Italian voters are revolting

by niamh on February 26, 2013

In yesterday’s elections in Italy, ‘voters defied a failing policy and a clapped-out political establishment‘, resulting in an indecisive outcome. Here is more evidence in the Eurozone of what the late Peter Mair called the conflict between ‘responsible’ and ‘responsive’ politics. The centre-left ‘responsible’ party of Pier Luigi Bersani won most votes, just about. But the über-’responsible’ Mario Monti, the technocratic prime minister and Bersani’s most likely coalition partner, gained only half the support he had hoped for. Quelle surprise, one may be forgiven for thinking, since the mix of ‘austerity’-driven tax increases with no real structural reform, and with none of the stimulus that would enable reform to work, has proven highly unpopular with voters.

Once again, it seems to me, we see that it really is a mistake to leave the politics out of politics. I have some thoughts about why this is a bad idea in a recent talk (audio and slides here).

A technocratic fix will only ever be a patch job, and you need to give voters something positive to expect from austerity  measures. Without this, about half the voters in Italy supported parties representing an anti-austerity position. Berlusconi, written off early, rebounded with extravagant promises of tax cuts. But the biggest surprise was the success of the raucously anti-establishment, anti-EU, all-round antic campaign of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star campaign, which gained about a quarter of the total vote. In principle, a grand coalition could yet be formed around a programme of structural reform and growth measures. But it’s hard to picture Bersani and Berlusconi even starting the talks, let alone reaching agreement.

De Grauwe and Ji have convincingly shown that markets respond well to effective political action – which came from Draghi and the ECB, since no-one else was supplying it – and not to ‘panic-driven austerity’. Mario Monti calmed the markets because he was not Berlusconi, not because he raised taxes. But Italy’s economy has been virtually stagnant for about fifteen years; it has a woefully compromised political class; and too many vested interests have their scoop firmly dug into the public purse. Monti’s government hardly touched any of this.

Market confidence is a function of political credibility, and this means a lot more than just cutting deficits. It means winning credibility among the voters. And voters need to see that this is not just a matter of all pain and no gain: growth, jobs, welfare security, having a life – these are what matter. As Wolfgang Münchau has pointed out, ‘political reform’ used to mean prioritizing these things. Now it has been hijacked by the rhetoric of austerity.

But the EU has still not got the message. More and more economists, most recently in El Pais, are now saying that ‘Brussels was wrong to impose austerity measures’. But as late as yesterday, Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, said this on Irish radio (interview starts at 40’, this is at about 50’):

There are no easy choices, and if you take Italy: Italy was on the verge of an economic dead-end and political stagnation in the Fall of 2011, in September, October, November 2011, which then led to some changes in Italy, and the credibility of Italy was restored, and Italy avoided a complete economic dead-end. That was clearly a situation where the confidence effect dominated over only the quantifiable effect of fiscal consolidation, because structural reforms and fiscal consolidation were the essential elements why Italy could avoid an outright economic stagnation.

Too bad this was not broadcast on Italian radio, since clearly the Italian voters don’t understand their own country.

 

{ 36 comments }

1

soru 02.26.13 at 12:27 pm

We do seem to have reached peak Black Mirror, where the gap between broadcast and reality is less than 8 hours. ..

2

Random Lurker 02.26.13 at 3:22 pm

“But it’s hard to picture Bersani and Berlusconi even starting the talks, let alone reaching agreement.”

Actually Bersani stated that he wants to form a government with Grillo, and not (never) with Berlusconi, while Grillo said that he will refuse any alliance.

3

P O'Neill 02.26.13 at 5:09 pm

Olli Rehn is big on changes of government as sources of confidence. In his already infamous letter telling the IMF to STFU about multipliers, he said Belgium restored confidence by changing government.

Even on Olli’s terms, that now looks like a one trick pony.

4

Bruce Wilder 02.26.13 at 6:06 pm

“you need to give voters something positive to expect from austerity measures”

That would be a neat trick. What does the word, “austerity”, mean? Is Italy facing a harvest failure I don’t know about?

