Thursday, September 15, 2011

China Plans To Buy Italy As The Crisis Ends Italian Corporatism

Italian PM Berlusconi has managed to pass another round of austerity bills through the lower house of Italy's parliament, despite another round of sex scandals. This round includes as part of the effort to keep the funding countries of the eurozone helping them out, a massive privatization wave of state-owned enterprises: 431 at the municipal level, 19 at the provincial (county) level, 34 at the regione (state) level, and 25 at the federal level, with the crown jewels on the chopping block being those in the energy sector, ENI and Enel. La Republicca reports that the Chinese Investment Corporation (CIC), the main Chinese state sovereign fund, is interested in buying major portions of these, particularly the energy companies. Given that ENI has been the largest foreign company operating in the oil industry in Libya, this might allow the Chinese to make up for goofily backing the loser in the war there and likely getting frozen out of future deals.

This privatization wave would essentially end the legacy of state-owned enterprises in Italy that dates back to the corporatist approach implemented by Mussolini during the fascist period. Unlike in Nazi Germany where the name of the ruling party (National Socialist) made it look like a socialist party when in fact it nationalized nearly nothing, in Italy the fascist corporatism involved a lot of nationalizing in its effort to overcome class conflicts by strong natonalism, as it followed Roman Catholic doctines developed in the 19th century to counter the push for classic socialism based on a Marxist workers' uprising. As long noted by many conservative and libertarian critics, Mussolini first emerged in politics in Italy in WW I in the socialist movement, and only went to the hard nationalist right after the war, seizing power in 1922.

Whereas in Germany, there was a thorough-going restructuring of its economic system after WW II (large companies that supported the regime were broken up, such as IG Farben), this did not happen in Italy, where the local population tended to support the invading Americans against the Germans once Mussolini fell from power. Italy would become politically democratic in its own peculiar way after the war, there was only a limited amount of economic restructuring occurred, with only limited privatization of the sectors nationalized under fascism. There has been a gradual move to privatization in recent decades, but now under fiscal pressure from the crisis and the ECB reluctantly buying Italian bonds to keep the spreads over the equivalent German ones from exceeding 5% by too much, Italy is preparing for a truly massive wave of privatization that will profoundly alter the economic landscape, with many worried about what it will mean if indeed China ends up a major buyer of these companies.

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