17 December 2010

Silvio we love you

Il Financial Times cuts some slack a Silvio (qui, ma serve registrarsi, gratis).

Give Silvio Berlusconi some credit. The Italian prime minister, who survived a close confidence vote on Tuesday, has done less badly than his many detractors have feared. On the contrary: the country has held together, Italian banks avoided the worst of the credit bubble, growth of gross domestic product has remained slow but fairly steady, inflation has been moderate, the ratio of government debt to GDP has increased less than in most rich countries and Italians are still buying almost all of the government’s debt (although the spread over Germany has widened sharply).

Mr Berlusconi’s moral failings, dubious business dealing and political idiosyncrasies are unattractive. But while a less self-interested and self-indulgent prime minister might have made more progress in dealing with Italy’s great institutional problems – political corruption, the permanently weak south, too much tax evasion and organised crime – none of these have worsened much since mid-2001, when Berlusconi started his second period as prime minister. It now looks like he will be in the job for all but two years of the subsequent decade.

During most of that time, his domestic political position was weak, yet Mr Berlusconi did not resort to financially dangerous budget populism. When the recession hit, he agreed with Giulio Tremonti, his finance minister – backed by a competent, non-political bureaucracy – that Italy could not afford a substantial fiscal stimulus. Some Italians might have preferred wads of borrowed government cash to feel-good rhetoric and headlines about the prime ministerial love life, but investors should be grateful.

A more attractive alternative would strengthen the case against Mr Berlusconi, but the fragmented opposition can offer neither clear, sound policies nor a more competent leader.

La frase di chiusura è particolarmente appropriata, dati i "leader" che circolano a sinistra di questi tempi.

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