Personally, I’m not the surprised that the party and policies of Goldman Sachs are not popular.

That was clearly a situation where the confidence effect dominated over only the quantifiable effect of fiscal consolidation, because structural reforms and fiscal consolidation were the essential elements why Italy could avoid an outright economic stagnation.

And, that doesn’t sound like nonsensical bull excretions to you? You don’t think “structural reforms” and “fiscal consolidation” are class warfare by other means?

5

Bruce Wilder 02.26.13 at 6:30 pm

Look, the Euro was a bad design. There should have been a corresponding fiscal capacity at the center, and an assumption of sovereign debt, so that there would be a deep market in zero-risk sovereign Euro debt, funded by a Euro fiscal authority collecting uniform taxes.

They didn’t do that. They took countries like Italy and Greece, which had for decades been using state borrowing and inflation as a pressure release valve for irreconcilable political conflicts, and which had national debts of more than 100% of GDP, and radically changed the risk factors impinging on that debt. Italy and Greece are no longer sovereign issuers of their own currencies. As sovereign issuers of their own currencies, a debt of 100% of GDP was not a particular problem; it remained zer0-risk in its own currency terms.

Now, Greece and Italy and the rest, as borrowers, have the risk profiles of U.S. states, governments that must borrow in currencies they don’t control, subject to the vagaries of the business cycle and trade and financial flows. The amount of debt they can carry is much less. Their capacity for engaging in fiscal stimulus measures is highly limited. Italy’s debt to GDP ratio is what? 120%? Greece is trying to get from 165% back down to 135%. Spain is what? 85% or something like that?

Shall I tell you what California’s debt to GDP ratio is? Because it would give you an idea of the order of magnitude that a state — an enormously prosperous state — can carry. And, keep in mind that California a year ago was the poster child for ballooning budget deficits and the risk of default.

California’s State debt to GDP ratio is . . . (wait for it!) . . . (drum roll, please) . . . 4%.

If you roll in everything, all the municipal and agency debt, the state is on the hook for, you can get the ratio to around . . . 8%

Those are single digits — not triple digits.

If someone were to tell the Italians that their financial situation can be permanently stabilized by austerity to reduce their debt to GDP ratio from 120% to 12%, how do you think that would go over? Because that’s the order of magnitude change required to make the current currency union framework work, straight on, on the numbers.

Maybe, someone is going to buy this b.s. about the magic ability of “structural reforms” unrelated to the currency, but branded with confidence-inspiring virtù. Stranger things have happened. But, so far I just see a bad joke, which even Beppe Grillo cannot make funny in the telling.

6

john b 02.27.13 at 12:44 am

Shorter Bruce: “the US is the only model for everything”.

Meanwhile in real life, a huge proportion of countries issue sovereign debt denominated in USD, and the sky doesn’t fall in.

7

roger gathman 02.27.13 at 3:08 am

The Five Star campaign was amazing. Grillo has become the center of media attention, which needs a personality to understand what is going on. But whether Grillo is to the left, or has met with the far right, the movement is dominated by people outside the policy making class – the class that has enriched itself and its peers for thirty years while leading Europe to the moment when, absurdly, the richest counties in the world are suppose to shuck off their social democratic institutions because they owe money – to a financial system that, in turn, has been propped up by these same governments. It is a sweet, virtuous circle, as long as its foundations remain unquestioned. But of course the foundations stink. And it stinks that the opposition here – the left – has been taken over by technicians who think and operate right. These, of course, are not to blame for how they think and operate – but they are to blame for taking over leftist parties and turning them into neo-liberal shams. I think – perhaps wistfully – that the sham is up in Europe. It isn’t of course yet up in the U.S., where the “liberal” party has consistently offered to cut the social democratic machinery in the U.S. because, well, we owe so much – to a Wall Street community that the same liberal party helped out a little bit, with the 16 trillion dollars in 1 percent or less loans, and like that, during the 2008-2010 period. But those kind of sweetheart deals can only go to responsible people, who are saving us all from rack and ruin! Well, that tune is getting old.
I’m hoping some of the left under the “responsible” Bersani will find their natural allies in the Five Star party and start real reform – for instance, reforming the vast inequalities generated by a dysfunctional economic system. We will see.

