Good Italy, Bad Italy: Girlfriend in a Coma

Richard Smith recommended this video by Bill Emmott, the editor of the Economist from 1993 to 2008. Weirdly, I met Emmott in 1985 when he was running the Economist’s Tokyo office. I was an enthusiastic reader of the Economist before Emmott took the helm of the magazine and quit reading it in the early 2000s, after it had moved to the right and had that slant permeating its coverage (and mind you, I was apolitical back then).

I had time to listen to about 2/3 of it. You need to tune out its neoliberal bias (the undercurrent of debt fearmongering, and blaming it on government corruption, when all major governments around the world had their debt levels rise sharply as a result of the global crisis. Par for the course, Emmott wrote:

Italians know austerity is needed, but they want to know and feel that it is leading somewhere, to real change, to a better future.

Lambert quipped: “Which would be why they voted against it.”

Nevertheless, there is a lot of useful detail on the power structure of Italy that may prove useful in interpreting the arm-wrestling of the next few months.

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  1. hidflect

    Exactly the same here. I used to be an avid TE reader until about 2000 after it started overtly writing articles mostly pushing either a hard right or glibertarian agenda. The Big Mac index was their last major achievement.

  2. W.C. Varones

    Wow, I have a completely different perception of the Economist’s political journey.

    I’m an anti-bankster libertarian. I started reading the Economist back in the early 90’s, and I recall it being free-market-oriented back then, whereas now I see it as left-leaning and pro-establishment.

    I laughed at the Economist’s cover yesterday, and even posted on Facebook:

    The Economist, which used to be a quality, free-market-oriented newsmagazine but is now just another establishment Keynesian rag, wets its pants at the people of Italy rejecting the bankster technocrats.

      1. igor

        [ad hominem deleted –ls]

        you say: “The Economist, [being]… another establishment Keynesian rag…”

        FYI the current establishment policy of (neo)liberalism, of which The Economist is a prominent cheerleader, this policy of asterity, etc, is ANTI-Keynesian.

        you say: “I’m an anti-bankster libertarian.”

        You don’t know what you talking about. The banksters were created by libertarian policies (like less regulations, etc). That’s the human nature: less of government – more of criminals and banksters. Or, if you want, the nature abhors the vacuum.

        1. W.C. Varones

          Libertarians would have let the banks fail. Libertarians wouldn’t have Fannie and Freddie enrich politically appointed crooks like Franklin Raines. Libertarians wouldn’t direct taxpayer funds to politically connected corporations like Solyndra.

          What’s going on right now has nothing to do with the amount of regulation. It has to do with the political allocation of capital.

          1. igor

            You are not getting it.

            Libertarians will NOT GET A CHANCE to “let the banks fail”.

            Step 1. Libertarians get to power.
            Step 2. They implement “libertarian” policies – total laissez-faire everywhere, no government, let the markets and the law rule!
            Step 3. The Rule Of Law dissappears, because in the absence of strong and pervasive government any Law is cancelled by a couple of hired thugs.
            Step 4. In the absence of The Law the markets are taken over by banksters. (“you got problem, pal? Talk to my associate’s Colt.”)
            Step 5. On a friday evening W.C.Varones was beaten up by his local Bank of America employees because he didn’t pay weekly % for the priviledge having a chequing account with them…

            Welcome to the Libertarian Heaven! “But… but… but we thought people will be nice to each other!!!” Well, they won’t. Never were. Just like any biological living species.

            As for “Let the banks fail!” – it is a stupid and misleading slogan.

            The wrongdoing was done not by “banks” but by PERSONS running banks, it’s those persons who should be “failed”! A big bank is a utility important to millions of people. Would you burn down a whole occupied building just because Al Capone is living on the top floor?

            All this “let bank fail/no fail” discussion nicely puts the focus away from accountability of the bank’s top brass. And this is exactly what they want. Congratulations.

          2. igor

            One more thing.

            you say: “What’s going on right now has nothing to do with the amount of regulation.”

            Quite the opposite! It is the LACK of (enforcible) regulations that allows banksters off the hook, and allows Fed/Treasury do whatever they want: print more and more money and threw it to banksters and other “bondholders” to let The Great Financial Casino running.

            In times of strong and enforced banking regulations (like in US of 60s/70s) such casino won’t be even possible!

            But thanks to widespread (neo)liberal/libertarian advances we’ve got that Great Casino now!

          3. Doug Terpstra

            Thanks, Igor. Nice takedown. Libertarianism is quite adolescent, short-sighted, and full of glaring contradictions, devoid of even an elementary grasp of human nature and the dynamics of power. Reading more than one of Ayn Rand’s dark and desolate dystopian novels should cure anyone of Libertarianism. Shudder.

