Bunga Bunga and the Bond Market

It’s clear that the markets don’t want Silvio Berlusconi to continue as Italy’s prime minister. They were cheered yesterday, briefly, when word got around that Berlusconi was stepping down, then subsided into their accustomed grumpiness when he denied it. (We know this by following the interest rates on Italy’s bonds, which are soaring, save during the brief moment when it was thought Berlusconi’s departure was nigh.)

But the markets’ moment may be at hand. The leaders of two of Europe’s Mediterranean governments are either hanging by a thread (Berlusconi) or have already gone (Greece’s George Papandreou), unable to reconcile the demands of their people not to have their lives decimated by austerity with the markets’ demands for precisely such austerity. Such a moment marks a triumph of the market over democracy, queasy as I am to identify Berlusconi with democracy. After all, it was Berlusconi who brought the logic of the market, and of marketing, into Italian politics, controlling the media and increasingly elections themselves through his wealth. As the old Time might have put it, No friend of democracy is Mr. Bunga-Bunga. And yet, the market’s negation of elections remains the ultimate triumph of capitalism over democracy, no matter how flawed a democratic outcome may be.

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