8

Barry Freed 02.27.13 at 3:31 am

Italian voters are revolting

You said it; they stink on ice! / Berlusconi

I’ll get my coat…

9

between4walls 02.27.13 at 4:10 am

I’m an Italian voter and frankly not too fond of Grillo, mainly because of his opposition to granting citizenship to the children of immigrants. But we’ll see what happens.

I’m appalled that Berlusconi got so much of the vote. Even if they’re trying to send an anti-austerity signal- don’t they see that he’s only anti-austerity as long as it benefits him to be? That this is a opportunistic turnaround from a man who’s failed to accomplish anything in office?

10

hix 02.27.13 at 11:27 am

Italy is just strange and dysfunctional in a rather unique way since a very long time. The broader financial crisis does not have that much to do with it . The Italian current account and saving rates are alright. If Italy will ever default on souvereign debt it will only be because of a complete political institution breakdown. Greece already appears to be at this point, where the government is unable to fulfill such a basic function as collecting taxes, so it is not completly impossible that might happen in Italy.

11

niamh 02.27.13 at 12:47 pm

I think these elections in Italy are quite fascinating for many reasons. Obviously, they’re really important for Eurozone economic policy priorities. But it seems to me that they’re also exposing something new about the nature of political engagement in mass democracies. It’s hard to say yet what M5* will amount to. It isn’t an old-style right-wing populist movement. It seems to have captured something that I think Peter Mair and Colin Crouch would probably recognize as real democratic concerns that the established parties can’t or won’t address, born of ‘mania and cold fury’, as they guy says on Naked Capitalism here.

12

Random Lurker 02.27.13 at 1:38 pm

Update on italian politics:
Grillo is proposing the “sicilian model” (in the latest regional elections center left PD won in Sicily, but with a large enough M5S group that they can influence the vote).

In pratice, the idea is that Grillo leaves the government to Bersani (PD), but the M5S retains actual veto power, and keeps the right to reject laws on a law by law basis.

It beats me how this is different from a joint Grillo-Bersani government, however my euforic grillini friends like this idea a lot.

13

Chris Williams 02.27.13 at 1:41 pm

What’s Italian for ‘confidence and supply?

14

jonathan hopkin 02.27.13 at 2:50 pm

It’s important to recognize that the Grillo vote is only in part a vote against austerity. Monti had no base of voters to start with. Bersani and Berlusconi, neither of whom are particularly associated with the austerity agenda, lost around 25% of the electorate between them. The Grillo vote is first and foremost a vote against the established political class on both sides, and Monti barely comes into it. Grillo voters associate the economic misery of the last few years with the corruption and ineptitude of the political class, and probably only secondarily with the euro, Olli Rehn and even Monti. That said, it still leaves austerity dead in the water, but pro-outsider reforms could even be more likely after Grillo’s success.

15

jonathan hopkin 02.27.13 at 2:52 pm

Update: Grillo describes Bersani as a ‘dead man walking’ and rules out supporting him as PM.
Could be strategic, but maybe not. After all, how better to sink a new anti-politics movement than to form an alliance with the tired mainstream elite?

16

faramirrr 02.27.13 at 4:22 pm

Karel De Gucht on Belgian radio this morning : “this result is not anti Europe, it is anti politics.”

Clueless…

17

Bruce Wilder 02.27.13 at 4:53 pm

john b @ 6

Yeah, except for the Tequila crisis, the East Asian crisis, the Russian crisis and the Argentine crisis, it has all been smooth sailing. Oh, yeah, then there was the collateralization by reserve accumulation (“savings glut”) that drove the U.S. housing bubble and GFC. Fun, fun, fun.

Anyway, my intention was certainly not to derail a thread on Italian politics, so let’s not do that. My point was to push back a bit against the way the OP’s ‘responsive’ v ‘responsible’ distinction devolved rather credulously to Olli Rehn and the confidence fairy.

