Technocracy: an undemocratic antidote to Italian political populism?

Posted on December 14, 2011

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© Repubblica

As we approach the end of Mario Monti’s first month as Italy’s prime minister we start to quantify the true potential of a technocratic government. In a country like Italy, where most people vote the Right or the Left following the family’s tradition, it is hard to see what the real differences are in the programs of the Democratic Party –left wing- and The People of Freedom –right wing. Many have voted Berlusconi claiming it is better to be ruled by Europe’s clown than by the ‘Communists’ (let me remind you that Italy’s two communist parties, allied with the Greens have won just over 3% of the votes during the 2008 elections and remained out of parliament). Likewise, many others have voted the weak Left-wing coalition on the basis that the Right must not be in power. Others instead have voted the Northern League who convinced them that the long standing problems of Italy are all caused by the South. Moreover, the fact that Berlusconi -with his overwhelming ego, was at the head of the country transformed Italian politics (and not for the first time) into a one man show; either you hated the man or you supported him. His presence fuelled the outrage and the blind faith of the opposing factions, although last month’s events have suggested that it was not a case of blind faith so much as it was one of interest-driven loyalty. The point is that, in a society where the majority of people do not vote following their real interests or those of their country, it is populism, and not realpolitik, that wins an election.

The markets, however, are naturally weary of populism and last November Italy suddenly found itself governed by a cabinet of unelected technocrats, for whom pragmatism is a raison d’être. Monti’s government has proposed cuts and austerity measures so drastic that they would have caused riots and mass protests all around the country, were they proposed by an elected government. But the people are still in shock and to an extent completely confused. The fact that the members of this new technocratic government are members of no party means that Italians can’t apply their deep-rooted political prejudices and cannot label the government as fascist, communist, catholic or liberal, good or evil.

However undemocratic the idea of an unelected government may sound, Italian voters could perhaps benefit from this situation. Universal outrage sparked after it was clear that the new austerity measures would not impose the ICI (property tax) to the Vatican, which owns staggering amounts of property on Italian soil, much of which has been turned into business under the form -for example- of dozens of disguised hostels in Rome. The austerity measures that Italians will now have to endure may not be innovative and creative, yet they could make of the Italian people a more united society. Or equally they could cause them to seek safety in the arms of the ancient political caste. It is too early, unfortunately, to assess whether technocracy will do positive things, other than make the tax man a happy man indeed.

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Posted in: Opinion