Posts Tagged ‘economy’
The Italianist has made it into the national press – here’s my article on Berlusconi’s resignation, which appears on today’s SMH.
A couple of days ago, I posted on Facebook some vague ranting about the Italian Government’s last performances. Some people commented on that post, loosely sharing my feelings, but a friend of mine wrote something that caused some puzzlement in my bald head. Now, having spent the last 48hours dealing with World Cup flu (the famous infection that keeps you in bed with headache, while all your friends gather to watch the Football World Cup), I have had the chance to ponder a bit more over that comment.
My friend wrote: “It was just an effective example of how one can apply marketing to politics”.
For an Italian, this comment does not sound new. If anything, in fact, it sounds like an old advertisement. Supporters of the Italian PM have often repeated (over the past sixteen years) that Berlusconi is a self-made man, who created an empire from nothing, who runs the country as he runs his business, that is, successfully. Thus, the argument goes, when someone feels unpleased by Italy’s legal enactments, it is because they lack an understanding of the principles of economy. Enough, therefore, with being astonished/depressed about people still voting for Berlusconi: in fact, it turns out they are the ones who really understand how the market runs.
I confess, my knowledge of the market is scarce, to say the least. The friend who made the comment on Facebook recently turned from philosophy to human resources (is that really a change? mah..), so she probably has a more profit-oriented approach than I do. I know something about political theory though, and know that often in politics “the end justifies the means”. But that hasn’t helped me grasp the economic principles in action in Italy’s choices – given it is not clear what the end of most Italian policies would be.
So, I went and look on the Web for specialised articles, to find discussions about how Berlusconi applies effectively marketing to politics. The big guys of finance will tell me! – I thought, while sneezing and coughing. So I looked at the Financial Times, which gave me some confusing insight. Actually, seriously confusing.
A longer and more in-depth analysis told me that “the Italian economy continued to contract sharply in the third quarter of 2008 as exports fell sharply – declining at the fastest rate in three years – under the impact of a global slump which weighed down on foreign demand for Italian products, and pushed the Italian economy into its worst recession since at least 1975. Sales of Italian goods abroad fell 1.6 percent from the previous quarter, their biggest decline since 2005.” This is probably communist press, though.
I eventually looked into one of the most well-known liberal magazines in the market economy, The Economist. They will tell me why we should rejoice at Berlusconi’s capacity to apply effectively the market to politics. The Economist seems to have, in fact, a strong position regarding this point:
Why is it so hard to grasp the magic behind the PM’s policies? Why can’t we, backward-looking critics of Berlusconi’s rule, have the same financial understanding of his electorate? This makes me suffer, and my flu go worse. Especially because I want to give a strong reply to those who say that Berlusconi is not what he looks like. And to the allegation that he, at times, seems not really concerned with the common good. Is there any market expert out there who can help? Because, to be honest, Berlusconi is effectively applying something to politics, but I am not sure it is the market.
Giulio Tremonti (see previous post) is having some argument with Silvio Berlusconi. The two have been arguing for a long time: the last issue arose two days ago, when the Prime Minister, aiming to reignite popular support after some bad publicity in the last months, publicly announced the Government’s intention to suppress the IRAP, the Italian Regional tax on Productive activities. Giulio, the heroic Minister of Economy, has apparently reacted angrily to the PM’s remark. Tremonti supports an ‘austherity’ approach to the stagnated italian economy: Berlusconi’s indulgent stand towards the Italians sits a bit at odd with this trend, and (some say) it betrays a mere propagandistic bias to avoid some current problem of Silvio’s.
The interesting part of this domestic quarrel is that Berlusconi was due to return from Russia yesterday, to meet members of the executive to clarify the Government’s next steps in economic policy. He went to Russia for an unpublicized meeting with Vladimir Putin. It is well known that the two are best-mates: it has been recently discovered, for example, that Putin has his special bed in Berlusconi’s Grazioli Palace in Rome.
Rumours about this meeting in Moscow had it that there was a video-conference with Turkey’s Prime Minister RT Erdogan. What they had to talk about, we are not allowed to know.