    1. Wat Tyler

      Are there two magazines named the Economist because the one I have subscribed to from 1987 is strictly neoliberal and has become more so in recent years? Basically their editorial position is labor reform (read lower wages and more flexibility to hire and fire), low regulation, and free trade (not surprising since TE was formed to fight food tarifs in the 1840’s that pushed up subsistance living costs on which industrial wages were based. The landed aristocrats wanted high food prices for obvious reasons so it was rich factory owners against rich estate owners. Nobody gave a sh@t about the working class – then or now).

      I would describe TE as the anti-Krugman; not even a hint of Kaynes. Fortunately they are open about their bias so it is easy to parse out and ignore. For that reason, I still read and enjoy the publication.


    2. Mike T.

      Interesting comments. I quit reading TE because of a perceived leftward bias. Maybe we are all the ones who changed and TE remains relatively moderate.

  3. Mcmike

    Wow, a surprise validation on quitting the economist.

    I only read it sporadically, so it took a while to notice and put my finger on the rightward shift. But the change in posture of the era was stark. It wasnt just the rightward shift. It was more that they lost the sense that they were above it all, and became just another captured mouthpiece. What they lost was the sense of independent thinking and of a persistent value set. Irretrievable as losing its virginity.

    To the poster above. I agree about becoming the establishment, but see little about the establishment that is liberal.

    1. McMike

      Correction, not “liberal,” I mean “left leaning”, which is what you actually said.

      This question is very interesting in fact, because we all seem to be acting out the “blind men and the elephant” these days.

      We look at the exact same problem (politics, government and banking) and some see socialism and some see fascism/corporatism. Some see right wing shift and others see left.

      Odd as hell. But of course the corruption of language and symulacra of meanging is part of the propaganda.

      Yes, Keynes is traditionally associated as left. But somehow the bank bailouts get described as socialist. Which is just silly.

      I believe that what we see from Obama in particular is a series of trojan horses, labeled with populist and liberalish sounding names like with Obamacare and various bank bailouts packaging, but which are in fact merely housing massive schemes of corporate subsidies and upward redistribution (i.e. piracy).

      Meanwhile, tea partiers look at the same thing and see Marxism, for God’s sake.

      Libertarians, I think, tend to view any government intervention as left-leaning. But as someone who is left-leaning, when viewed through the filter of cui bono, about all I see if corporatism in economics, and a healthy dose of fascism on the security/police side.

      1. W.C. Varones

        Well said.

        I have often used the terms corporatism and fascism to describe what’s going on.

        I think we see the same problem, just different solutions.

        Libertarians believe power always corrupts, and thus well-intentioned attempts at command-and-control redistribution are doomed to be perverted into corporatism. Plus the incentive problem inherent in redistribution seems certain to shrink the pie for everyone.

        1. McMike

          Indeed, the notion that power corrupts is pretty close to a law of nature.

          However, I think what libertarians tend to downplay is that other laws of nature include the notion that people’s characters are roughly divided naturaly into leaders and followers, and that people tend to self-organize into complex hierarchy structures. When we get the mix right, things go pretty darn well.

          I don’t agree that corporatism is a natural result of progressive redistribution, it seems to me that piracy and theft seeks out to attach itself to whatever system is in place.

          To me, libertariansim is like (and don’t get me wrong, I see a lot to like about it in its non-GOP co-opted forms), it is like cruising the bars looking for a super model to marry. It’s a nice goal, and might get you in the rack with a hottie from time to time, but in the end you need to face the fact that you’re not a supermodel either.

        2. different clue

          A shrinking resource base is shrinking the pie regardless. And will shrink it faster and harder in the coming decades. Bake a bigger pie with fewer ingredients and less of each? We’ll see.

        3. Lexington

          Libertarians believe power always corrupts, and thus well-intentioned attempts at command-and-control redistribution are doomed to be perverted into corporatism.

          If power corrupts then corruption is inevitable, since power inequalities are an inherant part of social relationships. This is where libertarianism false flat: it chooses to assume that if power is not wielded by government then it is not wielded by anyone, which is profoundly naive.

          In the state of nature those who already enjoy advantages over others will see those advantages grow over time at the expense of everyone else. If public policy does not work to counteract this process the inevitable result will be an increasing concentration of wealth and power at the top of the social hierarchy, which in turn will end in the subversion of democratic institutions – and it’s happening in America right before our eyes – because democracy and plutocracy are mutually incompatible. Political equality is unsustainable, except as a useful fiction, in the face of vast socio-economic inequality. What you call “command and control redistribution” is therefore not just socially desireable, it’s necessary to maintain the integrity of democratic institutions. Its function is therefore the exact opposite of what you suggest – it weakens rather than strengthens corporatism.