18

Sebastian H 02.27.13 at 5:33 pm

To be clear, Italy had been running a primary budget surplus until the worldwide recession, and was near it until last year. This means that its current spending and current revenues are very close. This puts it in a very different position than Greece, which requires massive borrowing to even think about meeting its current spending levels. As such Italy can think that defaulting or leaving the euro might help in ways that Greece can’t.

Which isn’t to say that an exit or default wouldn’t cause nasty problems. But it might be nasty toward an actual solution. Probably not worth the risk, but if ‘austerity’ goes indefinitely without improvement I can see why voters might want to try other tactics.

19

roger gathman 02.27.13 at 5:50 pm

Liberation published a very nice interview with Vattimo here:
http://www.liberation.fr/monde/2013/02/25/l-italie-est-un-laboratoire-politique_884604

20

Bruce Wilder 02.27.13 at 6:53 pm

Italian debt, I’m told (have no numbers), is held largely by Italians, which reduces the extent to which they are victims of Greece’s fatal mistake, which was to borrow from foreigners, with the likes of Goldman Sachs as the broker. But, if Italians do hold most of the debt, Grillo’s remarks about possibly defaulting have a very different domestic political import.

When Olli Rehn demands that Greece privatize everything as the price of a “rescue”, it is pretty obvious that he’s foreclosing, and championing the interests of a plutocracy eager to rape the country, locking down a huge part of Greece’s surplus as a rent stream of revenue, ad infinitum. (Talk about expecting nothing positive from austerity! Poverty now, poverty forever! as a slogan; oh boy.) But, what, exactly, are the gnomes of Frankfurt demanding of the Italians, and even if Italians brook no rivals in their contempt for Italian politicians or Italian bureaucracy, why would Italians want to be giving it to them?

21

Random Lurler 02.27.13 at 7:31 pm

@faramirrr 16
From someone living in Italy : he might be right, it is ambiguous.

22

Barry 02.27.13 at 7:54 pm

“Which isn’t to say that an exit or default wouldn’t cause nasty problems. But it might be nasty toward an actual solution. Probably not worth the risk, but if ‘austerity’ goes indefinitely without improvement I can see why voters might want to try other tactics.”

That’s what I keep thinking of in terms of Ireland. AFAIK, for several countries, the ECB is basically writing checks which get endorsed right back out of the countries (meaning no gain for those people), in return for painful cuts (meaning much pain).

Sooner or later people might look at the ‘pain now for gain later’ propaganda, and decide that it’s true – but not in the way that Brussels and Berlin think.

23

P O'Neill 02.27.13 at 9:22 pm

Those of you with some German may enjoy Peer Steinbrueck’s take on the situation, although the key words translate quite well anyway.

24

Phil 02.27.13 at 10:46 pm

From someone living in Italy : he might be right, it is ambiguous.

Indeed – Grillo’s victory is precisely l’antipolitica, in excelsis.

25

gordon 02.27.13 at 11:50 pm

Here in Oz the whole Italian election and aftermath have been poorly reported. Here are some links to UK reports which give some clues:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-21605388

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/26/italy-bersani-coalition-beppe-grillo

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/27/italian-deadlock-beppe-grillo-deal

I imagine the Grillo-ites, especially the Senators, will come under a lot of pressure to “play ball” with the mainstream coalitions. It will be very interesting to see if Grillo can control them (and his electoral supporters) in the atmosphere of alternate terrifying threats and honeyed promises to which they will probably be subjected.

I suspect Grillo has convinced himself that if the election had been held a week or two later his party might have been the largest in the Chamber of Deputies, hence his optimism about another election in the near future. He thinks it would be good for him. I’m not so sure.

26

cagliaritana 02.28.13 at 2:11 am

I am one of those revolting voters. I admit I did not revolt, though I am rather revolted. Grillo is nothing but the latest incarnation of the fascismo/qualunquismo/berlusconismo streak of Italian politics that are rooted in lack of understanding of basic economic and political principles. Italy is really not that unique in Southern Europe in these respects, though the actual mechanics of who owes what to whom may differ. Italians – even highly educated ones – tend to blame the markets and Germans for the pickes they have dug themselves into the last 40 years (some CT readers seem to have a tendency to do the same). I think this is a pretty big nail in the coffin of the EU. Expect elections in 6 months, do not expect anything sensible out of M5S – Grillo is an ingnorant populist THOROUGHLY enjoying having power, not really knowing what to do with it except settle scores and bask in the linelight. He is no better than the nanetto berlusca.

