- (september 2011)
Too big to be saved? The limits of parliamentary democracy and national sovereignty.
In july 2011 Silvio Berlusconi, possibly the most powerful mafia boss on the planet, managed to buy the votes of the most corrupt parliament in the world and remain in power in what is possibly the most failed democracy in the world: Italy.
There are two men that Italians need to listen to. One is Umberto Bossi, a
pathetic clown who is an example of how low Western civilization has
fallen, but who also said publicly some absolutely revealing truths:
"Those who vote for Berlusconi vote for the mafia" (6 march 1996).
"There is no doubt that Fininvest (Berlusconi's company) is controlled by the mafia" (4 december 1996).
"Berlusconi is the mafioso of Arcore" (25 october 1998).
"I do not talk with those [Berlusconi] who made money with the mafia" (13 november 1998).
Having now become Berlusconi's most loyal ally, you can trust his (old) words.
The other man is Antonio DiPietro, a former judge who became famous in the 1990s
when he indicted the whole Italian political world and caused the old regime
to fall apart.
Unfortunately, Berlusconi was born out of the chaos that followed.
DiPietro might be the only honest man in the Italian parliament these days.
Many wonder how long he will survive (physically survive, not politically).
Before the corrupt members of the Italian parliament voted as they had been
instructed by their master Berlusconi, DiPietro gave a passionate speech
that caused Berlusconi and his (male and female) whores to leave the room.
Well, at least for a few minutes DiPietro managed to get Berlusconi out of parliament.
What happened next was grotesque if not comic. Berlusconi, who had lost the
support of too many politicians and was likely to lose the vote of confidence
with devastating consequences for his personal freedom (he is immune from jail
only as long as he remains prime minister, according to a law that he himself
passed to protect himself from prosecution), proceeded to openly
purchase the votes of the members of parliament that he needed to win the
vote of confidence. Some politicians openly admitted that they needed to pay
for their mortgage. People who had insulted Berlusconi ended up voting for him.
A brothel would have been a better display of integrity than what happened in
the days before the confidence vote of december 14.
Berlusconi is probably the most dishonest and immoral political leader in Europe, and
a close friend of both Libyan dictator Qaddafi and Russian dictator Putin.
It is telling that Italians consistently voted for Berlusconi (the
inheritor of the old era of corruption and the creator of the new era of corruption)
rather than DiPietro (the honest man who tried to wipe out the corruption).
At the end of the day, Italians are getting what they want and deserve:
the worst government in the democratic world and, probably,
the worst economy in the world.
Berlusconi is obviously helped by the electoral law that he himself engineered
to keep politics as corrupt as possible. That law states that voters vote for
a party, not for an individual. The party decides which individuals get
elected. The party can even list a candidate in many electoral districts.
The advantage is that celebrities tend to get a lot of votes in several
electoral districts: a celebrity just picks one and leaves the other winning
slots to party faithfuls. Berlusconi's party specializes in presenting
candidates who are actors, singers and so forth.
Berlusconi basically created a political caste that has to pledge its loyalty
to the party, not to the voters. Voters cannot vote out corrupt, despicable
and incompetent politicians because voters have no way to vote "against"
someone. They can only vote against a party as a whole. All parties simply
re-candidate the people who run the party and the most loyal subjects.
De facto, Berlusconi has removed the very foundations of democracy.
Needless to say, this could not have happened without the initial support of
the voters: it was the voters who gave him the large majority that he needed
to enact that electoral reform. Just like it was the voters who in 1922
gave Mussolini the votes he needed to seize power. And just like then there
is precious little that ordinary Italians are doing to change the political
Berlusconi is also helped by the opposition. If Italy has one of the most
pathetic prime ministers in the world, it also has one of the most pathetic
oppositions in the world. Not only are they fragmented (which explains why
they lose even against Berlusconi), but they advocate a return to
demagogic policies that caused the economic problems even before Berlusconi
inherited the kingdom. Some of them refuse to admit that we live in an age
of globalization in which Italy has lost its competitiveness (and it losts it
before Berlusconi's time). Some of them simply blame the rest of the world
for the problems that Italians created. None of them seems to have a clue on
how to restore confidence in the country.
