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A candidate on Elections Day.
This morning (February 24), I went to vote with a friend of mine. He had voted at 8:30 am and had to wait in line; I had no better luck at 10:30. The weather, here in Rome, is nice; but in so many years I had never seen so many people at the polls. One could jump to the conclusion that the foreseen protagonist of these elections, abstention from voting that is, hadn’t shown up for the appointment. Nevertheless, to arrive at that important conclusion would be precipitous and baseless based only on such an insignificant observation; to dream, though, is not forbidden or taxed (yet), and I’d be very pleased if good-willing Italians, instead of taking refuge in a void, understood that voting has never been as necessary as it is now, if only in self defense.
The number of people at the polls, even if my first impression was confirmed, is not at all the only problem of this round of elections. The enemies to defeat, besides the disaffection of the voters, are the anti-politics attitude and bad politics. The main representative of the former is Beppe Grillo. The Genoese comedian brought a multitude of people to San Giovanni Square in Rome. Even if that wasn’t the first time the square was filled with people (just think of the great Communist gatherings of the second half of the 1900’s, or the hundreds of thousands of Berlusconi’s supporters who packed it, repeatedly, since 1994), the fact that Mr. Grillo managed to do the same doesn’t promise anything good.
I was told that Mr. Grillo also enjoys a great following in Sicily; and I’m sure that the same is true in other regions. If Mr. Grillo actually proposed anything concrete, or that could be identified with the rest of the political line-up, we would at least know what we could expect from his electoral success; but what he proposes makes no sense, like the nationalization of banks (to reduce the public debt!) and the twenty hour work week; or it’s totally crazy (like, for example, the end of all parties, everybody home, and keep on raving). We’re just forced to conclude that a Grillo victory would only amount to a sizeable contribution to the un-governability of the country.
As far as bad politics are concerned, we wouldn’t know what to pick: Bersani (leader of the Leftist coalition) proposes a wealth tax (but only on the very wealthy) and increases in public spending left and right; Ingroia (a magistrate who founded a party) would distribute free handcuffs to everyone, to throw not less than 30% of the population in jail; Vendola (Governor of Apulia, unrepentant Communist and homosexual activist) hasn’t said much yet, but it’s very likely he will manage to propose some new and very effective tax; the imperturbable Professor Monti, after having stated that the I.M.U (a property tax on the primary residence) was essential “if we wanted to save Italy”, now seems convinced that, little by little, in a few years, after having gradually reduced it, it could maybe be retired; as far as Fini, Casini, and the other various assorted politicians are concerned, their imagination is not lacking.
You probably noticed I haven’t mentioned the Lega (the Northern League) and the PdL, so I’ll be quick to remedy that. The Lega, with this idea of leaving 75% of the tax revenues to the various regions, caught up with Mr. Grillo in the race to madness.
To say that it is right that private money is wasted by local politicians, but it is theft if the politicians in Rome throw it to the wind, is an obvious expression of pure idiocy; but that’s exactly their idea: regions, provinces, municipalities are sacred entities that can’t be touched, and should be free to spend with no restraint whatsoever; but the national state is superfluous, sinful and damaging to everyone.
Lastly, as far as the PdL is concerned, as to the promises they made (which nevertheless are feasible), I’d have preferred they had taken two ideas from the 1994 plan, which I think are still of fundamental importance: the flat tax and the school vouchers. I would also have liked a discussion on how to tackle the two most shameful entitlements of our system: the national healthcare service and the excess of local administrations. I admit it with no shame, I voted for the PdL (oh really?); not with great enthusiasm, but with the conviction that was the least hurtful thing to do for the country.
I hope the readers of this blog won’t hold it against me, and I’d like to thank them for their assiduous attention.
Dr. Antonio Martino is a professor of economics (currently on a parliamentary leave) who served as Foreign Minister and Defense Minister in two of Prime Minister Berlusconi's administrations. If you're interested in three other translations of his articles, about Switzerland, the Euro and the "trilemma" Italians face, please check out this page, this page and this one.