27

roger gathman 02.28.13 at 2:41 am

26 – your ” basic economic and political principles” are hilarious, having produced a huge bust, and a response that is pre-keynesian in its ignorance, leading to depression high unemployment and an attempt to undermine the social democratic gains of the last forty years so that the free flow of capital, handled by hedge funders and bankers that have requried trillions of dollars to bail them out from all the leading governments, can “collect” on the “debt” owed to them by supposedly profligate governments. And then of course there is the political principle of dispensing with democracy and installing economic profs associated with Goldman Sachs to institute “tough reforms”.
You sound like a typical rentier. And it seems that you are going to face the hard end of your faith in “economic principles” before this is over.

28

Random Lurler 02.28.13 at 7:57 am

@27
While I agree with your analysis in general, I don’t think grillo is a keynesian.
On his blog you can find references to europe of the banks, but also to privileged guys like public employees .
On the whole I think you should read 26 as “grillo doesn’t understand keynesiansism” more than the opposite.
But the real problem is this is dubious, grillo just thinks “kick the bums out and all will be solved”

29

Bruce Wilder 02.28.13 at 7:07 pm

By design, (or failure of design) there are no good choices. So, there are no easy choices, for politicians. There’s no insight, Keynesian or otherwise, which is going find a way to untie this Gordian knot or find a twisted path through the labyrinth into the sunlight.

Grillo’s “throw the bums out” position is not wrong. But, it slots into the complex politics of the Euro, which was sold to the periphery countries as an express path to political and institutional maturity. The con — and make no mistake, at the core of the Euro crisis is the unfolding of a confidence game not different in genus from a shell game or three-card monte — would never have worked in European countries, where the integrity of politicians and governmental institutions was under less habitual and foundational question.

The politics has been draining out of politics across Europe for decades, and that tendency has had a profound effect in shaping the European project, and putting technocrats at its center, far removed from the rough accountability of (even “second-order”?) democracy. Just how far removed is difficult to fully appreciate. The almost impossible task a political movement or charismatic leader has in building a movement, in building sufficient trust between a mass membership organization, with its necessarily inchoate philosophies and expectations, and a politically competent leadership in a time of great economic stress is only part of the total difficulty. I admire Grillo’s ability to mobilize people into politics, but political organizing is a push-pull business, and either a politician repulses as many as he attracts, or, by straddling, gives up on passionate commitments; it is surprisingly easy to get 25% — even GWB at his worst had the support of 25% of Americans — but really, really hard to get past 35% with any coherent philosophy or policy position. Italian voting structures, as I understand them, are deliberately stacked to enable 35-40% to get a Parliamentary majority in one house, while conceding it to the opposite 35% in the other house. (Not quite as much of a stacked deck as, say, Chile, where each of the two Party coalitions get 50% in parliament, no matter the vote, but close.) And, that’s just the politics of democracy and nominally democratic institutions. It seems possible to me, that Italian politicians will punt on the Euro (is “punt” a metaphor that makes any sense outside the zone of familiarity with gridiron football?), by reforming the electoral law, and then having a second go at elections.

Even when Italy gets past those hurdles, the policy conundrums — the Euro policy — is beyond democratic reach. The democratic politicians, who have the voters’ begrudging “trust” on whatever basis — populist noises or “responsible” noises — face “bargaining” in a decidedly undemocratic context, and that “bargaining” bears a strong resemblance to playing three-card monte. As Olli Rehn smarmily says, “There are no easy choices . . . ” (When I was a Federal civil servant, the inside joke started with a straight-faced, ‘We’re the government, and we’re here to help you . . .’)

