La crisi italiana vista dall’estero

1 Febbraio 2012

Do not fool yourself that these reforms are ‘for Italy’. This is self-evidently not-so. If these reforms are to assure the markets that our debt is a good bet; if these reforms are to ensure that our budget sheets are balanced by 2013, then we cannot consider them reforms ‘for Italy’. We must distinguish ‘reform’ from ‘these reforms’; hence to say ‘Italy needs reform’ is not to say ‘Italy needs these reforms’. These reforms are for the market first, to save Italy only in the sense of saving it from the unsympathetic revenge of a jumpy market. A market so strung-out that even an agreement by the Franco-German dipole yesterday to ‘restore confidence (by the markets) in the single currency’ prompted Standard and Poor’s to warn that they are considering reducing France and Germany’s credit ratings. Very basically, we should be considering the significance of major political reforms undertaken not for the benefit of the political citizenry (either national or European), but to keep S&P from reducing our AAA to AA. It is clear who has leveraging power, and it is not us.

To save Italy from the effects of a deeper Euro crisis, then, should not be understood as the only option in the face of an inevitable truth of the markets. That it is true that if the crisis in the Eurozone deepens it will be a catastrophe for citizens is the same as saying, in 2009, that to save Wall St. was to save Main St. Both may be true, but they are the very expression of the problem which only becomes apparent in a crisis: that the market has no barriers to political manipulation – deliberate or otherwise. And in this formulation we miss what else is at stake – namely the legacy of political democracy.

The point of government in the (postwar) 20th century was precisely to tame the markets, to mediate between capital and citizen, to protect the people from inevitable shocks. Hence, the reforms we make in the wake of the Eurocrisis are loud declarations of the priorities of government in the 21st century: to do whatever is necessary to appease the markets, to make offerings to a cruel and arbitrary master in the hopes not to wake his fury, to say we are willing to suspend politics – as understood as accountability to the citizen – if they will simply let us limp out of the throne room in humiliation and nothing worse.

So, faced with the choices presented by the markets, your proposals are irreproachable. But to offer only these choices is to accept them as natural, as the only terms on which we can negotiate the priorities of society and government. The task of the intellectual is not to accept the problems as presented and scrabble desperately (or calmly) for expert solutions. The task of the intellectual is to understand well the problems as they are given to us, and then to reformulate the very terms in which they are stated. If we accept the terms of the bond market traders and the credit rating agencies, our problem is a technical one, but it has very little to do with discussing what is ‘right’, it offers no room to privilege dignity; in short, it reduces formal politics to the solving of technical problems rather than negotiating norms, standards, and values – depoliticization becomes the necessary condition for system stability.

Sean Morgan Deel