Suddenly, Berlusconi cancelled his afternoon return from Moscow, hence postponing the (already postponed) meeting with Tremonti in Rome, which for some would have been more of a showdown. The official reason was that a big snowstorm had hit Russia, and the Italian PM’s helicopter could not take off. Berlusconi returned eventually yesterday and is due to meet his fellow ministers today. The funny thing is that no flight from/to Russia was cancelled, on that day, due to bad weather. Nor has any webcam in and around Moscow showed any sign of this autumn snowstorm.. Instead, what has been shown are pics of Silvio and Vladimir driving a powerful boat, having a good time and enjoying their never ending support for freedom of the press. This is how Berlusconi famously addressed a russian journalist who was pressing him on one of the scandals in which he is involved, shortly after the murder of Anna Politkovskaja:
Look at Vladimnir’s bemused face.
Why did Berlusconi make up this snowstorm deal then? Some say he was trying to avoid the showdown with the executive, or at least to postpone it. Tremonti, informed of Berlusconi’s delayed return from Russia due to the snowstorm, commented: “I don’t think this is due to snow. I rather think it is due to ‘fog’ “. Metaphors we live by.
A couple of days ago, the Italian Minister of the Economy, Giulio Tremonti, publicly defended the ‘posto fisso’, i.e. the permanent employment, as being the ‘basis of social stability’. Interestingly, I have discovered that ‘posto fisso’ does not have a clear translation in english, where in italian it is a word that we learn since we are children.
Permament position is the closer translation, although my personal translator, who’s setting next to me now, points out that “permanent position does not entail that you don’t change your job ever again”. In Italy, however, we conceive of posto fisso as a little island, more or less pleasant, where we long to get, eventually, never to leave it again. We use to refer to it with words such as ‘utopia’, ‘dream’, ‘mirage’, etc.
But that is another story. What’s interesting is that Tremonti’s statement is somewhat surprising, since it comes from a Minister belonging to a right-wing government, whose leader has always waved the glorious ideals of anti-communism, economic liberalism and social conservatism. After many noticed this apparent contradiction, the Minister felt compelled to give further explanation of the meaning of his statement. Tremonti was surprised by the way his words had been received by the media.
I often talk to people abroad who praise the virtue of mobility, in terms of the possibility it offers to develop one’s own skills and range of experiences. This makes sense in an Anglo-Saxon world, where mobility is probably linked to a somewhat proper wage. In Italy, unfortunately, il posto fisso is a dream exactly because the government interprets mobility in a slightly exploitative way: i.e. they intend mobility as offering workers a series of short-term contracts, where employees are usually paid half the normal wage. The dichotomy “permanent/temporary position” in Italy becomes “posto fisso/precariato“. Precariato (as in ” being precarious”) is another word that, in Italy, we use to learn from childhood. The alternative to a permanent position is generally a sort of undignified limbo, where the worker is in a state of ‘financial stand-by’ (wages don’t tend to exceed 1000Euros, about£900, per month), though s/he is still expected to work very hard, so to build a career. It is not unusual to see people in their 40s who are still precari. Why did Tremonti suddenly react to a situation which, by the way, was mainly caused by his coalition?
Some bad guys say this is a mere propaganda move: as in, “of course we are not going to do anything, but we know you like it when we say nice things. Now go back to your work”. The Italian Government is not performing very well, and some bits of the electorate are even starting to doubt Berlusconi’s capacity to save the World. The PM himself has been quick in backing Tremonti’s plea for defending il posto fisso: “I am with Tremonti”, he claimed yesterday.
Others may consider the fact that Tremonti is a kid of the Northern League, the lovely party who acquired popularity in the early 90s with its campaign to split Italy into North and South, and which hasn’t changed much since then. The Northern League has an outstanding list of politicians who put a great effort to realise the Party’s ideals. Their leader is the charismatic Umberto Bossi, who heroically came back to fight for (northern) freedom after a stroke a few years ago. He’s supported by experienced statesmen such as Calderoli e Borghezio, all dressed in green to express their concern with environmental problems. These guys are all very worried by the loss of italian jobs (this sounds a bit like Gordon Brown, I know..) due to immigrants being allowed to work in Italy. That’s why immigrants should not be allowed, they say. So, perhaps another explanation for this surprising statement might be that Tremonti was trying to reassure his people about the Government’s intention to give each italian his/her own little island, where no one else is allowed to be.
Another possible explanation for Tremonti’s statement might be that the Government is turning left, and is starting to consider the individual worker as, in fact, an individual, with rights to a decent life. Could this be the beginning of a new Italian Miracle? (Unfortunately, only italian speakers will fully appreciate this piece of history).
I would be inclined for the first answer. But I would welcome comments on this.