Newsletter TDF 1/2004

Civilization caught between Mars and Parmalat

by Adriano Autino

Dear Coplanetaries, 

This year, although only just beginning, will be one in which at least some positive events will take place, in contrast to the tragedies which have afflicted the planet from 2001 to 2003; or at least there will be some very positive developments able to shake many earthlings of good will from their shell-shock. New resolutions can then be born. Positive decisions will allow people of goodwill to resume their journey, if not with enthusiasm, at least with the steadiness of who know that cannot surrender. The globalized economy is still in an unstable balance, on the edge of total collapse, but China and India have given us all a wake-up call. And the western world has responded, finally announcing new goals, in the only direction that can bring us out of the shoals of the closed world: upward, towards the opening of a true space economy. The successes of the Martian NASA and ESA automated probes, in these weeks, and presence of water on Mars, now surely serve as a good omen and encouragement, at the beginning of 2004. 

China has entered the exclusive astronautic club, from which - let's not forget - Europe is still an outsider, giving as of now no any sign of aiming to insert human space flight into its own strategies. India is qualifying increasingly as a leader in software production, at least as far as the Information Technology market is concerned. India is also becoming a world leader in Earth Resources monitoring from Space. We are not seeing, therefore, a "physiological" convective motion of mature technologies, passing from post-industrial to emergent countries: the emergent countries are directly aiming for technological leadership in leading edge sectors. 

If Europe and US do not decisively modernize their own philosophy, they will quickly pass into the group of former cultural leaders. This is not only a comparison among different economic or industrial philosophies. Globalisation has finally ignited a profound trial - we could say atavistic - of strength between the two great metaphysical systems: the western one, based on the Aristotelian dualism, with its natural flowering in the Enlightenment and in scientific rationalism; and the oriental one, not dualistic, which is able to contemplate very different and contrasted models, without always and in every cases wanting to identify a right way and a wrong way, without always choosing the one and rejecting the other. 

Italy has been a country, a rare case, which during the industrial age succeeded in managing to stay in the group of the seven most industrialized countries, although keeping its own cultural link with a millennial tradition, which is among the most ancient on the planet. A thread of continuity that, back in the centuries, ties us to Renaissance, to the Communes and the Naval Republics, to the great Roman Civilization; the whole strongly woven to the history of Christianity and of the Roman Catholic Church. Italy is also a Protagonist of the social passage from the industrial to the electronic age, with an SMEs sector among the most developed (85% of the national economy produced by SMEs); however, our Country risks a vertical involution today, in the maelstrom of a political and economic-industrial system that finally is paying for its own awful backwardness. 

An enormous, and motivated, drive for ethics

We cannot be complacent about this, considering that the small savers, the sovereign citizens, are going to pay, as always, while the ones who should be ashamed and hide themselves are always there, to pontificate and glorify themselves on TV. Yet, at least, some reasons to be glad do exist: Enron, Parmalat and the other striking cases show, if nothing else, the falsehood of the old Mafioso paradigm, according to which the more cynical and deceitful an entrepreneur is, the safer are his collaborators, employees and investors. What comes out of these stories is an enormous, and motivated, drive for ethics, and this is extremely positive, even if, sadly, Italy will not be one of the leaders, in the process of selection of dynamic ethical principles. It has also shown that financial speculation has scored an "own goal", deprived as it is of strong industrial development lines, flanked and tolerated by the sustainable development philosophy, and leads to total bankruptcy. 

