Sorry for this Italy-centered post, but I though that my consideration on the decline of the political debate here might be interesting also for non-Italian readers. (image source).
Yesterday, Mr. Angelino Alfano, leader of the "People of Freedom" (PdL) party, publicly presented a plan aimed at saving Italy from economic collapse. When he spoke, I was driving along the highway and by chance my radio was tuned on a channel that aired the presentation. I had nothing else to do, so I listened to the whole thing. And I was horrified.
Let me explain. This note is not supposed to be against a specific politician or against a specific party. Mr. Alfano is the successor of Mr. Berlusconi as leader of PdL and to him I recognize the ability of speaking in a series of vaguely intelligible sentences. That's already a notch above a good number of his colleagues. What horrified me is that what he said could have been said by any politician, left or right, conservative or liberal anywhere in the world. And that explains why we are in trouble.
So, what is that Mr. Alfano and his advisors concocted to save Italy from collapse? Well, as far as I understood, the State's properties (parks, buildings, land, hospitals, etc.) should be transformed into a sort of giant fund and investors would be allowed to buy shares. That would bring money into the empty state coffers and save Italy from financial collapse (*).
I can think of a zillion reasons why the scheme wouldn't work, but you can see by yourself that, basically, it is just a game of smoke and mirrors. The state properties would not be sold, but not retained either. They would "float" in a no-man's land and that would, somehow, generate a giant cash transfer that would miraculously save Italy from collapse.
But it was not the improbable nature of the plan that bothered me. Yesterday, as I was listening to Mr. Alfano speaking, I was expecting that there would be at least something more than a discussion on how to balance the books. I mean, political parties used to be concerned about people's future. They weren't supposed to be concerned only with shifting money from one place to the other. But I was disappointed. "Restarting growth" was the only concern for the future expressed in the speech.
Now, think about that. How is it possible that the leader of the largest national party shows no interest in what exactly we should do to avoid falling again into the kind of troubles we are in? I mean, if we are collapsing, there has to be a reason why. Italy has been a reasonably prosperous for about half a century after the second world war, can't you even vaguely think that there has to be a reason if everything is falling apart today? Can't you conceive that the way out may not be fiddling with the account books, but to take into account that the world, out there, has changed? There are problems with resources, with energy, with pollution and with all sorts of global changes, climate change is just one. Can't you think that the old "solutions" (i.e. growth) may have become problems?
But no way. No mention of resources, of energy, pollution, all the rest. As I said, I am not singling out here Mr. Alfano as a bad politician. It is not his fault. Simply, the political debate has evolved in such a way that most people are living day-by-day, mainly trying to survive. The political debate has declined to a point in which there is no interest in the causes of the problems, no interest in long term solutions, no attention to anything except to the the hope that some politician will pull the rabbit out of the hat. A game of smoke and mirrors.
* To understand Mr. Alfano's plan, imagine you have to pay a mortgage on your home and you don't have enough money. You could sell your car but, instead, you think of a clever scheme. You declare that your car is a public asset and you ask your neighbors to to buy shares of it. In this way, you can still drive your car and pay your mortgage. There is just one small problem: now you have to pay dividends to your neighbors and and that may cost you more than the mortgage!