Archive for the ‘political failures’ Category
Technology, a combination of two Greek words signifying ‘systematic treatment of art/craft/technique,’ is:
the collection of techniques, skills, methods and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives..
Whether it was discovery of fire, building a shelter, invention of weapons – and in modern times – invention of Internet, microchips, etc., it has always been about inventing, discovering and using information, techniques and tools to induce or cause economic, scientific and social progress or improvement.
However, the progress that technology caused has neither been linear or impending or ubiquitous or even obvious. All Four Great Inventions of China happened before 12th century AD. But, on the other side, despite Hippocrates’ treatise (dating from 400 BC) that, contrary to the common ancient Greek belief that epilepsy was caused by offending moon goddess Selene, it had a cure in form of medicine and diet, 12th-14th century Christendom perceived epilepsy as the work of demons and evil spirits, and its cure was to pray to St. Valentine and other saints. And in many cases, progress of technology itself or its consequences have been a matter of pure chance or serendipity, whether it is penicillin, X-rays or 3M’s post-its.
So, ironic as it is, until recently, technology hasn’t been very systematic in its own progress, let alone its impact on society, economy and culture of nations. But it’s become a lot more systematic since the dawn of Information Age, last 60 or so years. Since microchips, computer networks and digital communication were invented (all in the US), the technology became more systematic in its own progress and it’s becoming more miniature, cheaper, faster and more ubiquitous than ever before in human history. Ubiquitous technology makes the world hyper-connected and digital. Whether it is our phones, thermostats, cars, washing machines, everything is becoming connected to everything. It is thus no coincidence that California (Silicon Valley + Hollywood) has recently become the 6th largest economy in the world, thanks to its beaconing technological and creative progress embodied in last 60 or so years.
Trump era has begun in January 2017, and he already did more to damage any potential technological and scientific progress coming from the US than any of his predecessors. From trying to unreasonably curb immigration from Muslim countries to terminating TPP to undoing progress in transitioning to clean energy and again focusing on coal to disempowering OSTP, Trump wraps his decisions with firebrand rhetoric and well-thought out psychological biases (anchoring bias is his favourite) around one message: MAGA. Hopes are turning to China as the next flag-bearer of technological progress.
Nowadays, even coffee-shops are hyper-connected, aiming to personalize our coffee-drinking experience. And thanks to its omnipresence and pervasiveness of Internet, wireless connections, telecommunications, etc., technology (smartphones, games, virtual worlds, 3D headsets, etc.) is becoming and end in itself. In countries and cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, New York, digital and smartphone addiction is already a societal problem causing unintended deaths, lack of maturity, loss of educational productivity, marriage breakups, to cite but a few. In Singapore, where according to recent research, Millennials spend an average of 3.4h/day on their smartphones, government is now putting in place policies and organizations to tackle this psychological addiction.
However, even Bernie Sanders knows that technology cannot and should not be an end in itself or an addiction. Could Internet and technologies fail? Could Internet and thinking linked to it spell the end of capitalism? Could it cause societies, cultures and nations to fail?
Technology has proven to fail itself and us when it became an end in itself.
Only when it stays true to its nature and acts as an enabler, a platform for human endeavors is when technology will succeed. It can even end poverty or other problems and issues human race is facing..
With 2011, a wave of unrest descended upon the MENA. What became later known as “Arab Spring“ represented a ragged set of uprisings throughout MENA countries including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, etc. The vision of those uprisings was but one, at least initially, as it could be heard on every street and square, shouted or screamed from mouths young and old. Freedom. Democracy.
Some of those uprisings turned ugly (civil war in Libya and Syria), others (Tunisia, Egypt) ushered in what many reformers/revolutionaries believed to be a new era.
Freedom, democracy. Of course, those high-pitched and loaded terms are as cliché by now, without much merit nor substance, rallying slogans for disillusioned and ignorant. What people really meant, or needed to mean, was “better life standards,“ “more and secure jobs“ (on social/personal level) and “economic growth“ (on national level).
