We had an expenses scandal in the UK that led to a few scapegoats being offered up for imprisonment or shame. It blew over pretty quickly and we really missed the point. They were nearly all at it and couldn’t blow the whistle – this was done for money. I know more about Berlusconi, Italy’s richest man, who dominated their politics from 1994, than any British politicians. He has clearly been a disaster as a national leader.
The lurid saga of his “Bunga Bunga” sex parties has almost been written off in our broadcast media, though it involved sex with a minor. The Italians admire an older guy who can still keep it up. Blair was cosy with him before becoming a bag man for JP Morgan (whatever). He has been tried more than a dozen times for fraud, false accounting or bribery. His defenders claim that he has never been convicted, but this is untrue. Several cases have seen convictions, only for them to be set aside because the convoluted proceedings led to trials being timed out by a statute of limitations. Mr Berlusconi himself changed the law for this purpose, something wider in western politics than we have recognised.
I’m not at all convinced that politics is any cleaner across Europe. The dodgy sex and the dubious business connections seem disastrous almost everywhere. Berlusconi had total disregard for the economic condition of his country and this is endemic now in western politics. Italy is a country in dire straits – but whither the rest of us? It’s had tight fiscal policy and has so far escaped the markets’ wrath. Italy avoided a housing bubble; its banks did not go bust. Employment held up: the unemployment rate is 8%, compared with over 20% in Spain. The budget deficit in 2011 will be 4% of GDP, against 6% in France. But these numbers are deceptive. When Europe’s economies shrink, Italy’s shrinks more; when they grow, it grows less. Only Zimbabwe and Haiti had lower GDP growth than Italy in the decade to 2010. In fact GDP per head in Italy actually fell. The public debt is still 120% of GDP, the rich world’s third-biggest. This is all the more worrying given the rapid ageing of Italy’s population.
As in the UK, low average unemployment disguises some sharp variations. A quarter of young people—far more in parts of the depressed south—are jobless. The female-participation rate in the workforce is 46%, the lowest in western Europe. A mix of low productivity and high wages is eroding competitiveness: whereas productivity rose by a fifth in America and a tenth in Britain in the decade to 2010, in Italy it fell by 5%. Italy comes 80th in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” index, below Belarus and Mongolia, and 48th in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rankings, behind Indonesia and Barbados. It has a two-tier labour market with protected insiders and exposed outsiders, and too few big firms. Young people are leaving, infrastructure is getting shabbier, public services are stretched, the environment is suffering and real incomes are at best stagnant. Few Europeans despise their pampered politicians as much as Italians do and their elite is old.
Everywhere the claim that his kind of business leader is essential to the changes we need has been hot air. The euro crisis is forcing Greece, Portugal and Spain to push through huge reforms in the teeth of popular protest. Standard economics will claim Italy needs to do the same.
In fact we all end up ‘needing the same’ as the books unravel and we discover what has been ‘off balance sheet’. The question is whether we now have any politicians who are or could act in our interests because none of them appear to be asking any real questions about what is going on. The world is mad. Houses were built in droves in Ireland for no one to live in. The Italians hosted an obvious crook. We are at war in countries we know nothing about, including (for the UK) a large set of rocks not fit for sheep. 1984 can’t match the lunacy.
The ‘shape’ that fits much of this well is that of puppet governments, with strings pulled by the Bilderburgers – certainly some dark politics. Do our politicians know or are they jobsworth dupes worried about ‘mortgage payments’ and their own libido? Do we all somehow know whatever this is about, realise there is nothing to do but play the game with heads down? If it is like this how could we fight it and win?
We have failed over millennia with argument – corruption is as endemic as Plato predicted. In public argument, however crap the media is, the cause is lost because most can’t grasp argument and we have almost no proper idea of disinterestedness – a poor word as it has nothing to do with lack of passion. In the UK, our politicians couldn’t even report the dismal and petty corruption around themselves – but more importantly commissioned no work to look into why and what this meant about them.
Instead of work like this we get polls of what we generally think about our public figures, which only tell us how we answer poll questions. It would matter if we actually knew our politicians, but we don’t. I believe they are chancers with no moral fibre, but that hardly separates them from the rest of us except in degree. Their morals and ethics are those of lawyers, so more or less nonexistent.
What we want is a system that works that we hardly notice and this is where we have gone wrong. We are hence again on the path to war and the end of the hopes of democracy. Most of us don’t even know the famed Athenian Democracy was always at war, committed genocides and spun fine words. No change then?
The Greeks are now ‘indignant’ and this may be where the hope of a real politics lies. The idiot view I hear in little Britain is they have somehow been profligate and brought their current position on themselves. Instead, what happens there will come to us all, before whatever war is being planned for beyond the professional ones being fought that no one fears their own being drafted into.
I was born, like our politicians, after the second war to end all wars. These were both imperialist wars about parts of the world where big profits could be made. My country has never been at peace and is now bombing part of the world it planned to take over with the French in 1956. We killed at least 28,000 Indonesian combatants in a war most of my fellows don’t know happened and I meet no one who knows how many Iraqis have been killed and maimed.
I expect the shift to the really revolting war to be heralded by some tub-thumping by the likes of Cameron or whoever the ‘Blair in place’ is at the time. Our politicians won’t resist as they failed to do over Iraq. All I know about what our politicians are like is that they aren’t fit people for office because they preside over this inevitable drift to war.
When it comes to high wage high productivity jive, think of someone like me with years of varied experience and a couple of others with similar abilities in university teaching. Three of us could teach a large number of students across, say, a business studies course. If we paid ourselves £100K a year, we’d be ‘making’ £600K a year in profit from fees from only 100 students, less expenses. Only red tape stops us doing this. And these days one can think of a home and electronic based service, with students doing sports and social stuff more or less organised themselves. It would be a bit like on-line banking. No rocket science – but it ain’t happening. Of course, most of the current non teaching jobs would go. The truth is we nearly all rely on inefficiency and most of the jobs we do are already redundant. I know of no financial services that are really needed either.
Our politicians never speak of any of this. What sort of people are they? I have no wish to make any money from teaching. It saddens me to play any role in taking hard earned money off those who pass through my ‘care’. I would be something other than a functionary. I would teach other than the road to serfdom and this is all politicians offer. We could already have a university of the air, free to all. Instead, ejukation is just part of the road you must pay for to be a better class of serf to those who take it on themselves to rent us the Earth. They have been tribal, feudal, capitalist and communist. Politicians – we know them in history like an Undead. They expect me to teach their history. All that’s left of me is auto da fe – fuck them all. I have waited in vain for the return of language and must hunt them on my own. We need another kind of war. They are already winning, destroying easy availability of jobs where some decent work will do. Now you must pledge your soul.