Jim O’Neill, head of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, thinks Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement is a greater threat to Europe and the euro than the trials of little Cyprus. That’s because Grillo received more than a quarter of the votes in February’s election in Italy and has since gridlocked the political system by refusing any dealings with the established parties. A government can’t be formed.
O’Neill warned that if growth does not come soon to the euro zone’s third-largest economy, stalled for longer than any other in Europe, even more people will start to support Grillo’s movement and its call for a referendum on membership of the euro zone. What, he asked, does Grillo think? His response: “Does anyone really know?”
I do, Jim.
Grillo and his collaborator, the slightly mystic Gianroberto Casaleggio, believe that the Web is the new form of democracy, infinitely superior to the representative parliamentary kind in which, they say, leaders frame the politics and politics fail the people. The Five Star Movement, said Casaleggio in a recent book, believes the word leader “is a word from the past, a dirty word that leads you astray. Leader of what? It means that you attribute intelligence and the power of decision making to others, so you aren’t even a slave, you’re an object.”
Grillo, Casaleggio and their movement may be a flash in an Italian pan, as brilliant and tasty as many other things in Italian pans, but it may disappear just as fast. Elsewhere in Europe, the Pirate parties, which have largely fallen to quarreling and collapsing, have done just that. But Italian political fads can catch on. Think of Christian democracy, fascism and communism-with-a-human-face. The latter was the forerunner of Mikhail Gorbachev’s politics, the unintended destroyer of the Soviet Union.
This present flash may illuminate the world because it says something about democracy, and not just Italy’s democracy. Grillo thinks politicians (and journalists) should get out of the way and let the people rule directly, through the Web. We who cleave to elections, parliaments and representatives find this horrifying. But we forget several things: