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The mafia has long been one of Italy's biggest businesses and now, it's about to get some credit for it. Italy is changing how it calculates its gross domestic product, a measurement of the overall economy, to include black market activity — everything from prostitution to illegal drug sales to smuggling and arms trafficking. Economists predict illegal sales will add 1. It could also backfire.
After the criticism Italy received for former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's indiscretions and fraud conviction, the country isn't improving its image. By including the black market, for which there are no concrete ways to measure and accurately determine value, the Italian government will be able to manipulate its GDP numbers in a way that's bound to open it to criticism and agitate its Northern neighbors.
Simultaneously, investors will learn to dismiss, or at least, discount, Italy's statistics, since they won't be regarded as "real. The reason Italy is becoming creative with its accounting is because it wants to and the European Union needs it to improve its appearance.
A larger overall economy will enable Italy to lower its debt-to-GDP ratio, which is an essential part of meeting the EU's financial standards. If they do, they're hit with hefty fines. The other benefit of lowering the debt-to-GDP ratio, is that Italy should theoretically be able to borrow more money.
Or maybe not. Think of it like this: If a family's annual income goes up, it could qualify for a bigger mortgage. But if income went up because the family robbed a bank, the family's credit worthiness wouldn't be enhanced. While Italy's move may be considered unorthodox, even shady, it's not illegal. The EU seems to encourage the creative accounting; To give countries such as Italy a lifeline, new EU rules require member states to include the value of all income-producing activity in GDP calculations — and illegal activity is often income-producing.