JIM COOMBS. The Italian Election: Traditional “Right and Left” parties losing out and elsewhere (except perhaps in Britain) What is going on? The people are asking “What is government for?”

Well, Italy! The usual mess, or something else? Five Star mid 30%, Northern League next, low 30s, with Berlusconi next, but not a sufficient force. 5 Star is nearly anarchist, with “direct democracy” in its platform, and distinct distrust of the Old System.  Northern League a little nostalgic for Mussolini certainty.  The vast majority of voters don’t trust what has gone before. So what does it all mean?

Government I (or Pol Sci) taught us about the Social Contract: the populace ceded some of their liberty for security managed by the government. Makes sense. Who would want to be in Hobbes’s “state of nature”, dull brutish and short? The “deal” was that, for peace and protection, a loss of some freedoms was traded for the peace that allowed us all to prosper. I was watching Noam Chomsky on YouTube speaking on anarchism the other day, stating the principle that the exercises of power must be able to justify that use of power. That is hardly objectionable. But that is where the world’s democracies have started to fall apart. But it is not the excessive use of power that is the problem, it is that it has failed its contractual bargain. It doesn’t protect the citizens from wrong, or allow those conditions to exist which let them prosper. Governments have progressively deserted their bargain in favour of aggressive, profit-seeking capitalism, which brooks no regulation, feels free to do whatever turns a profit. Protection of the poor, the weak, the disabled is sneered at as “Nanny State”. Yet that is what the contract was, to even up the disadvantages, ensure income redistribution, and make life better for all. No wonder the now deprived masses vote or revolt against it.

So how about us? Nobody really believes that giving more money to the rich is fair, nor do they believe in “Trickle-Down Economics”, which is absurd on its face and proven to widen inequality – hardly what the contract was about.  Worse, it has become anathema for neoliberal (they are neither new or “liberal”) governments to eschew interfering with any “business” at all. So gambling enterprises are not reined in, and little is done to even address the damage they do, let alone from an economist’s point of view, of the misdirection of resources into a useless and, dare one say, immoral enterprise. As but one fairly obvious example, though there are plenty more – ask ACCC? Their response is to declare the hapless, and determinedly inoffensive, Bill Shorten of being “anti-business”. Poor fellow, can’t he even say there’s good and bad? You bet there’s bad, and no sneer of “Nanny State” derogates from the obvious.

The neoliberal free enterprise state has developed a culture of selfishness (remember the ads, “The Most Important Person – You !) with a necessarily concomitant heartlessness (see refugees, the unemployed, the disabled). This has become the modus operandi of the governments now being rejected because there are too many who are affected for people to turn away their eyes.  Any government than that sort! Libertarians like Leyonhelm scoff about nanny states, but almost no one thinks like him.

So while we are about the sneerers, what about Jeremy Corbyn? His success is that he hears the complaint that the “system”, as it enriches the few, does so at the expense of the many. He rightly states that education is the right of all young people and not a commodity to be sold. He is mocked because the present slanted arrangements in favour of tax-dodgers and middle-men prevent resources being directed to socially progressive purposes.  But the privileged few won’t let go without a fight. Watch for the Big Four attack on Nicholas Gruen’s elegant solution to the “bank problem” !

So until there are governments which justify their policies on grounds defensible in terms of the social contract, 5 Stars direct democracy, populists, and quasi- anarchists will win votes.

Jim Coombs is an almost retired magistrate and former economist. 


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1 Response to JIM COOMBS. The Italian Election: Traditional “Right and Left” parties losing out and elsewhere (except perhaps in Britain) What is going on? The people are asking “What is government for?”

  1. Dennis Argall says:

    Oh, I thought I was going to read about Italy 🙂

    I think it’s desirable to leave Angl0-philosopho perceptions behind.

    Italy is only a century and a half old as a unified state. Resentments and hostilities between regions remain.. the nationalist Austrian government toying with giving people in parts of northern Italy citizenship rights. The Italian language, while notionally emergent from the arrival of the printing press around 1500, has been approximately universal only since television.

    In the rejection of monarchy post-WW2 the republican constitution was so fair that it gave equal power to upper and lower houses to bring down a government, a tool used often. This displays the number of prime ministers since 1946

    In 2016 Matteo Renzi took constitutional reforms to a referendum to reduce the power of the upper house but added in enough additional reforms to annoy most people, many also despising him as a young jumped up former mayor of Florence) and split his own Partito Democratico, the notional principal heir to the Italian Communist Party. Until the 1970s the Christian Democrats (DC) had 40% of the vote, the Communist 30%. It needing to be understood that the DC bore little resemblance to the DLP in Australia, with elements in this confessional party who matched to perspectives of the secular parties, from Fascist and Monarchist, to Liberal, to Republican, Social Democrat, Socialist, Communist and PSIUP (international proletarian unity) far to the left. For a long time the DC ruled in coalitions with the centreThen came grand coalition with the left and the murder of ex-Prime Minister Moro, the disintegration of the DC in scandal and worse, and the end of communism as was known.

    An Italian in Italy several years ago asked me “would you please take Berlusconi” to which I replied “if you take Murdoch” to which he replied “but we already have Murdoch, we have Sky.” RAI, the national broadcaster, remains steadfast, perhaps some lessons for the ABC.

    But in the decline of trust in any government in 2009 came Beppe Grillo, a comedian, a TV creature but different from Trump. Conservative, small government focused, himself declining to stand for his own party the populist Cinque Stelle, the Five Star Movement. Mopping up more and more votes and the government of a couple of cities including Rome. To this point M5S have declined to be in coalition, but that may now end as they’ve taken home the most votes this time.

    Berlusconi’s party has been relegated to second place on the right behind La Lega, the League, which has changed its name from Northern League and with racist intolerance (denied) has now taken all the PD seats in the south.

    The EU may whinge about the situation in Italy but has to carry blame: in squeezing the Italian economy so hard since 2007 (much as in the time of Luther Germans did not want to give money to Romans); and in leaving Italy (and Greece) with heaviest burden in the migrant crisis. I note the use of the word ‘migrant’ still in Italy.

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