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?”

Mar 12, 2018

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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