Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Causes and effects. Guest comment from Andrea Vannucci

[this is much more than a brief comment - so I'm happy to post it by itself, however depressing the conclusions are. jw]

The old italian saying “รจ nato prima l’uovo o la gallina?” (Which came first, the chicken or the egg) is a vivid warning that reminds us how difficult it is to
guess which is the cause and which the effect when considering two concurrent
facts. Good social-political analysts and economists, more than others,
should always remember to be cautious at making statements that imply an
underlying cause-effect assumption.

It’s interesting to see how many citizens, personalities, and expert political
commentators and analysts alike, looking at current Italian politics go on
affirming how much a change in Italian politics would be needed and welcome.
Most often, these comments basically mean (or wish?) that old politicians,
corrupt administrators, bureaucratic and money-wasting organizations “should”
just leave, thereby letting younger, honest, more trustworthy and motivated
individuals and organizations take over and “clean-up”.

Any such statements and analysis are more or less explicitly based on the
assumption that as long as Italian politics (or, any country’s politics at any
time, for that matters) is corrupt and inefficient, it could and should be
changed from the inside. And, that the main reason for which this does not
happen is that corrupt politicians resist and oppose the change, supported by
the corrupt organizations they have built. And, more generally, that the
citizens are the victims of this corrupt system, kept strong and powerful by a
pool of few, determined, smart, experienced bad guys that have penetrated the
institutional system, and make a distorted use of it.

This assumption, whether clearly focused or simply implied, unfortunately
proves to be wrong, in many ways.

Italian politics has proved able to reproduce itself over and over, with the
same bureaucratic inefficiencies, clienteles, change-resistant power
structures, money-wasting apparatus, hyperbolic growth of useless
institutions, growing public spending. All this happens at any institutional level, and at different times in different places; with different electoral rules in place; with major traditional parties occasionally crumbling and getting replaced by
new, different organizations. And, even as a vast number of individual
politicians - small and big fish alike - were replaced over time.

By that evidence alone, any honest social scientist should conclude that
corrupt politics is NOT the cause of Italian cultural and economic decline.
And that even if the “old” politicians who are in command today decided to
leave and make room for younger, fresh actors to take their place (don’t mind:
that could never happen, anyway!), that would NOT result in any substantial

This is because Italian political corruption has strong roots: they consist of that
solid, persisting Italian culture that was once defined as “familismo amorale”
(this doesn’t need to be translated, definitely). Italians, more than other
peoples, search and prize personal favors above equality, private relations
above public, standard procedures, introduction above qualification. They,
maybe slightly more that others, love politicians that offer protection and
advantages in turn for their vote. And, they hardly doubt that the government
should be entitled to act (and spend, obviously) in any possible field of
social or economic life.

Given these premises, it’s not surprising that Italians succeeded in raising
corrupt politicians and administrators by the numbers for decades, and that
they easily replaced those parties and organizations that eventually succumbed
as they got hit by accusations, lost their electoral bases, had their leaders
found guilty of crimes of any kind.

Wishing that Italian allegedly largely corrupt politics (or, any corrupt
politics, at any time, in any country) should, or even only could renew itself
is like wishing a fever to go away without healing the body from an infection.

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