The opposition does not seem to offer more
than ideologues whose main claim to power is that they are not as dishonest
as Berlusconi (which is not difficult to achieve).
The truth is that any opposition that had a sensible plan to improve the
economy would not be elected by the Italians. Therefore Italy is stuck with
oppositions that are chronically incapable of challenging the dishonest
and incompetent prime ministers.
To be fair, Berlusconi inherited a colossal public debt. He did not create it.
His predecessors did. They too were elected democratically by the Italians.
Italy's economy relied for decades on government spending.
That spending kept the economy going, but at a huge price: a skyrocketing
public debt. Berlusconi is correct in blaming his predecessors for most of
the economic problems that haunt Italy and will haunt it for generations to come.
In fact, Italy's current yearly budget is now one of the "best" in Europe.
It is too easy to blame only the current government for the debt that its
predecessors created. And it is scary to think that the opposition (the
alternative to Berlusconi) includes
the very parties that (under different names) created the problem in the first
Italians also voted overwhelmingly against nuclear power. This leaves
Italian factories to deal with one of the most expensive energies in the world.
The irony is that Italy is still a major consumer of nuclear energy: it
imports it (at premium prices) from its nuclear neighbors (France and
Switzerland). The Italians are responsible also for the colossal budget
deficit (the second largest in Europe after Greece): politicians simply gave Italians
what Italians demanded (government jobs with excellent benefits, a world-class
pension system, state-of-the-art health care and so forth). Whether these are
morally right or wrong is an opinion. That they are contributing to the collapse
of the Italian economy is a fact.
It is too easy to blame only Berlusconi when in fact most of
the crippling decisions of the past were made by the Italian electorate.
Historically, Italy was united in 1861 (after defeating Spain, Austria and
France that owned bits and pieces of its territory) and its first prime
minister, Camillo Cavour, said that making Italy was easier than making the
Italians. The central government devised a simple way to turn the masses
into "Italians": it handed out money. The Italian government has always been
one of the most generous governments in the world, and it is unfair to think
of this statement as simply meaning "corruption". Certainly a lot of public
money went to corporations and to organize crime (i.e., to anybody who could
provide votes) but the majority went to ordinary citizens in the form of
pensions, free health care, unemployment benefits, etc. Bossi's own wife retired
at the age of 39 with a full pension. There are literally millions of baby
pensioners, imaginary sick people, and unemployed people who have a lucrative
job. There are also millions of Italians who never paid the taxes that they
should have paid. This system was nothing but a way to bribe the people into
accepting the central government of Italy in a land that had not been united
since the fall of the Roman Empire. The only time when all Italians are united
is when they root for the national soccer team. That is the truth: the Italian
government accrued that colossal debt by mainly paying out generous benefits
to its population in return for a recognition of its legitimacy. The moment
this system started squeaking the regional factions resurfaced, notably Bossi's
Now that the government in Rome cannot pay those public debts the Italians
are engineering a tactical manoeuvre that basically amounts to asking Germany
to pay for it. It's the same kind of contract: Germany wants the Italians to
feel Europeans, and the Italians in return are asking for Germany to hand out
money, just like for 150 years they asked the government in Rome to hand out
money. If Germany wants to save the European Union, it will have to do what
the government in Rome did for 150 years.
This mindset is the ultimate reason why the Italian people
created both the governments that created the problems and
the lame opposition that cannot offer a viable alternative to those problems.
This mindset is responsible for the fact that no solution can be found
internally: a prime minister who tries to balance the budget by cutting
benefits would be considered a traitor. The only hero in Italy can be the
prime minister who brings home money from the European Union.
The situation is even worse in the south of Italy, where organized crime not
only controls a large share of the economy but also controls the votes:
organized crime bribes (and sometimes installs) the politicians that allocate
funds for public projects, then the same gangs are granted such funds (in many
cases coming from the European Union), then the same gangs offer jobs to workers
asking that those workers vote those corrupt politicians. The money that
comes from the European Union to build a highway or a bridge ends up funding
organized crime. The projects are not even completed: a completed project
is no longer a source of revenue. The construction companies have a vested
interest in slowing down work, in fact in never completing it.
