extremely naive and, sometimes, rather proud of it. Writes Venale Pecus.

7 thoughts on “Cultural war tax

  1. Just a little clarification from an italian reader, the “otto per mille” (0.8 per cent) contribution is not an extra added to your taxes. It is just an amount of your regular taxes (the 0.8 per cent) that you can choose to assign to your favourite good case.
    Anyway, it is true that when it is assigned to to State it should only be used to finance humanitarian, environmental and cultural causes.
    At the moment it is not clear if and what amount of money took the “wrong way” but if it is confirmed it is surely an abuse.

  2. peter, you can find the groups competing for the otto per mille here:
    http://www.uaar.it/laicita/otto_per_mille/#04
    so italian taxpayers can give their 0.8% to
    – catholic church (87,25% of italian taxpayers in 2001)
    – italian state (10,28% in 2001)
    – presbyterians [kind of] (1,27% in 2001)
    – jewish communities (0,42% in 2001)
    – lutherans (0,31% in 2001)
    – seventh-day adventists (0,27% in 2001)
    – assemblies of god (0,20% in 2001)

    jehova’s witnesses and buddhist communities could also soon join the club of “authorized” churches (that can receive otto per mille). notably, muslim communities are not going to, and probably won’t – either – join the club.

    it’s significant that while only ca. 35% of taxpayers has opted for any of these six churches or for the state, 0.8% of *all* collected money is actually split among the club members. that is, most italians don’t take any decision and yet they (indirectly) largely donate to catholic church.

  3. Isn’t money fungible, especially in the context of a large modern state? What is the difference betweeen Italy
    – diverting some of this earmarked money to the war and
    – reducing spending on, I don’t know, landmark preservation (or simply not growing it as fast as otherwise) and diverting that money to the war?

    This, of course, shows the fundamental absurdities of viewing the world through such narrow lenses. Here in California every election we have yet more proposals to earmark funds for particular purposes, with precisely no discernible effect on anything.

  4. “What is the difference betweeen Italy
    – diverting some of this earmarked money to the war and
    – reducing spending on, I don’t know, landmark preservation (or simply not growing it as fast as otherwise) and diverting that money to the war?”

    Technically, there is no difference. But there are the issues of accountability (telling the public about this) and transparency (real cost of war).

    If you offer tax payers a choice, you need to respect the choices made by them.

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