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|The possibility of change now is real|
La Stampa - February 9th 2012
Time is said to be a great healer, but the way in which
The miracle is an illusion because a country cannot change that much in three months. This view does not arise, please be assured, because I am the sort of foreign writer who prefers to think that the Costa Concordia symbolises
Most of the economic and institutional reforms that are necessary have not yet been passed into law, let alone been implemented. And plainly there remains a huge amount of resistance to the changes that are proposed, in all fields, whether labour law or tax enforcement or liberalisation of markets and professions. You cannot absolve a sinner that has not repented, wrote Dante Alighieri, and it is far from clear that repentance has occurred.
Even so, the question of
As the bond markets then recognised, Italy matters, to Americans and fellow Europeans alike, first of all because of its size: as both the world’s third biggest government debtor (after America and Japan) and the eurozone’s third-biggest economy (after Germany and France), a sovereign-debt crisis and deep recession in Italy would be truly dangerous for every country closely connected to it, which means both Europe and America.
The shadow of such a crisis grew darker because of the rising expectation of a Greek debt default, an expectation that is rising again. This is not being reflected in dangerously high Italian bond yields, chiefly because another well-regarded Italian, Mario Draghi at the European Central Bank, has averted the danger of a European banking crisis by his well-timed and massive offer of unlimited three-year lending to banks.
The warning is of how slow, remorseless decline can set in if debt burdens are not dealt with and if an economy and society loses the ability to evolve, to change, the essential trait that democratic capitalist countries must have if they are to survive and thrive in this era of great technological and political ferment. The opportunity, though, is of catch-up and revival, or perhaps even renaissance, if liberalisation takes hold and if dynamic evolution resumes.
This matters—and still matters—most of all in Italy itself, but it is also exactly the same worry that hangs over American politics when anyone complains about the power of Wall Street or big oil companies, or other lobbyists. It is the corrosive fear that overweening power may distort or even determine democratic decisions. The end, at least, of that power being in occupation of Palazzo Chigi itself is of great symbolic importance for other western democracies.
One of the effects of that power is, however, the second determining word for this miracle: truth. Other governments in Europe and indeed the
Announcements, promises, claims, declarations of intent: foreign governments came to believe that none of them could be believed as anything other than theatrical performances. It was sad to see President Berlusconi continuing this habit in his interview with the Financial Times, published on February 4th, where he made yet again his impossible-to-believe promise to leave frontline politics, repeated his unbelievable denials about bunga-bunga, just to keep that phrase in the public eye, and repeated the attacks on the Italian constitution which themselves highlight the inappropriateness of his own power.
My eye was especially drawn by that interview, it must be admitted, because recently I have been led on a typical dance by President Berlusconi myself. At an event at the Quirinale in December, where I told him that I am making a documentary film about
In contrast, every word that President Monti says is believed by foreign governments. They know that he faces huge difficulties. But they now think he is well worth talking to and supporting, because they can believe what he says.
Which brings us to possibility. The illusion of the miraculous transformation of
Yet what has changed is that now there is a real possibility of change. There is something to press for and to hope for. The Monti government, and the Parliamentary and public support that it commands, represents for the West a bright light of possibility in an otherwise dark landscape. At last, the country that more or less invented modern capitalism, that began the Renaissance that produced modern man, is stirring again after a long, catatonic sleep. That is a pretty good reason to pay attention, and to offer a warm