Silvio Berlusconi’s self fulfilling prophecy

December 2, 2008


Would someone please explain to Silvio Berlusconi the
meaning of a “self fulfilling prophecy.”

    Italy’s billionaire prime minister loves to be entertaining
but in recent months his jocular style has got stuck on a story
he just can’t stop repeating which he describes as “what the
English call a self fulfilling prophecy”.

    The story goes like this (I know it off by heart, like
millions of Italians by now).

    Many years ago, the people of a remote mountain tribe felt
the first winds of winter so they went to the top of the
mountain to ask the wise elder whether it would be a cold one,
and he replied, “Ah yes, I think it will be a cold winter.”

    So the people went down the mountain and began cutting trees
to make firewood, and when they had gathered heaps of wood they
went up to see the elder again to ask for the latest bulletin.

    “Ah, it’s sure to be VERY cold winter,” said the elder. So
the people ran down the hill to cut more wood and when they had
stocked piles and piles they trecked up the mountain a third

    “Ah, it’s going to be a BITTERLY cold winter,” said the
elder, to which one of the bolder tribesmen replied: “but wise
elder, how can you be so sure?”
    And the elder answered: “I just look down the mountain and I
see the people have cut so much firewood that they must know
it’s going to be a freezing cold winter.”

    That is the story, and our cruise ship crooner-turned-prime
minister seems to be unable to make any public appearance
without repeating it.

    Whether he is on a TV talk show, or at a news conference
with Germany’s chancellor or Brazil’s President, or addressing
Italian industrialists, or presenting a stimulus package to save
the economy it’s just a question of time before the “self
fulfilling prophecy” story comes up.

    Reporters forced to hang on his every word have heard it
dozens of times, and they either groan or laugh or just sit back
and relax when he begins, safe in the knowledge there will be no
news to report for at least five minutes.

    Berlusconi is an incurable optimist and the message of his
story is that pundits have to stop talking about what a terrible
economic crisis we are in for because that will just stop people
from going shopping, which wil make the crisis worse.

    Now of course that WOULD be a self fulfilling prophecy, but
it wouldn’t be very funny, so it isn’t good enough for

    I don’t think the mountain tribe story is particularly funny
either, but then maybe I just don’t have a sense of humour.

    Berlusconi said German leader Angela Merkel liked it so much
she now uses it herself every time she needs to convince people
not to be pessimistic. Apparently she told him so.

    But whether it’s funny or not, it certainly isn’t “what the
English call a self fulfilling prophecy,” as Berlusconi
advertises it every time.

    Simply, and obviously, because the prophecy of the village
elder could not have resulted in a cold winter.

    This blog may seem downright grumpy. It’s just that I am one
of those reporters who groan each time they hear Berlusconi say,
“I don’t know if you’ve already heard the story of the mountain
tribe …”

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