Another cliché/stereotype associates democracy and economic growth. Many think that those two are interchangeable, i.e. occurrence of one will automatically imply or cause the other. Then there is “modernization theory,” predominant since the late 1950s onward, and which claimed that middle and other aspiring classes created by industrial capitalism would necessarily (and eventually) bring about accountable and democratic governments. Reality is less obvious that this foregone and simplistic conclusion.
Why so? There is an easily spotted pattern, in which democracies usually are among the economically developed countries. However, the paths to democracy are varied. One is tempted to think that lack of economic stability or growth, which implies increasing poverty levels, will trap societies in a vicious political circle of dictatorial reign and economic deterioration. While bonds of poverty cannot be dismissed, they are not inexorable. Countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malta and Greece went from utter poverty into spectacular growth, some as much as quadrupling their per capita incomes. Dictatorships bloomed in Taiwan and Singapore during the entire and South Korea during most of this period of drastic economic transition and growth. Only Japan and Malta remained democratic throughout their respective periods of economic growth, and Portugal as well as Greece tattered between democracy and dictatorship, while growing economically.
There is no predictable pattern, but once a democracy is established, its survival depends on a few factors. Foremost among them is the level of economic development.
Let’s have a closer analysis of how a democracy caused an economic depression, with a study of Thailand’s recent history.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, nations from Indonesia to the Philippines embarked on their own democratic transitions, not unlike the 2011 Arab Spring. In Thailand, hundreds of thousands (middle class) came out into the streets of Bangkok in 1992 to bring down a military government. They wanted democracy and freedom. Thailand boasted a large, educated middle class, one of the best-performing economies in the world, and a relatively robust civil society. By the late 1990s, Thailand had held several free elections and passed a reformist constitution that enshrined greater protections for civil liberties and created a wealth of new institutions designed to ensure civil rights.
However, the “reformist“ frenzy started cooling off in the late 1990s, as many leading Thai reformers, who were behind the protests in 1992, backed off. They believed that Thailand had passed a threshold (of transition to democracy and economic growth), and as a result, many NGOs, media watchdogs, and organizations that were instrumental during and in the immediate aftermath of the 1992 uprising closed down. It only helped, with dawn of the Asian financial crisis in 1997, to put many of those idealistic-minded middle-class reformers into unemployment, making it even harder for them to spend time volunteering at organizations dedicated to reforms.
As Thai reformers slowly drifted off, a telecommunications tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra used his fortune to build a political party. He bought up politicians to join his party. To soften the blow and an at the same time trying to appeal to the larger part of the Thai society, the poor, Thaksin initiated a well-thought combination of entrepreneurial inducement and grassroots empowerment projects, including inexpensive health care schemes and loans to villages to start businesses.
In 2001, Thaksin became the elected PM, and showed little love for democracy. He used his power to threaten Thailand’s free media, eviscerate its independent civil service, and launch a campaign against insurgents in the Muslim south. He rewarded political allies and punished political enemies. In 2005, Thaksin was reelected, again with massive support from the poor, and largely thanks to the lackluster opposition of the Thai middle classes, which by then had grown disillusioned with democracy, believing it had delivered only elected autocracy. The reaction was prompt. Another row of street protests in 2006, whereby Thai middle class once again took to streets, hoping to topple the elected (autocratic) government. The result was a military coup of 2006. Thaksin fled into exile.
The military coup triggered an economic meltdown. Thaksin might have damaged the country’s weak democracy, but the military ruined it. It shredded the reformist constitution and set the stage for today’s Thai government, which unleashed massive force against demonstrators who gathered in the streets of Bangkok in spring 2010.
Thaksin is once more back to the country, in a proxy way, via the elections favoring his sister’s party and her as a PM.
How to avoid a similar democracy failure in MENA? It is essential to create and keep independent government watchdogs, new and independent press outlets. Introduction of government policies to reduce economic inequalities is also vital, allowing an increasing transition from low to middle class. Lastly, while a charismatic (or not so much) leader is a good focal point for rallying reformists, a more important and longer-term reform is to induce a knowledge economy and infrastructure facilitating foreign investment and (especially foreign-owed) property rights/protection.
