"America? I love America. I am on whatever side America is on, even before I know what it is." - Sergio Berlusconi The New York Times Magazine, April 15, 2001
And what America would that be, Silvio? A country whose government promotes global warming and nuclear proliferation, and blocks the establishment of an international human rights tribunal? Surely, most Italians do not support the aggressive, militaristic posturings of Bush, jr, though apparently these are fine with you, Silvio.
More likely, Italians are attracted by another America, one they know from the mass media; the America of the "great 90s economic boom," the envy of all other industrialized nations -- and, I'm guessing, Italians read into Mr Berlusconi's American jingoism a desire to transform Italy into a success story ala the USA. Afterall, Silvio champions neo-liberal economic strategies -- reducing the size of the State while deregulating private industry and investment -- that have dominated American domestic policy since the days of Ronald Reagan.
Well, from stateside, let me share with you the dirty little secret of our national miracle -- while the past decade or two may have been a dream come true for investors, it has been more like a nightmare for the large majority of Americans. While the top ten percent of wealthiest American (and most particularly the top one percent) have grown fat through investments, the bottom 80-to-90 percent of the citizenry work ever-harder, only to grow increasingly insecure. In a decade of supposedly fantastic economic expansion, average wages barely increased, even though average number of hours on the job soared. In fact, the average US worker makes less today than in 1979 (Bravo Reaganism) in inflation-adjusted dollars.
In fact, today, most US households are steeped in debt (on average around ,000), with many facing interest rates of 18-to-25 percent imposed on them by deregulated credit card companies. Such privately held debt was unheard of among the American middle and working classes only two decades ago. In other words, the vast majority of Americans now live in a state of endentured servitude, beholden to their corporate masters.
Worried that debtors would default on their loans through declaring bancruptcy, Bush jr has successfully pushed through legislation (at the behest of credit card companies, which were major contributors to his presedential campaign), greatly tightening the bancruptcy laws. With the American citizenry all but maxed-out, these parasitic finance companies are now setting their sights on the European middle class, which remains largely debt-free -- one would have to be extremely naive not to recognize that these international financial corporations view Sergio Berlusconi as their "man-on-the-ground" in Italy.
Evidence of the severe decline of the middle class pervades American society: in the failing educational system, in the outrageously high cost for health care, in the continued dissolution of families (caring for children becomes difficult when both parents need to work just to survive, and the state cannot provide early childhood daycare or extended school programs for the afternoon), and in the virtual disappearance of small, family-owned businesses, and, of course, in the atrophy of American democracy.
But what, you may ask, of America's phenomenally low unemployment rate -- well, let me tell you, it's largely illusory and, in fact, testifies to the brutal anti-humanism of the Reaganite strategies that Berlusconi champions. Increasingly, America stores its surplus labor in cages, as we incarcerate our citizens at a far greater rate than any other nation. To get a true picture of how Americans find (or fail to find) employment in their glorious new economy (leaving aside the fact that the vast majority of jobs created in the new American economy are low-paying, no benefit service sector jobs), you should add the balence of the two million, largely working-age males, presently imprisoned to the unemployment roles, as well as the much greater number of workers employed in new jobs generated by the post-Reagan prison/police state apparatus. When these masses are taken into account, it's clear that the American free market economy actually generates unemployment rates as high, if not higher, than any other industrialized nation.
So how is it that throughout the world the perception remains of America as the land of plenty. I see three main factors contributing to the perpetuation of this illusion: one, given the domination of the globe by both the US military and American-based corporations, most people in the world conclude (understandably, but incorrectly) that America's great wealth must reach most of its citizenry; two, the average American is still far better off than people in developing nations, and given America's tradition of accepting foreign immigrants, the myth of America as a haven for the world's downtrodden remains vital (an aspect of America that most Italians appearently do not wish their homeland to emulate); and three, in a land of 290 million people, 10-to-20% of the population, that is, 29-to-58 million, is far-and-away enough people to generate a seperate, distinctive civil society and culture -- and this is the society overwhelmingly reflected by America's privately owned mass media (Forza Big Brother, Forza Silvio), both in its journalism and entertainment.
As Prime Minister, Sergio Berlusconi will aggressively pursue policies to re-structure the Italian economy along radically neo-liberal/Reaganite lines; that is, decreasing the role of the state, and de-regulating private industry and investment. The long-range impact of such policies on American society has been devestating, transforming a broadly middle class nation into an increasingly brutal, de-facto oligarchy.
Please Italy, be smart on Sunday and vote for the center-left; they may be weak and somewhat dysfunctional, but they do represent a wedge against well-coordinated, avaricious multi-national forces that seek to transform Italy into another outpost of Mammon. Please, don't elect Sergio Berlusconi.
- Alan DePardo Minsky Los Angeles May 10, 2001