“Whatever it takes”
In the case of Italy, it will take a whole lot more
When the collapse of the Italian government was officially announced, on July 21, many political observers both in Europe and across the rest of the West, were aghast. If Mario Draghi, the central banking messiah of the entire Old World, the man, the legend, the hero who rescued the Eurozone and its precious made up currency from the brink of complete annihilation, failed to govern Italy, then those “crazy Italians” must be completely ungovernable.
For the rest of us however, those few that still respect or even remember the concept of the governed having at least some say over who gets to order them around, the collapse was equally, if not more, surprising for very different reasons: How on earth did it not come sooner and why was it politicians and not the public anger that triggered it?
A quick refresher on how “Super Mario” came to rule Italy
Italy is no stranger to political dysfunction. In fact, unnatural political coalitions and subsequent government collapses is by now something of a national pastime for the Mediterranean country and its citizens are used to this drama, as they are to “colorful” political figures. They endured the reign of the larger-than-life, convicted tax fraudster and human caricature that was Silvio Berlusconi, they became accustomed to Matteo Salvini and his spectacular, but largely pointless, demonstrations of “hard-right” power, and they casually watched the rise and fall of the “Five Star” protest movement, as its core message of direct democracy and honesty, put there by Beppe Grillo, was summarily dismantled in order for the movement to be transformed into a “respectable” political.
In this context, yet another collapse was really nothing to write home about, especially since the coalition that crumbled was the result of a previous collapse in January 2021, after Prime Minister Conte resigned from office. After a quick round of failed efforts to build a new functioning government, Italian President Mattarella “called upon” Draghi to save the day. On February 3, Super Mario very demurely and very humbly agreed to bear the weight of the crown that was just handed to him, surely one he never wanted, but took anyway for the love of his country, and swiftly proceeded to form a new cabinet and to secure support for this reign.
In case any of the readers missed it, it’s worth highlighting that throughout this process, Draghi didn’t have to go through any the hassle of announcing a candidacy to the public, presenting his ideas, debating any opposing views and being judged by the ballot box, none of all the time-wasting rituals of democracy that most politicians have to endure. No Italian citizen was consulted on the matter and their new State ruler was simply announced to them by the State itself.
A pre-destined failure
There was no shortage of opinion pieces and “expert analyses” celebrating Draghi’s ascent to power. The great man had been appointed to rescue and to steer to safety the Titanic that was the Italian economy, and the mainstream press had high hopes for him. He was parachuted into Italy as an unelected savior, a role familiar to him, as he played it before, as President of the ECB. Back then, in the height of the Eurozone crisis, his famous “whatever it takes” stance meant that he took extreme and unprecedented measures to “save” the euro and the same was expected from him in the case of Italy.
Of course, for those of us who understood what his first “triumph” was really all about, his “second act” as Italy’s leader was pretty much predestined to end in tragedy. After all, his much-celebrated efforts to rescue to euro gutted whatever was left of the Eurozone economy and doomed entire generations to financial misery. He broke the laws of basic economics and of common sense, with policies like negative interest rates, with flagrant disregard for what that would mean for the future and he flooded the economy with freshly printed cash to “solve” a short-term problem without considering the carnage he would leave behind once he left office. Well, in that regard, perhaps he was always a better politician than a central banker.
In the case of Italy, however, his ambitions were far too grand and it was clear from the start that the same “magic trick” he employed while heading the ECB would not work there. Italy’s economy has been on the brink of collapse for over a decade and the only reason it’s still standing, on the surface at least, is the constant flow of patch-work “solutions”, mainly based on accumulating even more debt and getting support packages and “emergency” aid from Brussels.
Structurally, the problems run so deep that it can be argued that real, organic growth can never come about without first dismantling and reorganizing how the entire system is set up. Corruption, decades of crony capitalism, extremely burdensome regulations and a destructive tax regime ensure that the country can never benefit from the advantages of a true free market and of real competition.
From a cynical perspective, one might argue that Draghi abandoned the ship just at the right time. As the ECB finally began to hike rates, Italy’s job of supporting its enormous debt burden is about to become almost impossibly onerous. He already saw Italian borrowing costs rise considerably during his 17-month premiership, and that is a bomb that is now set to explode, so, from the “great savior’s” perspective, perhaps it is better that it does so in the hands of the next leader. As Reuters recently pointed out, “The deeper issue is that Italy is big enough to bring down the rest of the euro zone periphery as its 2.5 trillion-euro ($2.52 trillion) government debt pile is larger than those of the other four countries combined and too big for a bailout.”
The Fascist Boogeyman awakes again
The threat of a far-right takeover has been around for at least three decades in Europe and Italy has been one of the best “candidates” for the “beginning of the end” since the last European crisis ten years ago. Back then it was the Lega, led by Salvini, that fueled the scaremongering campaigns of the mainstream press, labeling every conservative policy point as basically pure fascism. Of course, none of those grim scenarios actually materialized and there were essentially no real reforms made, “fascist” or otherwise, while Italy continued its “business as usual” politically and economically. Of course, this entire narrative is based on nothing but absolute nonsense and sensationalism. The “far right” threat is nothing more than the other side of the Hegelian dialectic of divide and conquer. There is nothing scarier about the far right than the far left; if anything, the far left should be a lot more terrifying, given that its supporters and enforcers have taken millions more lives. At best, they are two sides of the same coin: national socialist vs. international socialist. Both are inhuman, psychopathic and inherently evil ideologies and to pretend that one is better than the other is to argue that the plague is better than cholera.