Noam Chomsky wrote the article entitled “top 10 ways to manipulate people.” Below is the reprint of this article.
1. The strategy of distraction
The primary element of social control is the strategy of distraction which is to divert public attention from important issues and changes determined by the political and economic elites, by the technique of flood or flooding continuous distractions and insignificant information.
Distraction strategy is also essential to prevent the public interest in the essential knowledge in the area of the science, economics, psychology, neurobiology and cybernetics.
“Maintaining public attention diverted away from the real social problems, captivated by matters of no real importance. Keep the public busy, busy, busy, no time to think, back to farm and other animals” (quote from text Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars).
2. Create problems, then offer solutions
This method is also called “problem -reaction- solution.”
It creates a problem, a “situation” referred to cause some reaction in the audience, so this is the principal of the steps that you want to accept.
For example: let it unfold and intensify urban violence, or arrange for bloody attacks in order that the public is the applicant’s security laws and policies to the detriment of freedom.
Or create an economic crisis to accept as a necessary evil retreat of social rights and the dismantling of public services.
3. The gradual strategy
Acceptance to an unacceptable degree, just apply it gradually, dropper, for consecutive years.
That is how they radically new socioeconomic conditions (neoliberalism) were imposed during the 1980s and 1990s:
• the minimal state
• massive unemployment
• do not guarantee a decent income,
…so many changes that have brought about a revolution if they had been applied once.
4. The strategy of deferring
Another way to accept an unpopular decision is to present it as “painful and necessary”, gaining public acceptance, at the time for future application.
It is easier to accept that a future sacrifice of immediate slaughter.
• First, because the effort is not used immediately
• Then, because the public, masses, is always the tendency to expect naively that “everything will be better tomorrow” and that the sacrifice required may be avoided
This gives the public more time to get used to the idea of change and accept it with resignation when the time comes.
5. Go to the public as a little child
Most of the advertising to the general public uses speech, argument, people and particularly children’s intonation, often close to the weakness, as if the viewer were a little child or a mentally deficient.
The harder one tries to deceive the viewer look, the more it tends to adopt a tone infantilizing.
“If one goes to a person as if she had the age of 12 years or less, then, because of suggestion, she tends with a certain probability that a response or reaction also devoid of a critical sense as a person 12 years or younger.” (see Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars)
6. Use the emotional side more than the reflection
Making use of the emotional aspect is a classic technique for causing a short circuit on rational analysis, and finally to the critical sense of the individual.
Furthermore, the use of emotional register to open the door to the unconscious for implantation or grafting ideas , desires, fears and anxieties , compulsions, or induce behaviors …
7. Keep the public in ignorance and mediocrity
Making the public incapable of understanding the technologies and methods used to control and enslavement.
“The quality of education given to the lower social classes must be the poor and mediocre as possible so that the gap of ignorance it plans among the lower classes and upper classes is and remains impossible to attain for the lower classes.” (See Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars).
8. To encourage the public to be complacent with mediocrity
Promote the public to believe that the fact is fashionable to be stupid, vulgar and uneducated…
9. Self-blame Strengthen
To let individual blame for their misfortune, because of the failure of their intelligence, their abilities, or their efforts.
So, instead of rebelling against the economic system, the individual auto-devaluate and guilt himself, which creates a depression, one of whose effects is to inhibit its action.
And, without action, there is no revolution!
10. Getting to know the individuals better than they know themselves
Over the past 50 years, advances of accelerated science has generated a growing gap between public knowledge and those owned and operated by dominant elites.
Thanks to biology, neurobiology and applied psychology, the “system” has enjoyed a sophisticated understanding of human beings, both physically and psychologically.
The system has gotten better acquainted with the common man more than he knows himself.
This means that, in most cases, the system exerts greater control and great power over individuals, greater than that of individuals about themselves.
What do an alleged 70 million death of Chinese population in peacetime and an online social network boasting 955 million members have in common? While Mao’s life and work were considered inspirational at the time, so is modern phenomenon Facebook sweeping domains and redefining frontiers of science, culture and technology. And there are some parallels that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.
