Some 90 years ago, the Italian poet Eugenio Montale, who would later go on to win a Nobel prize for literature, wrote these bitter, magic verses:
This alone today we can tell you
What we are not, what we do not want.
At the time, it was read as a statement against the coming tides of Fascism. Today, it expresses the mood of most Italians, stuck in our post-election quagmire. There is no solid majority in the Senate nor even in the lower house of parliament, where the center-left Democratic Party enjoys a slight majority in seats (though not control) -- and there is no viable political coalition on which to build a government.
Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi survived his sixth national campaign since 1994: he lost millions of votes from his last go round, yet his promises of slashing taxes once more excited the middle class (and roiled markets). The Democratic Party's (PD) leader, Pierluigi Bersani, was the front runner in all the polls: but he, too, failed to follow the raw data on the web and his campaign sputtered in the south. Meanwhile, embittered by joblessness, corruption, and organized crime, the south paid no attention to PD and listened to the Sirens evoked by Beppe Grillo, the populist former comedian and founder of the 5 Star party. Grillo shined, winning 25 percent of the votes, which put to rest the technocratic dreams of Premier Mario Monti. Grillo also managed to siphon off more than half of his votes from Bersani's PD, bleeding the party of its far left. The progressive voters were angry: they did not concern themselves with bond markets, the Davos consensus, or even the wisdom of pundits, for that matter. "Tutti a casa" ("Let's send the crooks home!") was the war cry; homilies from economists fell on deaf ears.
Clearly, voters did not bother to read Grillo's quixotic manifesto, which includes: quitting the Eurozone; withdrawing Italian troops from all international peacekeeping missions; stopping work on badly needed infrastructure projects, from high-speed trains to highways; putting a moratorium on biotech research; and denying citizenship to immigrants. Instead, in a populist frenzy, they thronged his rallies (to be fair, Grillo is a terrific political performer) and made 5 Star Italy's No. 1 party. Yet such was the chaos of this election, that abstention hit a record high, one not seen since 1946, when war-weary Italians were called to choose between a republic and monarchy.
So as the political parties now scheme and horse-trade, who really won and who lost? And what happens next?
The real winner was fear -- the fear of globalization, free markets, innovation, integrated Europe, and high tech. Both Berlusconi and Grillo berated Germany's Angela Merkel for her politics of austerity, blaming her cold and stern Europe for Italy's woes. Berlusconi talked of repealing the imposta municipal unica, a much hated real estate tax imposed by Monti. Meanwhile, Grillo claimed that Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz will advise him on how to spur sustainable growth. But without tax revenue and with an epidemic of tax dodging, that's going to be difficult.