          Corporatism triumphs when we return to the state of nature in which those with more advantages need suffer no constraints on their ability to use them to exploit those with fewer. Ironically, that’s exactly the garden path down which libertarianism would lead us.

      2. William C

        And yet Keynes, if I remember rightly, was a Liberal, which in British terms is usually interpreted as centre.

        Words, words……….

  4. zephyrum

    I also quit the Economist some years ago after they lost their objectivity. It was once a great magazine.

  5. Bam_Man

    EVERY issue of The Economist is chock full of advertising paid for by global mega-banks (HSBC, Barclays, UBS etc. etc.) and “wealth management” firms. Anyone who expects “objective journalism” from such a tainted source is a complete fool.

    1. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

      Bam_Man: So, I suggest that citizen journalists consider creating counter-propaganda. There’s a fine line between stating things Boldly or pouring ridicule on careerist, self-censoring journalists on the one hand, and pursposefully crafting misleading, tendentious or false material. I favour the former: courageous, bold and vigorous writing with ridicule being an option.

  6. Susan the other

    Well, I thought that was a spectacular documentary. Regardless of Bill Emmott’s connection to former political viewpoints and regardless that this appears to have been done for the BBC. Buona Italia is still there. Loved the guy from Eataly (Tuscany?). Going away from politics is probably the only thing that will work. I mean, even the Pope couldn’t take it! And I’m so against technocrats who try to replace politics with finance. I’m pretty sure there’s no difference there. The other solution is people. Practical and everyday. Great documentary. Also, if anyone knows, were the ancient Etruscans Greek?

  7. steve from virginia

    That was harmless …

    The personifications of ‘Good Italy’ are an auto manufacturer, a junk food conglomerate and what appears to be the Italian version of Whole Foods supermarket chain complete with the maggot in a sports jacket.

    Um … what’s ‘Bad Italy’ again?

    Here is another country that has been swallowed up and shat out by industrialists. The question is which country abandons industrialization first. It’s been a colossal failure: Japan, Portugal, Ireland … Italy?

    Japan is trapped by its 50 or so ‘functioning’ reactors, it needs industrialization to ‘prosper’ in its gasping extremity for another 25,000 years or so or the country is fatally irradiated …

    good lord, what have we done to ourselves?

  8. Mary Bess

    First one thinks, “Well, that’s the blueprint for the rest of us. Then it occurs that we’re already there. The assault has been so brutal and so thorough that it hasn’t quite sunk in.

  9. dilbert dogbert

    For me the end of The Economist was when they said that geo bush the lesser should be president.
    I read it mostly for the news around the world that was not covered in the other rags.

    1. Mike G

      The Economist’s rabid cheerleading for the invasion of Iraq, uncritically mouthing Bush/Cheney’s transparently phony “reasons”, flushed their credibility down the toilet.

  10. Gian75

    The Two Clowns – as in Berlusconi and Grillo, according to the Economist.

    Let’s talk about the second one, for a change. A front page post appeared today on Grillo’s website ( – presently momentarily down) pertaining to Art. 67 of the Italian Constitution, which states:

    “Each member of the Parliament represents the Nation and exercises its functions without any mandate limitation” (rough translation).

    Grillo/grillini polemically point out that thanks to that article, our representatives in the Parliament are not bound to anything except the law and that the law allows them to entirely forget about what their electors wanted them to do while in the Parliament. In essence, they see that as a loophole that ought to be plugged.

    First, I’d like to note how there are at least two subtypes of comedians: one which will restort to crass jokes, slapstick to make you laugh, and one would make you laugh and think – a type better know as humorist. Berlusconi is the former, Grillo is the latter.

    Second, I’d also like to note that an article, albeit a polemical one and possibly incendiary as well, of that type doesn’t belong to the work of a comedian. To summarily dismiss Grillo, or what Grillo is attempting to give a voice to (informed or partially informend discontent), as yet-another-comedian is the same as stating that The Economist is a cove of communists – it’s gross misrepresentation.

    1. Lidia

      Yes. Grillo is perfectly correct: “Art. 67: Ogni membro del Parlamento rappresenta la Nazione ed esercita le sue funzioni senza vincolo di mandato.”

      “Each member of parliament represents the Nation and exercises his/her duties free of the restrictions of a mandate.”

      The blog post is titled “Circumvention of the Electorate”. Sadly, this is not a New Thing. It’s only New to have someone publically point it out!

      On top of this (and it cannot be emphasized enough), another thing that Americans probably do not understand is that, in Italy, votes are not cast for individuals, but for parties. The parties can decide at any time after the vote whom to actually install in a given position, is my understanding.

      Italians have only recently dipped their toe into the idea of “primaries” (molto chic, molto Americano/Clintoniano), where members of the same party vie for the votes of the party faithful. It’s unclear where that process now stands; the trial runs with Prodi several years ago were, I believe, non-binding, and at any rate a foregone conclusion.