1) Put appearance and rhetoric of doing things for public good while in reality following his/its own agenda
- Mao: Mao got into the Long March in 1934 not due to any ideological reasons. He was sick and was going to be left behind by Communist forces under the pursuit of Nationalists because of his activities undermining communist goals and his disobedience to orders from the Soviet Union. A combination of putting an appearance of a patriot fighting for the communist cause and a trickery of positioning himself at the point where the Communist army was to exit from, he managed to get himself picked up by the army, soon passing through a bridge, which bore him into the history.
- Facebook: The most valuable asset on Internet is data. User data, to be more specific, as it can be used (in some cases sold) for conducting all kinds of research – it’s invaluable for any organization that has part or all of its customer base online. Facebook has been introducing number of usually unpopular privacy setting changes that, for most cases, used its member information for its own agenda. A telling sign is its recent change of replacing the word “privacy” with “data use.”
2) Decisions are taken unilaterally and without concern for those affected – and when it goes out of control, some measures are taken in guise of public appearances and apologies
- Mao: Mao, in the framework of his “Great Leap Forward.” ordered the nation to make steel. He made a target of 10.7 million tons of steel (as the previous year’s output was 5.3 millon tons, Mao asked his metallurgy minister whether that could be doubled for current year. The “yes-man” obliged). Steel mills and related industries like coal mines were ordered to go flat out to speed up the production. Rules and common sense were cast aside. Equipment overworked to the point of breakdown. In first few months alone, 30,000 workers were killed in various accidents. Realizing, the existing mills wouldn’t be able to meet the target, Mao ordered the nation to build “backyard furnaces,” which some 90 million people were forced to build. To feed those furnaces, the nation was coerced into donating virtually every scrap of metal they had including farm tools and even kitchen utensils. By the end of 1958, the target of 10.7 million tons was reached, but only 40% of which was good steel (all produced by mills). Estimates put death toll of starvation and overwork during the Leap (which lasted 4 years) to about 38 million.
- Facebook: Not only it has been playing with privacy settings of its members in order to gain and retain user information, Facebook has also been, rather quietly, granting access to all kinds of user information to 3rd party applications. As its business becomes more and more app-oriented – unsurprisingly so, as apps account for 30% of its revenues for the moment – Facebook has been making changes, that would grant a more seamless, easy access of user info to apps. Check this post for some details. With subtle design changes, it went, for example, from a two-button procedure of granting (or not) access to that of one-button. You click an invitation from a friend and, unbeknownst to you, end up giving access to the app to gain your information. Or that in old design Facebook explained what sort of information an app could use. No longer so. Facebook, considering much past opposition to measures less significant for usage of member information, unilaterally decided to introduce changes that would benefit its bottom line. And last but not least, “We’re going public for our employees and our investors,” as Zuckerberg wrote in his IPO letter. Translation: we don’t care about our customers/members – we go public so our employees get the share of our riches and our investors feel satisfied.
3) No care or thought about needs and aspirations of subjects/members
- Mao: On Feb 27, 1957, Mao delivered a 4-hour speech to the rubber-stamp Supreme Council announcing that he was inviting criticism of the Communist Party. The Party, he said, needed to be accountable and ‘under supervision.’ He sounded reasonable criticizing Stalin for his ‘excessive’ purges, and giving the impression there wouldn’t be any of those in China. In this context he cited the adage, “Let the hundred flowers bloom.” Few guessed it was a trap setup to invite people to speak, so that he could use what they said as an excuse ti victimize them. His main target were intellectuals and educated, those mostly likely to speak out. Most of criticism never reached public. Instead, Mao drafted a secret circular in which he branded between 1% and 10% of ‘intellectuals’ (those who spoke out amounting to about 5 million) as ‘Rightists.’ Denunciations, labor camps and executions followed.
