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Mr. Mandrone said the price of the “raccomandazione” system to Italian society and economy has not been quantified in financial terms, but it’s clearly “huge.”

Italy’s connections culture has long been blamed in large part for spurring the “brain drain” of many of Italy’s best and brightest.

The brain drain

The Institute for Competitiveness, a nonprofit Italian think tank, recently estimated that brain drain costs Italy more than $1.5 billion annually in terms of lost patent and other royalties from inventions that highly qualified emigrants from Italy developed while working abroad.

In Greece, ground zero for Europe’s financial crisis, a vast connections-based political machine is seen as a major factor in the economic implosion. In return for votes, the major parties slotted job seekers with political connections into cushy bureaucratic jobs — with little experience or qualifications.

The result: When the financial crisis erupted in late 2009, the government didn’t even know how many people it had on its payroll or how much it was paying them.

Germany may be an exception to the trend of European talent taking flight or being stymied in realizing professional dreams.

In former communist East Germany, who you knew in the party apparatus was very important to climbing the economic ladder. But in today’s united Germany, connections are not seen as a major part of corporate culture.