WASHINGTON – With his (typically Italian) hints and hesitations as to whether he will or will not be a candidate to lead a centrist/reformist group aspiring to form Italy’s next government, Mario Monti (the outgoing, unelected Prime Minster) proved that he is not a national leader. And this is fine. In fact it would a major surprise if he demonstrated both the willingness and the ability to move into a terrain that was never his to begin with.
No reformist party in Italy
His semi-surrender to Italy’s political reality, even though not proclaimed (in true Italian fashion) in clear terms, is also Monti’s admission that Italy cannot and will not be governed by what it would really need: a solid, pro-market political force (led by him) that would have the popular support necessary to dismantle layers and layers of statism, crony capitalism, excessive union power and corruption –all of it nicely intertwined with organized crime.
Monti can interpret the existing political landscape. He sees that the painful fiscal reforms concocted by his government –a technocratic, unelected government “imposed” on the country by President Giorgio Napolitano– were accepted only because of the semi-emergency fiscal predicament confronting Italy at the end of 2011.
Monti called upon to fix an emergency
Then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was weak and discredited, his coalition in disarray. The left opposition was in no better shape. Credit markets were demanding premium interests to but Italian bonds.
And so Mario Monti, a distinguished economist and University President who never held elective office, was called upon by Giorgio Napolitano, Italy’s President, to form a new government of experts that would do the dirty job of raising taxes and cutting spending, with the proviso that, once it performed this difficult but limited task, Monti and his crew of technocrats would graciously leave the scene.
Run for office?
But now some are having second thoughts. There are some well-meaning (but delusional) Italians who would like Monti to stay on, participate in the elections, win the popular vote and prove that Italy can become a modern industrial democracy. Yes, they want to show the world that Italy deep down is a Western country with good rules and a credible eco-system that will make it possible for jobs creating, competitive enterprises to grow and prosper.
Monti may have liked the flattery. But he can understand the dominant statist (and in fact anti-capitalistic) political culture. And he can read the polls. The centrist, reformist coalition that would like to have him as an elected Prime Minister is way too small. Not a chance that it would win the upcoming elections.
Italians vote for those who promise the impossible
The likely winner is the Democratic Party, mostly retreaded former Communists who for sure abandoned their beloved Bolshevik dreams but who are still attached to the equally stupid dream of a state capable of engineering economic growth.
In the same vein, the Italians (most of whom have understood nothing about the causes of the debt crisis) are still attached to the impossible dream of publicly funded jobs for life and/or a private sector jobs that are theirs for ever. Yes, friends, nobody gets fired, no downsizing in Wonderland.
And they will vote mostly for parties that keep promising what over time is unsustainable and thus cannot be delivered: safe jobs for all, long paid vacations, lots of benefits, light duties, steady pay, free health care, guaranteed retirement.
The left will win
The Monti government has been a short and totally out of character parenthesis of sanity imposed by extreme circumstances in an Italian environment that in general resists reality.
Now that they have a chance to express their true wishes, most likely the Italians will elect a left wing government led by the Democratic Party. And the Democrats will make the same mistakes the French Socialists have already made: their union allies will scare investors and cause capital flight, while the government will create fake, subsidized jobs.
And then we wonder why Southern Europe is such a disaster area?