The Parmalat case is now exposed to derision on the mass media today, as if Tanzi were a monster, the criminal responsible of the fraud. However, Parmalat is not a unique case. Let's not forget that it has been preceded by the collapse of Cirio, of Olivetti, by the near-failure of Fiat, by the bankruptcy of Cecchi Gori, and is immediately followed by Finmatica, without speaking of the many smaller collapses; these have not attracted the full glare of publicity but are certainly not less dramatic, for the people involved in them. The crisis of the software segment, following the telecommunications debacle, has brought bankruptcies or catastrophic downsizing: Atos-Origin and I&T, just to quote two prominent cases. Were they all incapable and dishonest entrepreneurs? The explanation is obviously much more complex. What our country is ignoring is exactly that insoluble contradiction between being part of the technological vanguard while not having any idea of a free market ethic of enterprise in this modern age. According to the western dualistic metaphysics, allied here with both Catholic and the Socialist thought, we are split between people who conceive of the market as the devil and their opponents, who see the market as a deus ex-machina (that, being perfect, doesn't need improvements). The former group could not have any concept of market ethic; they reject the market outright, and at the very least have no interest in improving it, while the latter see no need to improve the market at all! Still others sought an unlikely compromise between the two supposed extremes. The market integrists, however, thanks to the Catholic philosophy of sacrifice, always felt somehow roguish, and therefore "justified" any somersault, between libertarian demagogy and coercive authoritarianism. A Latin, fascist and banana, Right, entirely deprived of that Lutheran virtuous morality and of that authentic liberal spirit (which also can exhibit authoritarianism and a certain contempt for the classes and ethnic groups not "selected by Lord") which underlies the Republican and Anglo-Saxon right wings. 

A linkage between statist politics (Christian Democratic) and strong economic power has resulted in, during the post-world-warII period, a drugged industrial economy, which survived only thanks to cartels and underhand agreements between Government, the Big Business and the Banks. Fiat, the Italian industry par excellence, is the proof of it. Fiat perpetuated a kind of "noble" industrial politics; it never wanted to orient itself to the market (paying for this attitude with failure first on the US market and subsequently also on the European one). And it survived as long as the net of connivance between state and economic powers endured: a sort of captive, protected market. The excellence of so many Italian technological products is not in dispute, however: the genius, the creativeness and the goodwill of so many hard-working people, prevailed however, despite, and often against, their managing class. 

A "cure" that risks to kill the sick

At a certain point a government with a completely different agenda came to power in this country. A kind of "homeopathic cure", that tried to exorcize the corruption by... institutionalizing it! Bipolarism (an Anglo-Saxon recipe) would serve, in theory, to destabilise the irremovable bureaucracies and, every five years, bring fresh blood into the body politic! Are we expecting that this will really happen, and that, to the extent to which it happens, it will be painless? Are we expecting that the sick will survive the cure? In our case it could not happen in a more inconclusive, disorganised, or dramatic way. New power, deprived of any "medical" art, has tried to fuse with the old prehistoric bureaucracies, where it could . Where it was incapable, or totally naive (lacking the experience of the former power), it simply gave up, leaving a shattered web of broken links and machinery. The hidden lubricant of "Gentlemen's Agreements" stopped flowing in the machinery of the old state-private bureaucracy. 

Missing the periodic reassuring phone call of the minister to the banker ("please keep on giving credit to Mr. X and Mr. Y, should any problem arise we will take care"), the banker didn't feel able anymore to sustain the Tanzis.  Contingent factors were added, as the fall of the US dollar and the crisis of the tourism sector after September 11th 2001, and Mr. Tanzi has fallen like an over-ripe pear. To be a successful entrepreneur, in the statist economies, is like flying in low orbit: as long as one is in the government's and banks' good booksg, the needed "position corrections" keep on occurring, allowing him to stay in orbit. If the kind interest of the minister fall short, sooner or later the bank removes the credit, and therefore all the forgeries in budget, the frauds, the false papers, are discovered, and the successful entrepreneur becomes a monster, bankrupt and the ruin of small savers. 