      To get The Party, ANY Party in Italy, to respond to an electorate—ANY electorate, even its own faithful—is Not How Things Are Done.

  11. Kurt Sperry

    As we share the same girlfriend I thought I’d hear the narrator out, so I did. It’s a useful if idiosyncratic little intro to Italy. I’m not sure where Nutella and Eataly fit in or why, FIAT and Italian TV however you betcha. The clan stuff feels obligatory and a little pro forma, but it can’t either be ignored. The cultural misogyny is very real though, as is the institutional antipathy to and general infantilization of youth– and in Italy 35-40 years olds (males at least) are routinely described as “giovani”.

  12. Lidia

    Just at the intro…
    This Economist guy sounds like someone from the Onion: “we looked at Italy, found corruption, and we were SHOCKED!”

    Paging Captain Renault!

    1. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

      I listened to the whole film. In passing, the narrator speaks of “unsolved murders which some Italians believe involved the West”. That seems to be an allusion to Operation Gladio, the stay-behinds (long story). At another point, the narrator (probably Bill Emmott) speaks disapprovingly of the “morality” of London bankers: excessive bonuses, greed, etc.

  13. Fíréan

    The documentary was produced written and directed by Annalisa Piras. I have watched the first forty minutes twice before viewing to the end, and believe that some very good points were made, specific the corrution all through the society.
    Roberto Saviano is still under permanent security guard since his life was threatened for writing his expose of the Mafia back in 2008, titled ” Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia”.
    The influence and power of the Ndrangheta and the Camorra in both Italian crime, business and politics and abroard won’t go away if Italy leaves the Euro, neither will that of the freemasons, nor will the pollution of the ILVA industrial zone go away.
    The coverage of the “se non ora quando” movement in this documentary will hopefully bring attention of english speaking viewers the women’s problems and postion within Italian society.

    Though Bill Emmett co-wrote, narrated and appeared, in my opinion the documentary could well have done without his presense. An unnecessary distraction with the stylistic scenes which lost the punch of main theme,and often putting his nose ( literaly in one scene) into the frame when conducting interviews. Looking like Bilko with a beard, an englishman in a suite and pulling strange faces, who at the end of the documentary does a promo for the city of London. I would rather have seen Roberto Benigni present the documentary, and interviews with regular working Italians and students living in the country.
    The Emmett connection seems to have let the comments section here cause to go of astray, re the Economist.

  14. Paul Tioxon

    It is good that I waited to digest the prayerful story of Italy, viewed by someone who loves her, and portrays her as an intimate, a girlfriend. The good of Italy is so enormous, that I am ashamed that with as much exposure to her history and contributions to all of humanity, I have not known Italy at all, in her fullness until recently.

    Edgar Allen Poe wrote about literature in a way that Europe’s intellectuals first took American writing seriously. For most men, there can no be no greater love than a woman. For Poe, there is no greater story than that of the death of beautiful woman, as told by the bereaved man. Life without women is simply impossible and women, since Helen of Troy, have motivated men on a national basis, before riches become so important. Etruscan king dominance over the Romans was the conflict which contributed to the founding of the Roman Republic and continued in the ever expanding perimeter of throwing off kings who would try to rule over them. The Etruscan despotic rule of a man was an impetus of Roman law and democracy. Of course, as inspired by the Greeks.

    And the tragic, stricken beauty is not just culturally confined to the West. Yukio Mishima’s novel, “THE DECAY OF THE ANGEL”, presents Westernized and Industrialized Japan as the putrid, rotten body of a once beautiful Angel, a Deva, now corrupted by commerce, pollution from belching smokestacks, devoid of the traditional honor system of loyalties.

    So Italy, as the sickened, tragic woman, is more moving than charts and graphs or funny animations could ever reveal. Italy birthed the social science in the writings of Vico, birthed capitalism from the financiers of Florence, Milan, Genoa and Venice, birthed modern architecture with Brunelleschi, and revealed the workings of power in the state with Niccolo Machiavelli. And with all of this genius to build upon, we see corruption not just on a scale of the state itself, but the structure of the social order as well depends upon violent gangster corruption and criminal cash businesses, all integrated into uniquely corrupt institutions of their own type and order, displacing competent bureaucracy, as alienating as that formal organization is.

    It is serious, because the woman in the coma can no longer give birth to new life. All that are alive will die in time and there will be no one to replace them, because girlfriends become wives and mothers and without them, with the woman in the coma, Italy will grow old and a vital future represented by her children will never come to be. Italy has no future, because with all of the genius to build upon, it is of no use unless she can be healed and brought back from a limbo between life and death.

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