The comic and the criminal sound a warning for us all
No one willingly looks to Italy for lessons in the future of democracy – when a comic and a convicted tax fraudster can together command over 50 per cent of the national poll, one has to wonder. But perhaps we should look more closely.
Italy is a remarkable country – remarkable as a major manufacturing force. Remarkable for its vast cultural effect on the rest of the world – achieved not through Empire but through emulation. Remarkable too for being a sum of its parts. For Italy boasts a stronger sense of the “local” than perhaps any country in Europe.
So what’s gone wrong? What produced so corrupt a situation that a man charged with having sex with an under-aged belly dancer ran the country for so long. Is it any wonder that a highly intelligent clown all but beat his party in the election?
Italy’s political ingredients are not dissimilar to what has happened in many western European countries. The politicians got into bed with military interventionism and money. In so doing they broke trust with the people who elected them. The one million who marched against the invasion of Iraq in Britain were ignored, as they were elsewhere in Europe. And whilst there were key divisions in Europe over the war on Iraq, there was less over the war on Afghanistan.
What united them all was there forbearance of, and encouragement of bankers and financiers to go rogue with the citizens’ cash. The world economy was crushed and crashed by the wanton failure of governments to regulate and prosecute the banking classes.
As we approach the tenth anniversary of the war on Iraq, and as we begin our run from Afghanistan, there is much to ponder. No-one realistically thinks such so bold a military adventure will ever come again in our life times. It is not that we have learned our lessons, it is that we simply cannot afford it. Some might argue that that at least is the good the bankers have wrought.
Italians may not pay their taxes; there may be problems with organised crime, money laundering and more – that was ever so. What has brought Italy to its knees is the mis-performance of the bankers and the global regulatory system.
The Italians may not have learned their lesson about Berlusconi. People seem to have forgotten that Italy used to change it governments as fast as many used to change their underclothes – without consequence.
Now there is a consequence for the Italy, for the Eurozone, and for us.
The moves needed to establish global regulation to cope with the globalised movement of money are in their infancy – sovereign governments still rule.
We are in the foothills of global understanding as to what went wrong in 2007/8, and the drastic steps needed to put it right.
But whilst we await transnational co-operation in sorting the global banking, commodity, and monetary trading system, our frustration and in some cases, despair with national politics is deepening. In Greece, Spain and Italy it is palpable. In Britain it has born us the first peacetime coalition in UK political history. But the clock is ticking. Many of our national institutions in many countries are creaking. In many cases, including the UK, many argue our governance needs urgent reform.
Wait long enough and the comic, the criminal, the extremist can arise. That is what both Germany, and Italy taught us in the last great extended period of depression and austerity in the 1930s.
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