Monday, 29 October 2012

Berlusconi's Fury

The markets have opened above 340;  Mediaset, Berlusconi's holding company, has fallen 3.11; the euro is down slightly against the dollar and the pound.

It's the severity of the magistrates' condemnation of Berlusconi, the attribution of criminal tendencies, that rips into the man's standing, as much as the sentencing  to four years (and the condoning of three of those years  plus the fact that he will not serve time in prison does not reduce the sentence, it's still a condemnation to four years and exclusion from any public office for five) that has caused the Fury.

Parliament is discussing currently the exclusion of anybody with a criminal record from standing for political office, indeed anyone even indicted for serious criminal offences; we have moved on from reforming labour relations and taxation to tackling the levels of corruption and criminality in Italian political life.  Yes, there is a stability pact going through the legislature but it has the same relationship to a serious effect upon the Italian economy as George Osborne's austerity measures have in cutting government expenditure in the UK.  It has already been absorbed by the markets and its upset, unlikely anyway to be within Berlusconi's waning direct political reach, is unlikely and unimportant.

The anti-European, anti-German, anti-tax, anti-rule of law, anti-democratic institutions, anti-constitution, anti-migrant populism that his considerable propaganda machine will now broadcast, and that will be propagated by other means, is what is really troubling.  But that is the trouble with populism - it's popular.

Certainly we need  a  Germany that accepts that it doesn't just set the rules but is bound by them just as much as other member-states,  we need lower taxes, democratic and constitutional reform, migration policies that enable assimilation not confrontation;  we don't want them Berlusconi's way.   

Friday, 26 October 2012


Sentence is read out on Silvio Berlusconi: four years imprisonment, exclusion from holding public office for five years, and 10 million euros to be deposited with the tax collector - l'Agenzia delle Entrate -  while the appeals are heardThe mills of God, that's what the  Agenzia delle Entrate are.  Tax fraud - gets them all in the end.

17.5  billion lire in 2000, 6.6  million euro  in 2001,  some 4  million in 2002  and around another 2  million in 2003:  that's a great deal of money, as Mervyn King remarked of the £28 billion  handed over to Northern Rock - though that was in another country and no-one will be condemned.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Vote Prices

At 50 euros a vote it's clear an organisation is needed to market them for a meaningful return.  Individual vote-selling wouldn't be worthwhile.  Step forward the Mafia, more specifically the 'Ndrangheta which has exported itself to northern Italy (or quite possibly gone global) from its historical haunts in Calabria (that's Bari, and its hinterland, as the Ryanair announcement "Welcome to Bari, Mafia city, please ensure you have all your belongings from the overhead lockers with you." noted.)

It used to be that votes were bartered-for individually - right shoe before the election, left shoe once the candidate was returned - so more or less the price is holding steady as the exchange becomes more sophisticated.  The price of shoes once determined vote prices in Naples (and now Lombardy) rather as the price of a gramme of gold determined the price of a decent lunch in Florence.

Berlusconi's PdL rightist party executive councillor Domenico Zambetti is accused of  giving 200,000 euros for 4,000 votes to the criminal organisation for the Lombardy regional elections in 2010,  and now joins 13 other councillors of the Lombardy regional Executive and Assembly under criminal investigation.  This includes their leader Roberto Formigoni , a crucial Berlusconi ally, who is accused of health contracts' corruption  and is expected to resign later today. 

It does cross the mind that the manner of compiling electoral registers in the UK lends itself very well to vote bundling and sale; who needs the Mafia when registration is done by household?  Yes there will be IER in 2014 but it's neither comprehensive nor effective.

The price of a vote in England used to be expressed in beer so it's quite hard to establish where UK vote-prices are  now, both because of the variability in how much beer is needed to get a voter dead drunk and the teetotal habits of many of the bundled voters.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Holding Them Off

Italian Tax police on Friday found snakes guarding the accounts of a northern Italian company they had come to inspect. (ANSA)

Boa constrictors and a python were among the reptiles watching over a "parallel" set of books in the storehouse of a metal-working company near the city of Belluno.

"There were splendid examples of empire boa constrictors, some of them about three metres long, a royal python and another 10 reptiles" in glass cases placed on top of the allegedly falsified accounts, police said.  Forest Rangers and a snake expert were called out from Belluno to remove the snakes so that the tax police could get at the books and carry out their inspection.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Asserting the One-Party State

No Labour Leader, old or new enough to be wet behind the ears, can ever lay claim to Disraeli, and his heir Macmillan's mantle.  Yet it seems distasteful -  so Ken Livingstone-ish -  to exemplify Ed Miliband's  'One' speech, and his political claims, with the National Socialist 

'eine Volk, eine Partei,  ein Fuhrer!'

It is more on the Miliband scale as well to identify his demand for the one-party state (not one nation, not one nation at all) with

'One people one country! One country one party! One party one leader! One leader -  Kaunda! '

though 'one leader -  Miliband'  doesn't have quite the rhythmic force of the African cry.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Look here upon this picture and on this,...

Piero Sraffa, economist, Ricardian,  5 August 1898 – 3 September 1983.  Author of  The Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities, sometime fellow of Trinity College Cambridge, interlocutor of Wittgenstein, who personally faced down Mussolini's demands upon him and subsequently was given refuge in Cambridge at the instigation of John Maynard Keynes.

Angels are not neo-Ricardians but Sraffa's contributions to economic thought and his intellectual importance in the history of economic theory can only be saluted.  A man Cambridge can be proud to own as an outstanding intellectual of infinite courtesy and great, if retiring, charm.

Eric Hobsbawm, Communist, dead this week. Sometime fellow of King's College Cambridge.  Refused a lectureship by Cambridge he obtained one from Birkbeck, University of London and then complained he wasn't promoted because of his political ideology.  Never resigned from the Communist Party of Great Britain.  never flinched in the face of the tens of millions of deaths and the even greater numbers of lives ruined under realised socialism in Europe.  A man Cambridge can be proud to have refused (though King's might feel discomfort in accommodating him) and whose maltreatment of the English language is among the many things hard to forgive.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A Surprising Supporter

Angels were delightd, if extremely surprised, to read that the leader of the union Unite, Len McCluskey declared:

"Trade unions have always been on the side of the angels."

And there we were thinking that trades unions were on the side of   insider/outsider politics and economic hysteresis.

Monday, 1 October 2012

The Party of the Dead

The Labour conference rewarded the shadow chancellor with a standing ovation after he pledged to rekindle the spirit of the "even greater summer" of 1945 to "rebuild Britain anew" (gushes the Guardian).

Considering Ed Balls thought it amusing to dress as a Nazi once we might have expected him not to mention the War.  And is there anyone left alive who experienced the Attlee government?   What is it about the dead past that makes socialists and sub-keynesians hark on and on about Weimar and 1940s England?

By all accounts those were utterly horrible times and both, in their different ways, a dreadful threat to civil society.  But it's all so long ago.  We might as well consider the Bolsheviks and their post-putsch policies' relevance to 21st century economics as view current economic circumstance through a 1930s and 40s prism.  They're all dead - at least Keynes got the long run right.  Labour politics is like watching a costume drama (perhaps that's why the BBC is so keen on it.)


They've given their last concert, sob, but it's a chance to listen to this again.