The workers are not even required to show up: the less they work the better.
Of all the projects funded by the European Union in southern
Italy virtually none has been completed. The politicians of southern Italy
are mostly busy applying for European Union funds: that's their idea of
progress and development. And the voters reward them based on how much
money they can get from the European Union or the Italian government.
An incredible number of elected politicians is under investigation for fraud,
corruption and so forth. The Italian comedian Grillo jokes that a visit by
Italian politicians to a gang-controlled neighborhood in the USA would create
panic among the gangs.
The south of Italy used to be a reservoir of cheap work force, but the
population has learned that they also constitute reservoir of votes: no
government can be elected without winning the southern regions.
This is one of the great inventions of any democracy: your vote counts and
therefore you can sell it to the highest bidder. There is no more direct way
to maximize your personal profit from democracy. The traditional assumption is
that you have to vote a competent and honest politician so that the country
will be run properly and then you will profit; but the Italians have realized
that there is a much simpler and faster way to profit from democracy, and
that's selling your vote. The community as a whole suffers but you as an
individual gain. It's a really bad invention that might spread. Its logic
is simple. Why shouldn't everybody (in every region that benefits from
government funding) do the same?
Meanwhile, the political discourse has become the most vulgar in the world,
with politicians (such as Bossi) mostly famous for the language they speak
(a language that used to be exclusive to brothels and street gangs) than for
Italy is a demonstration of the limits of democracy.
The majority of its voters would not vote a competent, honest and decisive
Therefore Italy will not have one. Therefore the problems will simply get worse.
The reckless behavior of the Italian electorate (and of other PIIGS countries)
leads to a much
bigger issue: when a nation is causing an international problem that may cause
a global economic crisis (in this case due to that nation's excessive debt),
and that nation is incapable (for whatever reason) of electing a government
that will solve that problem, the international community should have the right
and the power to intervene, just like NATO asked for the right to
in Libya against a mad dictator and the USA asked for the right to attack
Saddam Hussein's Iraq to neutralize his weapons of mass destruction.
Both interventions resulted in regime change.
The international community is telling North Korea and Iran not to develop
nuclear weapons because it would affect the whole world.
Indirectly, in an ever more interconnected world, a new (old?) principle
is emerging: that there should be a limit to national sovereignty, to what
a country decides to do.
The world has long lived with the dogma that parliamentary democracy and
national sovereignty are absolute values, but when they are used to cause
problems (whether military or economic problems) that will affect everybody,
one wonders if the world has to accept them and suffer the consequences or
if it wouldn't be better (for both the country that caused the problem
and for the countries that will suffer from it) that both
parliamentary democracy and national sovereignty be suspended.
In other words, is it more likely that: 1. Italy's current government (engulfed
in all sorts of scandals) solves the problem with approval from the current
(corrupt and bickering) parliament;
2. Italy elects a new honest and efficient parliament that will form a new
competent government that will solve the problem;
or 3. the international community
fires the Italian government, suspends the Italian parliament, appoints an
international committee to run Italy and this committee solves the problem?
Why should the world hold its breath hoping that the Italians find a way
to pay the money they owe?
And why would the Italians trust that their politicians (the old ones or new ones) will be capable of
solving a problem that today affects their own lives and will affect the lives
of future generations of Italians?
The creditors may also ask why so many Italians who benefited from
decades of borrowing are entitled to elect the next parliament whereas the
creditors who lent the money are not entitled to vote for that parliament.
Shouldn't it be the opposite? Who owns Italy? The ones who were born there
or the ones who keep it going?
The amount of Italy's debt held by foreigners is more than one trillion dollars,
almost half of the total. Shouldn't foreigners be entitled to elect at least
half of the Italian parliament?