I tend to be most interested in, and most skeptical of, the economist-technocrats. Nothing about the Euro crisis can be understood, imho, without the useful idiocy and incompetence of the neoliberal economists. You could not have the particular division between “responsive” and “responsible”, if the neoliberals weren’t systematically poisoning “responsible”, while undercutting the credibility of “responsive”. (The deep irony is that the core tenet of neoliberalism, which it shares with conservative libertarianism, is to deny the essential operational importance of the public good of institutional market governance, while braying rhetorically about reforming and strengthening institutions.)

30

Bruce Wilder 02.28.13 at 7:53 pm

I’ll do my own, “shorter bruce”.

What’s attractive to me about Grillo is not his Keynesian insight, or lack thereof, but his comedian’s cynical insight into hypocrisy cum fraud. That’s the essential insight in this economic conundrum.

31

hix 02.28.13 at 10:12 pm

In one corner, there is the billionaire who uses his quasi monopolistic control of Italian media to control a major party, become prime minister and constantly changes laws to avoid going to prison. In the other corner, there is some compromise Prime minister without a power base on his own who is somehow associated with Goldman Sachs. Wunder which one is the problem.

32

Phil 03.01.13 at 10:14 am

Italian voting structures, as I understand them, are deliberately stacked to enable 35-40% to get a Parliamentary majority in one house, while conceding it to the opposite 35% in the other house.

No, definitely not. All legislation, including confidence motions, has to pass both houses. “Lower house one way, upper house the other” is possible in a presidential system like that of the US or France (although even there it’s likely to mean not much gets done). In Italy – where the President is an arbiter of last resort, expected to remain above the fray – it’s a recipe for paralysis and/or another round of elections, and/or disaster.

The trouble with the Italian electoral system is that they had 40 years of unstable government, no alternation in power and proportional representation, & ever since 1993 they’ve been trying to achieve stable government and alternation in power by making the system less proportional. Which isn’t necessarily going to work. Back in 2005 – before the introduction of the current system – I wrote that the Italian party system existed in a state of “imperfect bipolarism, arising from the imposition of an electoral system designed to promote [alternation] onto a multi-polar reality”. The current system for the Chamber of Deputies is the same only more so – it’s designed to benefit the top two or three parties or groups of parties and progressively disadvantage parties with smaller votes, to the point of shutting them out of the Chamber altogether. The leading party or alliance gets a guaranteed 55% of seats; at the time the current law was drawn up Berlusconi’s party had this position and seemed likely to keep it indefinitely. The current system for the Senate does something similar but on a regional basis; the reason for this is that the Constitution states that the Senate is elected by the regions, and the bonus senators created by a national ‘top up’ wouldn’t have any geographical link.

You may think that the electoral system is a bit of a mess, especially in conditions of imperfectly-expressed political multipolarity. The guy who designed it would agree with you; he described it as a mess (una porcata to be precise).

As for Grillo, here’s something I wrote elsewhere (I don’t think there’s much overlap in readership):

“Grillo is opposed to austerity, the euro, corruption, privatisation of public services, pollution, bureaucracy, big government, political parties, trade unions and immigration; take your pick out of that lot. Most of all he’s the “against business as usual” candidate – No to austerity, No to Monti, No to Berlusconi and No to Bersani and the PD as well.

“Grillo both is and isn’t a new phenomenon. The thing about Italy is that the political system has been basically screwed ever since it was founded in 1948. Historically the respectable Right and the respectable Left have conspired to ignore this and act as if nothing was wrong – the Right because it meant they got to keep power, the Left because they thought that if they played the game the Right would eventually trust them and let them into power. So every so often ‘outsider’ figures have formed new parties pitching for the “Emperor’s New Clothes” vote – “sod the lot of them” parties, basically. Sometimes they’re progressive, like the anti-corruption parties that flowered in the mid-90s; more often they’re reactionary, just because anti-political appeals go better with maintaining the status quo than with changing it. The genius of Berlusconi (and he is a superb political operator) was to elevate “sod the lot of them” to the level of a programme for government – the basic appeal of his parties has always been “never mind the politics, vote for me and I’ll sort things out”. (This is also why he’s tended to lose his allies – most Italian right-wing parties do actually have an interest in politics.)