- Facebook: Among other unilateral and unsolicited changes, Facebook decided to not only introduce its own email system, but silently replace members’ emails with its own @facebook.com email (only noticed by bloggers during a weekend). The step could have been well accepted, it Facebook took care of showing consideration of its members’ opinion or warned in advance. Backlash followed. Or its previous changes to News Feed, which ushered in a plethora of groups/videos with a theme “Change Facebook Back to Normal.” As an example, Facebook group and a video demonstrating how to change it to normal are still up.
4) Everything can be and is sacrificed for achievement of set goals – no morality or etiquete or qualms
- Mao: In 1953, Mao proposed a program to industrialize China. His obsession was to enter the league with Soviet Union and the US in economic terms. At that time, he was told that the program could be completed in 10-15 years. In 1957, celebrating the 40th anniversary of October, Khrushchev presented a target of surpassing the US in 15 tears. Mao was inspired and claimed China could surpass the UK in 15 years. And as China was already getting nuclear other cutting-edge technological help and knowhow from Soviets, Mao was told in 1958 that his industrialization program could be completed in 5 years instead. He fancied he could achieve this in one big leap, calling it “Great Leap Forward.” It boiled down to excessive food production and extraction from the people. Mao was squeezing his nation to produce fantastic amounts of food (grain, rice, pork, etc), which was exported in exchange for technology. Food was also used as a raw material for the nuclear program. Grain, for example, was turned into pure alcohol and used in missile tests, each of which consumed about 10 million kg of grain. Mao thought to industrialize form within by ordering construction of irrigation systems (dams, reservoirs, canals). Starting in 1958 for over 4 years, about 100 million people were coerced into such projects, and as he wanted instant results his slogan was “”Survey, Design and Execute Simultaneously.” Results are not hard to guess.
- Facebook: As Facebook moved ahead with its fresh design, it didn’t forget to, without asking opinions of members, make it easier to access the past activities with introduction of its Timeline. Timeline is conceived with ads, sponsored stories and marketing data gathering to be much easier, i.e. playing a hand for Facebook’s bottom line. Launched in September 2011, Facebook’s Timeline claimed to be the online book of members’ lives showing events on a yearly bases. Initially, Timeline was an optional feature. But once accepted, there was no going back, which suggested the imminent (and permanent) nature of the change. By the end of January 2012, not content with the fact that many of its members still preferred the older design – Sophos’ polls showed about 52% worried about and only 8% liked Timeline – Facebook simply stated that in a week time everyone will have a Timeline. A flurry of petitions, anti-Timeline groups and a lawsuit ensued.
Let me be clear. I am not a hater of Facebook. I have a special admiration for Mark Zuckerberg and for Facebook. I can’t however discount all the above developments nor the logic of how Facebook advances towards its claimed goals and objectives.
I only wish that Facebook becomes more open, transparent and forthcoming, and what’s more important, more considerate towards its ever-increasing member base. If not, then, as the saying goes, “the higher you climb, the further you fall.“
I bet many would hate to see Facebook fail/fall – as Mao fell.
We fail to advance towards future. We advance not to the 22nd century but more to the period corresponding to 8th-15th centuries AD. Below a reprint of an excellent article providing the necessary reasoning.
The middle of the 21st century will resemble nothing so much as the Middle Ages of the 8th to 15th centuries, from the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths, in 410, to the fall of Constantinople, in 1453. This was a long and uncertain period and thus an ideal metaphor to characterize our times. It was an age of plagues and progress, commercial revolutions, expanding empires, crusades, city-states, merchants, and universities. It was multipolar, with expanding empires on the Eurasian landmass, and apolar, with no one global leader. The new Middle Ages—synonymous with the age of globalization—have already begun.
First let us take the empires. Charlemagne’s efforts to resurrect the Roman Empire have been succeeded, over a millennium later, by the multipronged armadas of Brussels Eurocrats steadily colonizing Europe’s periphery, in the Baltics, the Balkans, and, eventually, Anatolia and the Caucasus. The Eurocrats’ book is not the Bible but rather the acquis communautaire: the 31 chapters of the Lex Europea, which is rebuilding EU member states from the inside out. By 2040, even depopulated Russia, with any luck, will be an EU member and the West’s front line against the far more populous East.
