While Italy Badly Needs New Economic Policies, Politicians Spend their Time Fighting One Another – No Credible Leadership – A Farce With Tragic Consequences

By Paolo von Schirach

May 21, 2013

WASHINGTON – If you like Marx Brothers movies humor, with all its irreverent absurdities, praise for law breakers and seasoned con men who in the end come up on top, while large audiences cheer, then you must like today’s Italy. The only problem is that this “Italy” is not a movie. It is sadly real. And the entire country, good and bad stuff lumped together, is well on its way to slow motion self-destruction.

Enormous problems, unattended

The country urgently needs to tackle lack of global competitiveness, uncompetitive labor laws, lack of investments, lack of modern infrastructure, a sub par public education system, a colossal public debt, a hopelessly inadequate and super expensive public administration, high levels of corruption, and –yes– organized crime.

Political mess

But if you read the papers you wouldn’t get any of this. The Italian media incessantly cover farcical Italian politics. There were inconclusive political elections held just a few months ago. Nobody won; but the anti-system Movimento 5 Stelle,  created by comedian Beppe Grillo, emerged as a major new national force. This is a “party” whose “program” is to send everybody else home or to jail. Clearly this new Movement is not an organized political entity. It is a loose coalition of millions of unhappy Italians. Lacking a clear program, it is mostly a messy pastiche. Of course, the first thing the leaders did to celebrate their significant electoral affirmation was to start internal fights.

Weak government

And then there is the most improbable Left-Right ruling coalition. Enrico Letta, the new Prime Minister, himself a leader of the Left wing Partito Democratico, may be a decent guy. But he looks like the one straight character in the Marx Brothers movies. He is trying to operate amidst total chaos. Will his fragile coalition Government have a chance to “do anything”?

I wouldn’t bet on it. Instead of putting together an economic policy package aimed at resuscitating the Italian economy, Letta has to worry about new ideas to change the electoral system. He has to worry about Berlusconi’s (head of the PdL, his coalition partner) endless trials and proposals to make him ineligible for public office. He has to worry about laws against corruption. Finally, he has to worry about open squabbles within his own, now rudderless, Partito Democratico.

A tragic farce

In Italy, on a daily basis, national leaders accuse one another of wrong doing, underhanded practices, back stabbing, and who knows what else.  

In the meantime, the country is still in a prolonged recession, while unemployment is above 11%. True enough, much of what is going in Italy is unquestionably farce. Yet, unfortunately this is not a movie. The painful consequences of perennial mismanagement are and will be real.

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