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This contribution examines the institutional roots of the competitive decline of the Italian system, marked by different indicators. The latter reveal an ongoing condition of weakness in the three dimensions considered: the protection of property rights, the liveliness of competitive processes, the circulation of information. These factors raise the relative convenience of processes of ‘parasitic innovation’: the political and economic actors thus invest in the acquisition of knowledge and skills which enable them to turn to their own advantage the sacs of inefficiency and income existing in the system. At the same time, ‘bad institutions’ discourage processes of ‘creative’ innovation, capable of improving the quality of productive processes of social surplus. Resistance to efforts in favour of reform and liberalisation opposed by political and social actors benefited by the persistence of ‘bad institutions’ are thus the most significant cause of competitive decline.