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|Italy is not answering the telephone|
La Stampa - January 30th 2011
A few days ago, a TV interviewer asked me what I thought an alien from another planet, an extra-terrestrial, might think about Italian politics if they were suddenly to find themselves in
For my answer is that our extra-terrestrial would ask why in
What the international media reflects today, indeed, is the related but more limited notion that Silvio Berlusconi’s great achievement, at present the true legacy from his years in Palazzo Chigi, is that he has at last replaced “la dolce vita” as the favourite foreign cliché for Italy with the phrase “bunga bunga”. However the damage, as our alien realises, is much more than simply replacing a nice cinematic image with a sleazier exoticism.
The damage can be summed up by altering the famous remark made by Henry Kissinger, when the then
Politicians, at least all national politicians, have left the real world behind. “Poor
Of course, Italians have sensed this for some time. Millions of you made Gian Antonio Stella’s and Sergio Rizzo’s “La Casta” a huge bestseller in 2007, a phenomenon that in any other country would have implied that there was an irresistible force for change. Yet politics carried on exactly as before. Only worse.
How about economics? Outsiders have spent a lot of time in the past year wondering how different
It is time to think the opposite. For although the analysis is correct, the conclusion is wrong: actually, this is bad news. For at least the governments of
Like other commentators, I am often asked how the President of the Council can survive scandals that would have forced the resignation of any other European leader within days. The reason doesn’t really have anything to do with the sex or machismo that is often mentioned, still less public opinion.
The ultimate difference between
The rather strange spectacle of the fiscal federalism law and debates puts this lack of urgency and decisiveness in the spotlight. After so many years of arguing about this issue, with the main bill having been passed nearly two years ago and with deadlines for implementation laws supposedly imminent, how is it possible that there is so little clarity about what fiscal federalism will really mean? It is not just aliens who will be unable to detect the true meaning of this supposedly important change.
The question I have to keep asking myself, in the light of this dismal, paralysed, wholly self-referential political scene, is whether I might have been wrong last October to express hope and optimism in my book “Forza, Italia: Come ripartire dopo Berlusconi”. Admittedly we have not yet reached the “dopo”, but still the lack of leadership—or even the desire to lead—all round is dispiriting.
So let us turn again to our alien, and assume that as well as extra-terrestrial he is also a trained economist. If the alien were to look at Italy’s economic data, he would see a familiar list of weaknesses: economic growth slower than other big eurozone countries; falling household incomes; slow productivity growth; an ageing and stagnant population; high youth unemployment; and deficits on trade and the current-account of the balance of payments, despite all the bragging about Italy’s exports (which, contrary to popular belief, are only the fifth largest in the European Union adding together goods and services, or fourth on just goods).
Yet he would also meet entrepreneurs, working day and night to make and invent high-quality products to be sold all over the world; he would see, from the FIAT referendums, an emerging willingness among moderate trade unions and workers to modernise working practices; he would see the energy, ideas and creativity of young people; and he might well be impressed by the strength of co-operatives and networks in working together for common goals. Most of all, he would note, from his conversations with human Italian economists, an unusual (for economics) consensus about what needs to be done.
The alien’s manifesto would be clear, along perhaps with his investment strategy: he would conclude, as investors like say, that the “upside opportunity” in
It would be a liberal agenda, one that is not all that different from the one that lenders and other eurozone countries would be demanding if
An agenda like this would need political leadership. In fact it would need politicians who were interested at all in policies and in governing the country. For the time being, they are not. Yet as Hosni Mubarak, who is not Ruby’s uncle, is finding in