Global Analysis from the European Perspective. Preparing for the world of tomorrow

An Open Letter to Daniel Stelter

By a guest author

A few days ago I read an article signed by renowned German economist Daniel Stelter. There I learned – among other things – that Italians have an astonishing private wealth of 9.900 billion euro, making Italian families far wealthier than their average German or European counterparts. That’s practically 10 trillion euro in the coffers of Italians. I guess Stelter based his assumption on official data, which do not include the untold amounts of cash stashed away by thrifty Italians – especially older ones – who don’t trust banks and therefore keep their money in nooks and crannies. We know this by the amounts of worthless lire that still keep surfacing in homes where old folks pass away. Stelter’s inference is plain to see: why should the rest of the EU help Italy when Italy can clearly help herself with the money held by her citizens?1)Wie Italien sich selbst helfen kann, manager magazin 2020-04-22.

I kept on meditating about Stelter’s article as I was waiting for my turn, sitting – well distanced from others and wearing my mask – in a hall of a charity. I ended up in this place following instructions from the operator who answered the phone from the city office in charge of handling requests for aid. I thought I had to fill out some sort of forms stating that I had lost my job due to the current situation and had no other financial resources. None of that was needed as it turns out that the only thing city offices are actually doing – at least in a case like mine – is to send people to different charity organizations and, once there, “explain” why they were asking for food, practically reducing all of us – until now “normal” citizens with an income – to the humiliating status of beggars.

According to Stelter’s data – and simple math – I would be entitled, based on Italy’s current population of 60 million people, to the amount of approximately 166.000 euro, give or take a few cents. That would be like winning at the lottery to me. Since I have never seen such an amount of money, I wondered what went wrong. Actually, the first thing that came to mind while I was reading the article, by association of ideas, was a crude Neapolitan saying which, roughly translated, calls a wise guy someone who – while pretending to cry – engages in a sexual act. The Neapolitan language is unrivalled in its power of expression, which by the way reflects the local philosophy of life.

So I imagine that Stelter, like many other Germans, (or Dutch, or other Europeans) see Italians just like that: they are crying desperately for help from the “Union” and pretend Italy doesn’t have financial resources to cover her most immediate needs in the near future, while at the same time they keep on living their dolce vita, as they have always done in the past, with untold billions of euro stashed away. I don’t know about much dolce vita going on in Italy these days of forced quarantine and dystopian measures never seen before, but I do know one thing: Italians don’t trust their governments. They never have and never will. As a result they lie and cheat in order to avoid paying taxes. In most cases, it’s a kind of a basic survival technique, which is deeply rooted in Italian DNA. The government, to get even, unleashes on Italians a mind-boggling array of taxes and fiscal laws that come in any shape or form, so that in some cases a law abiding citizen with a small business would end up paying up to 70% (SEVENTY percent) of his income in taxes. Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges (the more a country is corrupt, the more laws it will adopt) someone once stated, and such a statement retains its full force in Italy today. In order to make these reluctant Italians pay their dues, Italy has a militarized police force called Guardia di Finanza, which is part of the Ministry of Finance and Economy, dating back to the very creation of Italy as a unified state in the 1860s, which tells me that this ordeal has been going on for a long time. Now, this cat-and-mouse game is going on everywhere in the world, and Italy is no exception.

Italians know that a government – which will last a few months, or a few years – will do basically no good to most of them other than asking for money in taxes. After all, it was the resourcefulness and resiliency – along with plenty of corruption and tax evasion – of common Italians that turned their country in the second half of the 20th century into one of the world’s leading economies. External powers were very much interested in Italy’s state assets which were a legacy of the fascist past. To this end, a “pool” of “incorruptible prosecutors” was assembled to eradicate once and for all this ominous secret of corruption and tax evasion. The ultimate outcome of mani pulite (clean hands) judiciary storm of the early 1990s was not the end of corruption or tax evasion but the indiscriminate sale of Italy’s state assets and, ultimately, the gruesome downsizing of Italy’s economy and the standards of living of her citizens.

In order to get rid of an entire political class – the so called Prima Repubblica – one essential task had to be achieved: to divert the attention of the public with noble and worthy causes (like restoring justice and ending corruption) while at the same time snatching the public wallet, which reminds us of the aforementioned Neapolitan proverb. The public wallet, that is the sale of Italy’s state assets, was deposited on board Her Majesty’s yacht Britannia on June 1992, anchored off the Roman coast while Italy was in the midst of its worst political and institutional crisis since World War Two. The selected list of passengers included members of the international finance and another selected list of Italy’s top execs of the country’s most important state-owned industries, banks, insurance companies, energy and oil enterprises. It was all to be sold at the sale price, while Italians were being skilfully distracted.

One of Hegel’s best known aphorisms is that people and nations keep repeating the mistake of not learning from the past. Locked up inside their homes in a forced quarantine these days, Italians could have had the time to meditate and ponder over the past and take lessons from it. For Italy’s worst virus is not Covid-19. It’s called PWA, or Permanent Widespread Amnesia.

True, this time Weapons of Mass Distraction are way more powerful, if only for the fact that this is a worldwide phenomenon. One would like to nurture that overly optimistic hope that people could have learned something from the past only a few decades away. Hardly. This time the game is far more ruthless, and what’s at stake is no longer – or at least not only – snatching the public wallet, but rather controlling the public life, and, ultimately, future. Once again, the movers and shakers behind the curtains are in full control of the traditional media, with only a part of the internet that refuses to dance to the prescribed tune. Using Orwellian newspeak, they keep telling us that these dissenting voices are fake news which need to be suppressed, that all that is happening is for our convenience, as the ubiquitous slogan in advertising says, which really means for their convenience.

We are all forced to wear a mask when going outside but the central government of Italy has surely dropped its mask, now enforcing draconian measures that seem clearly designed to destroy what’s left of Italy’s economy, especially the vital resource of tourism, and all related activities. The so-called fake news which are trying to warn Italians that this could be another tremendous occasion to snatch their wallets, that is, their allegedly amazing private wealth, dismantling what little is left of social welfare, and selling remaining pieces of public assets in order to tackle Italy’s huge public debt, soon will be silenced by the newly created Thought Police. Glued to their television sets, amnesiac Italians remain hopelessly divided, with local and regional governments – depending on political affiliation – either for or against measures imposed by the central government.

Divide et impera remains the time-tested method to take advantage of Italians, and in Italy – more than elsewhere – the method works wonders. PWA along with the never resolved divisions between North and South and plenty of domestic enemies will make once again Italians fair game. We should thank economist Daniel Stelter for – how to say this – his academic yet polite warning of what’s coming soon.

References   [ + ]

1. Wie Italien sich selbst helfen kann, manager magazin 2020-04-22.

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