Today’s boogey-woman is Giorgia Meloni. Her party, the “Brothers of Italy” got just 4% of the vote in 2008. But now, a short four years later and after “Super Mario” left the country in even more pieces than he found it, they’re actually leading the polls and Meloni, at this point at least, looks set to become Italy’s first female prime minister in September. To be fair, the Brothers are certainly “scarier” than the League, at least from a historical perspective. While today the party claims to be reformed, a statement that appears to be true looking at their policy platform, its past is less than savory. Meloni herself was confronted in many interviews about her party’s neo-fascist roots and her own involvement in Italian Social Movement (MSI) party’s youth wing.
At present, however, for all rational observers, and there aren’t many, the real threat is not the prospect of a female Mussolini at Italy’s helm. This is merely sensationalist nonsense, unsupported by currently available evidence. If anything, at its present core, the Brothers party is just old-fashioned nationalist — it’s just that the political “meter” has shifted so much to the Left over the last decade that such descriptive words have lost their meaning.
The real threat is the return of collectivist populism, the crassest and lowest kind of politics, that appeals to the basest of human instincts. Be it “left” or “right”, this sort of populism is always toxic to society, it ignites the mob and it is absolutely fatal to free speech, open debate and the completion of ideas. It denies the importance of the individual and his own mind and it focuses on the lowest common denominator, culturally and intellectually to foster a sense of “unity” and “belonging” based on the worst instincts of humanity. To make matters worse, it destroys every economy it takes hold of too. Short-sighted and mob-pleasing policies, a “Strong State” and a total disregard for unpleasant truths ensure that any economy, let alone a long-suffering one like Italy’s, can only deteriorate further under this kind of political rule.
And Meloni sure sounds like she’s ready to steer the ship towards that particular iceberg. For one thing, her planned election slogan is “Italy and Italian people first!”. And while she’s a vocal Eurosceptic and she has called for less bureaucracy and influence from Brussels, she’s hardly likely to turn down the hundreds of billions of euros of the EU recovery fund, while her agenda also includes more family-oriented state benefits and more State support for sectors she views as “more competitive”. And of course, as a yet another career politician, who has no credentials and no experience in economics, public finance or even basic math, even without the populist bend, she is bound to use even more debt to ensure a second term, handing out funds to groups regarded as “us” and punishing “them”.
A bleak future, not just for Italy, not just for Europe, but for the West at large
At the moment, the news cycle about Italy’s situation is most dominated by grief-stricken lament over the “loss” of Draghi and by shrieking doomsday cries over the imminent defeat of Democracy under the boot of Fascism. And all this without a hint of irony, given that the “messiah” who is so sorely missed already was never democratically elected. And it’s not just the irony that’s missing. There’s no accountability either, and no honest attempt to track how exactly Italy found itself in this very same corner once again.
Whether Meloni takes over or not, there needs to be a serious discussion and a sincere inspection of what went wrong. For one thing, nobody in the mainstream press or in any position of power seems to be able to admit the simple fact that an unelected technocracy is the same thing as a benevolent dictatorship. It really doesn’t matter what a ruler’s intentions or “special skills” are: they might be kind, generous, gracious and totally competent or they might be illiterate, bloodthirsty, bigoted sociopaths, but the moment they start telling people what to do and spending their money without their consent they become morally equivalent.
Unfortunately, not only is this fundamental fact not even recognized, but this political direction is becoming the norm for Europe, as more and more decisions are being made by appointed and taxpayer-funded paper pushers, far removed from those that are directly affected by them. And while the economy appears stable, at least on the surface, most people go about their business and have no need to blame anyone for anything, or even wonder who might be to blame.
But when the winds change, like they have over the last months, and when putting food on the table becomes an increasingly difficult task, there is a very strong demand to assign blame for it. As the public discontent and the anger continues to fester, it very easily boils over once people realize that they never even got a say and never chose to be led by those responsible for their predicament.
This was the same anger we saw a decade ago at the height of the Eurosceptic wave, only this time it’s bound to be much worse. Back then, it was only a mild economic downturn, some bitterness over EU bail outs of chronically fiscally irresponsible nations like Greece and some misgivings about mass migration. Today, populists have infinitely more fertile ground to thrive on. The economy is in a considerably more dire state and after the covid ordeal, most people have seen the extremes to which their State is prepared to go and the kind of oppressive and coercive measures it is willing to enforce. Anger abounds, but so does fear: for the future, for one’s family and for one’s livelihood.
There is one silver lining, nevertheless: This time around, one of the chief concerns and triggers for this public anger is inflation. Unlike previous crises, this time money, the currency itself, is in the spotlight. Hopefully, this will re-focus and reframe the public discussion and it will turn the citizen’s attention to the true underlying cause of all that ails them. Rotten money can only result in rotten societies, governed by rotten rulers.
Therefore, it will be interesting to see how the different cultures in Europe are going to respond when the “great reset” will happen. They can go for a “French Revolution 2.0” in the form of “Zentralverwaltungswirtschaft” in the name of collectivism. It takes the form of Communism, Socialism, Fascism on a national or international level based on imperialism like we had already in the past. Or, and this is what I hope for, people will finally understand that politics is never the solution but the problem. They can then embrace the competition of ideas, understanding that man is born free and is not a means to an end and they can choose the direction of decentralization and the principles of subsidiarity. I personally remain positively convinced that the future looks much more like a myriad cantons than a couple of big empires.
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