National sovereignty is grounded in the silly idea of national pride, and
parliamentary democracy is grounded in the presumptious belief that you are
competent to govern yourself. But national pride does not do much to pay your
debts; and you have already proven that you are not very good at governing
yourself. In a time of crisis, should the world respect your national pride
and give you another chance to govern yourself, or just force you to accept
a foreign government in your own interest?
It is a popular adage that "Italy is too big to fail". It may be that
"Italy is too big to be saved".
TM, ®, Copyright © 2011 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
Back to the world news | Top of this page
- (april 2011)
The demise of Italy.
Italy is unique among democracies because it has a prime minister who controls
media and changes the law to suit his own needs (he is accused of just about
every crime that a politician can commit, from bribery to sex with underage
girls). Italy is also unique in that the majority that rules the country depends
on the support of two right-wing parties, one that descends from the old Fascist
Party and one that is arguably the largest xenophobic party in the world.
The opposition consists of a myriad small parties with all sorts of funny
The quality of the political debate is, in a sense, worse than in a dictatorship:
Italy's political leaders would probably not even run for mayor in any other
nation. They routinely use a vulgar language that makes Mussolini
look like an erudite scholar.
Italy is also unique among developed nations in that 80% of its energy depends
on fossil fuels... and Italy has virtually no fossil fuels of its own.
Not only Italy depends on the whims of Russia, the Middle East and Venezuela,
but it is also forced to import nuclear energy from its highly nuclear
neighbors, namely Switzerland and France. The reason for this ridiculous
situation is that Italy, one of the countries that pioneered nuclear power
(the man who built the first nuclear reactor, Enrico Fermi, was Italian and
came from one of the greatest schools of nuclear scientists), has
no nuclear energy of its own.
Italian factories pay Europe's highest prices for electricity (in a country
that is already hostile to business for labor-related and tax-related reasons),
almost twice as much as their French counterparts.
Reluctantly, Italy had decided to build new reactors but the Japanese earthquake
and subsequent nuclear disaster has convinced a country that was already
opposed to nuclear energy to shelf the project for the time being.
That project was as lame as it gets: the first reactor would have been
in place in 2020.
Unfortunately, the rest of the world is not shelving its projects to keep
growing at a fast pace. It's hard to stop progress in the rest of the
world just because you don't want it at home.
Italy's competitive ranking is already one of the lowest in the world, and
will simply continue to sink.
Fiat has already threatened to move operations outside Italy and the real
question is why it is waiting so long.
Italians are emigrating by the tens of thousands to other (nuclear) countries
because Italy cannot create jobs for the future.
This is a country that will lose its businesses and its engineers, and replace
them with a growing population of uneducated immigrants from Africa.
At the end of the day, Berlusconi's opposition (whose most trusted members are
actually two comedians, Roberto Benigni and Beppe Grillo) are as much to blame
for Italy's decline as the regime itself.
Their ideas on what to do are even more terrifying than Berlusconi's
Desperate to find something, anything, to attack the government, they seized
on the irrational fear of Italians for nuclear energy, as if erasing the plan
for nuclear power plants (which will make Italy even less competitive than it is now) was a vital component of their alternative plan.
The choice that Italians have is between a corrupt and fascist government
and a suicidal opposition. Both will almost certainly increase
Italy's already rapid economic, political and cultural decline.
Meanwhile, little has been done to tackle the mother of all problems: Italians
don't understand English. It sounds like a trivial problem compared with a
collapsing social and political systen, but it might actually be its ultimate
cause. This is a nation that learns about the rest of the world, and compares
itself with the rest of the world, based on second-hand information that comes
from unreliable media that compete in posting pictures of naked girls on every
page (and often interviewing them as if they were historians and scientists),
media that tend to prefer conspiracy theories over scholarly analyses. If
Italians could read and listen to foreign media, they would probably make a
quantum leap in judgment on many topics, from international affairs to energy policy.
But then, again, neither the government nor the opposition have any interest
in that the Italian people realize what they are voting for.
TM, ®, Copyright © 2011 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
Back to the world news | Top of this page
- Articles on Italy before 2011