As an Italian-American I'm allowed to say it: Italians are an amusing mess.
They go on about "la dolce vita," the sweet life of long lunches and short
work days and pretty girls on little scooters - without acknowledging or apparently
even realizing that the whole show is based on other people's money.
Take away the credit card and they, addicts forced to go cold turkey, descend
into existential confusion. Which brings us to today's national election.
Held as the euro crisis seemed to be abating - thanks to trillions of new
euros from the European Central Bank - the contestants were: the technocrat
ex-premier who was recently forced to resign for undisclosed reasons, the
media mogul and former premier whose creepy/criminal lifestyle nearly landed
him in jail last time around, a stand-up comic known for raunchy humor who
can't hold office due to a manslaughter conviction, and an ex-communist who
represents the workers and students most likely to stage the next general
A bad bunch, sure, but at the end of the day one of them will have the power
to at least try to address the country's problems, right? Nope, that's not
how bankrupt countries work, at least on the way down. (At the bottom they'll
give absolute power to a "strong leader" who promises to restore order, but
for now Italian voters, like their American counterparts, still cling to the
illusion that normal life can be restored with a few tweaks of the tax code
or short-term interest rates.)
Instead, my ancestral homeland got a hung jury:
faces political gridlock after crucial election
ROME (AP) -- The prospect of political paralysis hung over Italy on Monday
as partial official results in crucial elections showed an upstart protest
campaign led by a comedian making stunning inroads, and mainstream forces
of center-left and center-right wrestling for control of Parliament's two
The story of the election in the eurozone's third largest economy was shaping
up to be the astonishing vote haul of comic-turned-political leader Beppe
Grillo, whose 5 Star Movement has capitalized on a wave of voter disgust
with the ruling political class.
Another surprise has been the return as a political force of billionaire
media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, who was forced from the premiership at the
end of 2011 by Italy's debt crisis, and whose forces now had a strong chance
of capturing the Italian Senate. His main rival, the center-left Pier Luigi
Bersani, appeared headed toward victory in Parliament's lower house.
The unfolding murky result raised the possibility of new elections in the
coming months and bodes badly for the nation's efforts to pass the tough
reforms it needs to snuff out its economic crisis and reassure jittery
"This has never happened before," said James Walston, a political science
professor at American University of Rome. He predicted such a swirl of
political chaos that new elections may need to be called as soon as the
new legislature chooses the nation's next president this spring.
So nothing gets done, the debt continues to accumulate, and the financial
system shambles ever-closer to the cliff's edge.
Just to be clear, Italy isn't wallowing that much more deeply in denial than
France with its 75% marginal tax rate or the US with our monthly debt ceiling/fiscal
cliff soap operas. It's just the latest example of what happens when a country
goes broke but can't accept the fact - and is armed with a printing press
to maintain appearances beyond what would be possible in a sound money world.
In the meantime, this isn't just a local story. Italy is the third biggest
country in the eurozone and it owes German and French banks a ton of money.
Chaos there is chaos everywhere. See the next chart, which tracks the Dow
Jones Industrial Average as the Italian results came in towards the end of
the trading day.