By then, a rebranded, globalizing China will be just a decade shy of the centennial of its civil war’s end, in 1949; the Communist Party has long declared that 2050, not 2008 (the year of the Beijing Olympic Games), will mark the country’s real coming-out party as a superpower. A half century from now, China may still be the world’s most populous country, and if the exploits of its 15th-century explorer–statesman Zheng He are any guide, its demographic, commercial, and strategic presence from Africa to Latin America—to say nothing of its diplomatic and cultural dominance in East Asia—will have substantially increased.
The world’s third center of gravity will be the United States, demographically stable but also more thoroughly amalgamated with Latin America. Almost a century after John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, the country will have rediscovered its southern neighbors, especially Brazil, for an industrial partnership to boost the Western hemisphere’s competitiveness against Asia—and to achieve energy independence from the Middle East.
What then of the Middle East, the current center of geopolitical travails? Monarchies may still support dreams of a caliphate, but a unified Islamic ummah, such as the Abbasid empire attempted, is unlikely to emerge. Global energy resources will be more diversified than they are today, so oil and petrochemicals will sustain only a modest degree of Arabian cultural expansionism, even if they still support a few Islamic crusades. With something of a reformation under way in parts of the Muslim world, one of the most practiced religions on Earth will be ever more fractured and embedded in diverse geographies, much as Christianity is today.
Meanwhile, the resurrection of the city-state, the most prominent medieval political unit, will continue. To the current list of global cities—Dubai, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, São Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, and Tokyo—we may add additional globalized nodes, such as Alexandria, Istanbul, and Karachi along major trade routes. Now, as then, city-states are commercial hubs all but divorced from their national anchors, reminding us that corporate actors will be paramount well into the future. City-states will pay for protection as global security privatizes further into corporate hands—the 21st century’s knights, mercenaries, and condottieri. Today’s sovereign-wealth funds, fused with city-state savvy, will be tomorrow’s Hanseatic League, forming capital networks that disperse the newest technologies to nearby regions. Not Oxford and Bologna, but rather Silicon Valley, Singapore, Switzerland, and their like will be the standard-setting centers.
The Middle Ages witnessed a number of innovations—from the cannon to the compass—that were geared to intensified global exploration. In the 21st century, the speed of communication and transport will bring us ever closer to simultaneity. As the ranks of billionaires soar beyond Gates, Branson, and Ambani, mega-philanthropists will become the postmodern Medicis, financing explorations in outer space and the deep sea alike and governing territory and production in the manner of medieval princes.
And, as in the Middle Ages, humanity faces diseases and invasions in the decades ahead. AIDS, malaria, SARS, and other maladies could become plagues like the 14th-century Black Death. What will be the impact of the coming migratory hordes, potentially unsettled by wars and environmental disasters? Who will be the next Mongols—small, concentrated hordes who violently establish their own version of peace, law, and order? How will contemporary diasporas—the millions of Chinese, Indian, Turkish, and Arab peoples living outside their home countries—blend into European, African, and American societies?
Finally, the fundamental reality of the Middle Ages was feudal social stratification, whose return the global economy may be accelerating. In medieval times, diverse power structures—religious, political, military, and commercial—all vied for control in shifting alliances. All of this is true again today and will remain so until a dominant form, like the nation-state in the 16th century, finally emerges. For now, the state is still in flux: declining in the Near East, resurgent in Asia, and almost nonexistent in Africa. Establishing a new system of global governance will take centuries, hence the uncertain leadership and complex landscape of the mid-21st century. The next Renaissance is still a long way off.
After 17 years, the buffoon of Italy is finally gone. But who was he in reality?
Berlusconi was born to a middle-class family of a bank employee in Milan. In primary school, young Berlusconi wrote homework assignments for his classmates in exchange for morning snacks. In high school, he played the double bass and sang with a band. He attended Milan State University, from which he graduated in 1961 with an honors degree in marketing. While at university, he signed on to cruise ships as a musical entertainer. Since his university days, he was accustomed to party and fun, treats that he would showcase regularly throughout his business and political career.
