Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Inequality, fascism and populism in Italy and Spain

The current Italian government presided by Post-fascist politician Giorgia Meloni will organize a state funeral in the cathedral of Milan in honour of Silvio Berlusconi, arguably the founder of modern populism. He vertically integrated politics into his business, tried to subvert justice and allegedly had links with the Mafia. His ascent to power had to do with the disintegration of traditional political parties that colluded in a system to keep a strong (but moderate) Communist Party out of power in the times of the cold war.

Spain risks giving itself a government similar to the Italian, if the left and the center-left do not mobilize strongly in the snap election called for July 23rd. Although the current government of Pedro Sánchez is praised by the European Commission and the international media, and has managed the economy satisfactorily, the traditional conservative party, PP, founded by a minister of the military dictator Franco, allied with the far right party VOX, may win a majority. The right in Spain is unfortunately very different from the center-right in Germany, because the agreements that made the transition possible in Spain to lower the stakes of democracy (in the words of Stanford scholar Barry Weingast) kept almost intact traditional institutions such as the Monarchy, the Catholic Church and the economic and judicial elites. VOX is allied with Meloni, sympathises with Trump, questions climate change and is openly anti-feminist. The PP has no problem in sharing regional governments with them.

In my previous post, I listed the possible reasons why democracies such as Italy and Spain are compatible with high levels of inequality. All the reasons are applicable in our countries, as are applicable in other capitalist democracies. But a conservative movement and conservative elites that have had for different reasons a historical advantage make capture, lobbying and corruption (more affordable for the rich) especially present, to the extreme of vertical integration in the case of Italy. I mentioned in my previous post “Agenda-setting and mobilization of non-distributive agendas by the rich (strategic political supply, eg plutocratic populism).” Nationalisms feeding each other, anti-immigration feelings and cultural battles are clearly present in the two countries. Trumpian techniques such as lies and de-humanizing insults to the political rivals are also part of the tool-kit.

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