October 24, 2020

BUNGA BUNGA: A cautionary tale about how democracy can subvert itself.

Berlusconi was more of a crony capitalist than the neo-fascist of leftwing caricature. Few recall that the formative political relationship of his career was with Bettino Craxi, the socialist who led Italy in the mid-1980s. They were close, Craxi even godfather to Berlusconi’s children. Berlusconi backed the Craxi regime, characterized by unbelievable venality and, weirdly, pan-Arabism. Berlusconi inherited only one of those traits from his mentor: guess which?

Self-interest, not ideology, drove him. Becoming PM was a business decision. After acquiring Mondadori, Italy’s biggest publisher, and Publitalia, Italy’s biggest advertising firm, the next step was simply to acquire the government. Turns out that could be bought as easily as anything else in his portfolio. It allowed him to pass laws to stifle investigations into fraud, corruption, mafia links. He banned over-seventies from going to prison… then publicly celebrated his 70th birthday. You have to admire the cheek.

In a sense, Byron was right. If a leader can make 2,500 court appearances in 106 trials without ever getting done for anything, there does seem to be no functioning law or government. It’s not true, though, that things carry on well enough regardless. In the decade to 2010, Berlusconi’s decade, only Haiti and Zimbabwe had lower GDP growth, as Italy creaked into the eurozone crisis.

Read the whole thing.

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