A twenty something, party-lover, self-motivator, Berlusconi started up in the construction industry. He would buy and sell land in and around Milan. His break came when he acquired a vast stretch of empty farmland near the Milan airport. His fortunes turned when the landing pattern was changed and that patch of land, obtained for pennies, became an overnight fortune.
He didn’t stop at construction. Being a musician, a performer and an extrovert by nature, his attention was naturally drawn to TV. Local TV stations, limited in number, were forbidden by law to become national, avoiding competition with state-owned RAI networks. Defiant Berlusconi & Co set up local TV stations and dispatched motorcycle riders to main cities disseminating news pre-recorded on tapes.
In the end of 80s, Berlusconi and his family/friends were heading a conglomerate of companies in media, publishing and broadcasting obtained through mergers and acquisitions. Coincidentally – this contributed to Berlusconi’s soaring fortunes – Italy was on a sharp economic rise during the same period; in 1987 it became the 5th economic power in the world, with its GDP rising by more than 18%. Berlusconi crowned himself the king of Italy by becoming the owner of a star soccer team of AC Milan.
As of 2011, Berlusconi is worth an estimated $6.2bn (according to Forbes, 3rd wealthiest in Italy, 118th wealthiest in the world in 2011).
Notwithstanding his business acumen and success, Berlusconi’s fortunes in politics were not quite on par with his business achievements. On his political count there were three election victories (1994, 2001, 2008), two defeats (1996, 2006), more than 23 judicial investigations (mostly related to corruption), more than 51 votes of confidence in his government (since 2008).
Inside Italy, Berlusconi inspired awe, disgust and respect at different times. Internationally, his idiosyncratic character earned him friends and accolades in quarters where no European was previously seen. His close friendships with Russia’s Putin Lybia’s – now defunct – Qaddhafi and, at the same time, America’s Hillary Clinton were considered controversial.
Berlusconi seem to have always intermingled personal and professional relationships.
One example is information revealed by WikiLeaks about Berlusconi’s politically disguised business activities: deal arrangements on a Gazprom-Eni joint venture bringing gas from Russia to Europe; Berlusconi’s unconditional support of Putin during the Georgia-Russia conflict in 2008; decisions on Italy’s foreign policy to be based on Berlusconi’s inner circle and business associates rather than the country’s foreign interests.
Another example is his relationship Socialist PM Bettino Craxi (Berlusconi’s political mentor) who became godfather to one of Berlusconi’s children. Mr. Craxi’s brother-in-law was a mayor of Milan, which was also power center of Berlusconi’s business empire. In 1994, the recently deposed Tunisian leader Ben Ali – whose rise to the presidency was directly supported by Italy – provided refuge to Mr. Craxi.
But Berlusconi has been vocal in pointing out his political achievements to all and any who would listen. Thanks to his fiscal policies – as he boasted in international conferences in front Germany and France – Italy avoided the housing bubble, its banks did not go bust and its unemployment rate hovered around 8.5% (>20% in Spain). The budget deficit in 2011 is estimated to be circa 4% of GDP (6% in France).
However, these numbers are deceptive. The Economist’s special report revealed that only Zimbabwe and Haiti had lower GDP growth than Italy in the period of 2000-2010. GDP per head in Italy fell, and the public debt is still 120% of GDP. Berlusconi’s Italy is 83rd in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” index, below Belarus and Mongolia, and 48th in the WEF’s competitiveness rankings, behind Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
Thus Berlusconi leaves behind an embittered, inert and economically-degraded Italy.
His businesses are running as usual and his macho attitude and chase of women continues to date with late-night parties, which have affected his health dramatically and irreversibly.
Berlusconi’s is thus a rather sad story of how a successful businessman wouldn’t – he most probably could have if only he tried – do the same for his country as for his businesses. I guess this makes him the most unpatriotic and un-Italian of all Italians.
As for Italy, things look grim. If the newly appointed PM Monti does not get his game together fast, Italy might yet turn to be another Greece.