In the sectors of direct Premier's interest, he raged, dismissing and censoring on all sides, favoring or at any rate not hindering the failure of his direct competitors, promulgating laws in his own interest, and favouring his helpful assistants. These would still be reversible and tolerable failures, in a democracy in which the ethics of the market had pride of place. The breakdowns which risk becoming irreversible - for which obviously Mr. Berlusconi is not solely responsible - are the collapse of our industrial system, the systematic abuse of justice, the vertiginous and sudden crisis, which most people don't understand at all. This is the "Argentinian syndrome", in short, which we could avoid, according to Prof. Prodi, only because Italy belongs to the Euro area. It could even be true, perhaps, that the country won't go bankrupt. As for or salvation, the discourse is very much more complex. 

We need a mature political thought, free, pragmatist and not dualistic

Although this is a country in which some miracles have historically occurred from time to time, it seems to me very difficult that a mature free and pragmatist political thought can be born tomorrow morning. A non dualistic thought, able, not only to bear, but even to contemporarily use different and contrasted models. To favor a true economic market freedom, in the sectors where this recipe assures the best conditions for the development of products' and services' quality. To favor to the greatest extent political freedom, and freedom of thought, of information and of expression. To coordinate with full transparency the collective contribution for the production of those services that cannot be managed by private means (health, education, public transport systems, infrastructures, pure scientific research). To manage with intelligence the transition from public service to market provision, anywhere this is possible and opportune. For instance favoring the birth of a space industry in progressive autonomization wrt agencies, and turning the agencies into pure research centers, keeping them public. To begin a virtuous political competition, in which the competitors strive to pursue excellence in their own programmes, showing the quality of it. To stop, accordingly, trying to win through theoretical demonstration that the adversary is wrong, is very bad, and its ideology is completely wrong. Obviously this is more difficult also due to the fact that, in our case, some characters today on the top of the wave are really very bad, act in bad faith, and others are shameless and deprived of any dignities, therefore fully unable to step aside and to leave room for innovative ideas. 

The transition toward a really free market economy should happen in gradual progression, planned, and not through sudden disengagement of the state from the majority of industrial sectors. In such an approach, I am sorry for people who believed in a Forza Italia's genuine reforming wish, but the last preceding governments have proved very untrustworthy. Provided that a mature political thought could be born, it would moreover be very difficult for it to reach the community audience. Our Media are in fact so sick that anyone abandoning gossip and trivia, who speaks about real issues, is automatically censored, discredited, or both. 

We can only put faith in globalization, therefore, and trust that the recent trials prove sufficient, to concentrate the minds of the many good and intelligent people that live this country, despite the many clowns who continue to burden the government' and parliament' rooms. We must hope that our young people will increasingly aspire to a cosmopolitan and philosophically omnivorous culture, so that they can manage to overcome the limits of their wretched parents. And that they will succeed in still giving a contribution worthy of the great cultural tradition of which they are, despite everything, heirs. 

The summary of TDF 1-2004 

The summary of TDF 1-2004 includes: 

You will note a distressing prevalence of articles of mine. This is due to the little time that I have even to ask friends to write articles, and to the impelling need that I have - despite my job doesn't let me time - to give my thoughts to the web. It would be fabulous if someone started to send articles to me without I solicit them. And even more beautiful if someone realized that, here, unique, interesting and useful concepts are assembled, and that it would be worth to help us (also economically!), to assure a better continuity to this fragile telematic leaflet. 

The European Constitution draft

I have scheduled other two articles: "School and scientific culture" and "Criticism of the European Constitution draft". But they will go out in a next issue. As far as the constitution draft is concerned, I will only observe, here, that it deals with a bad structured document, long and full of repetitions, full of external references and of contingent political matters. In short (i) it is not a constitution and (ii) it must be interpreted by "costitutionalists", thus it is fully unusable by citizens. In order to criticize its contents, a preventive study and a rationalization are needed, in short a very binding and long job, that I don't have time to develop. I would like instead an "American" constitution, few pages long, maximum about thirty articles, that can be used by sovereign citizens. I will return, however, on the matter. 

Aim high! 

Adriano Autino 

[English language editing by Michael Martin-Smith]

[007.AA.TDF.2004 - 27.01.2004]