Feelgood Man

The whole world is in crisis. World leaders hold impromptu meetings, stock markets are jittery, the Americans stand to cough up seven hundred billion dollars to bail out banks in peril, the British have already seen some banks crash and burn and Belgian bank Fortis is saved by no less than two governments. The freemarket system appears to be going down in flames.

So what do you do when you are the prime minister of a country already struggling with huge debts and low productivity? You go on television, pull your biggest, most sheepish grin and say that Italians will not lose one euro because of what’s happening.

Silvio Berlusconi just cannot bring bad news. His career in television is built around ignorant tripe, his career in politics is built around empty words. He cleaned up Napels – but with almost all of the media in his hands, this is easy: just don’t tell the truth. He saved Alitalia – but a lot less is left over than in the original Air France/KLM takeover bid, and it has cost us all a lot to keep it in Italian hands for another two years, before they will have to sell. But hey – he bought Ronaldinho for his football club! It’s all good!

After the German Army occupied the Rhineland region, in 1936, then Dutch prime minister Hendrik Colijn held a famous speech, in which he said that the people should calmly go to bed, and that there was “no reason whatsoever” to be worried. It’s a famous quote in Holland and many now think Colijn said this in the months immediately preceding the German invasion of Holland in May of 1940, which makes it look like the government was utterly unprepared for an invasion.

I have a feeling, however, that it’s 1940 now, and not 1936. Italians have already used up their savings and the savings of their parents to maintain a lifestyle cut for the economic boomtime of the sixties. There’s nowhere left to squeeze. And yet the squeeze is coming.

Keep smiling, people. The Cavaliere does.