“So in one way Grillo is nothing new – he’s just the latest example of l’antipolitica. What is new is how hard it is to locate him on the political spectrum. I think it’s a deliberate strategy, and his approach to the neo-fascist Casa Pound group fits right in: in lots of ways he’s to the Left of Bersani, so he avoided being pigeonholed by positioning himself to the Right of Berlusconi. The trouble is, it means he’s nothing more than a wrecking candidate. He’s ruled out any kind of lasting alliance, so the only exit strategies I can see are

“a) another election, in which M5S’s support drops away to the point where the main parties can ignore it (unlikely, particularly if the election is being called in response to the problem caused by the M5S)
b) another election, in which M5S’s support grows to the point where they can form a government (also unlikely, but not to be ruled out)

“I’m betting on getting to a) eventually, but not until next year at the earliest. We’re in for a bumpy ride.”

One final point, in response to Chris @13. The closest equivalent is probably the 1976 arrangement between the Christian Democrats and the PCI, which was described as a patto di non-sfiducia; it was also called a governo dell’astensione. “Sfiducia” means “no confidence”, so it was an agreement not to vote ‘no confidence’ – the ‘confidence’ part of ‘confidence and supply’.

A Christian Democrat-only government sustained by the abstention of other parties was a political choice, however. The parliamentary arithmetic wasn’t anything like it is now; the Christian Democrats could have stitched together a majority in both houses with allies like the Socialists – and presumably did when necessary.

This matters because in the Senate a positive majority is necessary: motions only pass the Senate if they get a majority of all Senators. (In other words, abstentions equate to No votes.) So Grillo’s “take each vote as it comes” Sicilian system could work in the lower House, starting with abstaining from the vote to form a government – it would be a recipe for instability like Italy’s never seen, and I’d be amazed if any of the major parties agreed to it, but it could work. It can’t work in the Senate, though: Grillo would have to vote for the formation of a governing coalition including his party but led by one of the two major parties, and he’s ruled out doing that (rightly so, from his perspective – it would run counter to everything he’s campaigned for).

All a bit of a mess, really.

33

roger gathman 03.01.13 at 4:27 pm

What exactly is a stable government, no. 32? It seems to have a special poli sci meaning. To my mind, Italy’s problem was that it had a much too stable government – the governing class was never threatened by the specter of being completely left out of power. Its corruption was derived from its stability – stability in governments leads to corruption. A stable government form that permits and even encourages instability might be less effective, but would also be less corrupt.
There’s a number of articles semi-translated from Italian to English on this site:http://revolting-europe.com/. Grillo, who after all has a degree in accounting, does have a sense of what an economy is supposed to do – which puts him one up on his opponents, who seem to have forgotten that the incredibly wealthy economies of the EU are not simply launchpads for financial “innovation” and catching the innovators in comfortable taxpayer funded insurance cocoons when the innovations blow up in their faces.

34

Alex 03.01.13 at 4:53 pm

I appreciate Shorter Bruce, and would like to see more of him. I do worry that Grillo is a bit like electing Mark Ames or Warren Zevon or even, although it hurts to admit it and he had more generosity, Hunter S. Thompson; good at spotting arseholes, with the expertise that comes from being one yourself.

35

Phil 03.01.13 at 10:37 pm

“Stable government” essentially means “party A is elected in year 1 promising to do X and Y within the next n years, and voters have a realistic expectation that party A will be in power for roughly the next n years, at the end of which they will be able to judge whether it’s done X and Y”. Although the Christian Democrats were never kicked out, the turnover of governments (governing partnerships, political alliances, Prime Ministers) was very quick – far too quick to allow for any judgment that a party had or hadn’t implemented its programme.

36

wkwillis 03.03.13 at 7:09 pm

California has a very large public debt counting state and local (county/city/agency) pensions, much larger than 4% of California GDP.
Further, pensions are “hard obligations”, not like municipal bonds that may be inflated away by Federal policy.
We are still in better shape than Italy.

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