I never cease to be amazed at how foreign newspapers, especially American or British ones, fail to report the truth about Italian politics. Since I moved here in 1998, I cannot recall a single article that was not a grotesque distortion of the political reality. If they get Italy so wrong, what about the rest of the world?
In Italy’s case, the reason why foreign correspondents and their editors simply do not “get” the country is not hard to fathom. They are herd animals who regurgitate what they read in the main Italian newspapers and what they hear on the main political television programs about Italy, which are nearly all controlled by former members of the Italian Communist Party, the largest in Europe outside the Soviet Bloc until the fall of the Berlin Wall, and whose views are so left-wing they make Barack Obama seem like the president of a South American banana republic. Sloth, however, is not the only explanation. It suits the international herd’s PC agenda to portray Italy the same way Italy’s media do.
Nevertheless, I would have expected less propaganda and more competence from The Wall Street Journal, even if it is now owned by Rupert “The Dirty Digger” Murdoch. No chance. In an editorial published on March 27 in its online version and some US editions headlined “Monti Pulls a Thatcher,” the WSJ ludicrously applauded Mario Monti, Italy’s unelected prime minister, as a Latin version of Margaret Thatcher, the legendary British prime minister who defeated two dictatorships: that of the British left in the workplace and that of the Argentine right in the Falkland Islands.
Signor Monti, a former university economics professor and Brussels bureaucrat who was also an “international advisor” at Goldman Sachs from 2005-2011, is no Iron Lady.
The sobrio professore (sober professor), as he is nicknamed, became prime minister in November 2011 in a palace coup supported above all by the Italian left that ousted Silvio Berlusconi, the flamboyant media tycoon, who had been elected in 2008 with the largest majority ever achieved by an Italian prime minister.
Unlike Lady Thatcher, and Italians come to think of it, Professor Monti is so dull and so grey, so bureaucratic, that like a hypnotist he wafts you off into a trancelike state just by repeating in his dull grey bureaucratic voice the same soothing mantra: “fine, everything’s fine.”
His mission, as head of a government of unelected economists and bankers, is simple: to stop Italy going the way of Greece. So far his only concrete, as opposed to cosmetic, reforms have involved raising existing taxes and inventing new taxes in one of the the world’s most-taxed countries. He has done nothing to hack down Italy’s staggering public debt (119% of GDP) or bloated army of public-sector workers. And he has done little to cut Italy’s bloated public spending on pensions, which swallows up almost one-third of government revenue each year in a country getting far older far quicker than nearly all others thanks not only to the healthy Mediterranean diet but to one of the world’s lowest birth rates (1.4 children per woman).
The WSJ compared Monti so fawningly to Thatcher because of his latest reform, which is supposed to abolish Italy’s stultifying communist-inspired “jobs-for-life” labor laws which make it virtually impossible to sack anyone in firms employing more than 15 people.
You cannot fire an employee here even for “economic” reasons, i.e., there’s no more work for them, let alone if they’re lazy or useless. If you do, they take you to court, and Italy being Italy, they win and get huge compensation and their job back.
Monti’s proposal would make it possible to fire people for “economic” reasons. But here’s the rub: A judge will decide if the real reason for firing them is not in fact discrimination. But Italy’s judicial system is labyrinthine, its judges political. And it is normal for a criminal case to last 10 years and a civil case even more. Only a fool or a madman or a state-funded “victim” seeks legal redress in Italy.
Here’s the WSJ:
If Rome is spared the fate that recently befell Athens, mark this as the week the turnaround began.
I somehow doubt it. The only things that have saved Italy from meltdown so far are the stratospheric bailouts by the European Union countries and the International Monetary Fund of Greece, as well as the massive interventions in the eurozone bond markets by the European Central Bank.
The WSJ acknowledges that the Italian prime minister’s reform would be seen “in most of the free world” as only a “mild reform.” Well, you can say that again.
I am not a regular WSJ reader—partly, I suppose, because I do not have any cash to invest although since the 2008 crash I have acquired the ghoulish habit of checking stock markets for signs of the apocalypse.
What drew my attention to the editorial in the first place was an email from a reader of the Italian newspaper for which I write, Libero, one of the few that is not run by Italian communism’s toxic derivatives.
Alberto was his name and he was hopping mad with the WSJ editorial and had emailed me to urge me, as an “inglese residente in Italia,” to do something. Alberto got straight to the point, which is unusual for an Italian when sex is not concerned.
He dismissed the piece’s anonymous author as “un imbecille” who in his “abissale ignoranza” had compared Monti to Thatcher, which only “un emerito cretino” could do because it is such a gross falsification of the historical truth. Thatcher cut taxes and public spending “drasticamente,” Alberto told me, whereas Monti is doing “esattamente IL CONTRARIO.”
Alberto is right, of course. Italy’s GDP fell yet again in the first three months of 2012, down this time 1.6%, according to new OECD figures, compared to 2.9% growth in America. Italy’s total tax rate (the percentage of company profits paid in taxes) remains at 68.6%, the highest in Europe.
And so the Italians continue to commit suicide. I read that in the past 12 months, 1,000 have done so for reasons of a “financial nature.” And earlier this week, the 58-year-old boss of a small construction firm set fire to himself outside his tax office in Bologna because he could not afford to pay his taxes anymore. He remains in critical condition. As does Italy.
Monti is no Maggie. In Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, there was on occasion virtual civil war between the unions and the Iron Lady. But no businessman, as far as I know, set fire to himself or herself outside their local tax office.
In his email, Alberto came up with a typically Italian explanation of the WSJ editorial. “The thieves of Goldman Sachs and all those other American thieves can’t wait for their little Italian lackey to destroy all our businesses so that they can buy them for peanuts,” he wrote.
I prefer to blame the Italian left, not Wall Street. What better way is there to avoid real change than to convince the world, The Wall Street Journal included, that real change has really happened?
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