Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Monday, August 19, 2019

What's Happening in Italy? The Fatal Flaw of Democracy

Richard Gere on the stranded NGO ship "Open Arms" off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy. A humanitarian intervention that surprised most Italians who reacted by insulting ad vilifying Mr. Gere in all possible ways. This story may be highlighting a fatal flaw of democracy: once leaders discover that the nastier they are, the more they are liked, they tend to overdo it and the result is a spiral that nobody knows how to stop.

A few days ago, American actor Richard Gere appeared in Italy to visit the stranded Spanish NGO ship "Open Arms," the migrant rescue ship that had been forced to remain at sea for days with more than 100 migrants on board. He looked very much like the alien of the 1951 movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still," suddenly disembarking from his flying saucer just landed in Central Park. 

For most Italians, the appearance of Richard Gere was a totally incomprehensible event. Where does he come from? What does he want? Who is he to criticize us? Just like in the movie, the reaction of the Earthlings (Italings) was not friendly. Mr. Gere was insulted and vilified in all possible ways in the mainstream media and in the social networks and even by the Italian interior minister in person, Mr. Matteo Salvini. On his part, Mr. Gere seemed to be bewildered at the reaction of many Italians, declaring that he couldn't believe his Italian friends could harbor ''such hatred" against migrants.
For everything that happens, there is a reason and there are reasons also for this situation that would look silly if it weren't tragic (*). Political leaders have discovered that the nastier they are in their declarations, the more popular they are and the more votes they gather. As a consequence, they engage in the game that once was called "rousing the rabble." This strategy was pioneered in Italy by Silvio Berlusconi who consistently targeted the least cultured fraction of voters to gain political power. It is a strategy that works, but it feeds on itself. The more a politician finds he can rise in the polls by sounding nasty and racist, the more the public expects politicians to be nasty and racist. 

The emphasis on finding an enemy to insult and demonize leads the whole debate to become purely internal. Maybe the current situation in Italy can be defined in terms of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder affecting the whole country. Italy is completely isolated from the rest of the world: the English-Italian boundary seems to be an impassable barrier. If you can't read Italian, you have no idea of what's being said and thought in Italy and, conversely, Italians can't read English and have no idea and no interest in what is being said and thought about them in the rest of the world. It may be just a sensation of mine, but I notice that nobody in Italy seems to read what I write in English on the Cassandra blog. Truly, I feel like Klaatu, the alien of the movie, myself. 

It is a race to the bottom: the process feeds on itself and nobody knows how to stop it. It is the fatal flaw of democracy that politicians such as Donald Trump in the US and Matteo Salvini in Italy have learned to exploit to their advantage. And when something is fatally flawed, it can't usually last long.

(*) What I said in this post doesn't mean that there is no such thing as an "immigration problem" in Italy. By all means, there is a problem and a serious one. The population curves of Europe and Africa are out of sync, with Europe on the declining side while Africa is still climbing up. That creates a true imbalance also enhanced by the ongoing climate change. It needs to be managed in some way until Africa goes through its demographic transition, too (might happen way faster than many population "projections" indicate). Reasonably, it is a matter that can only be dealt with by means of international agreements. But, right now, nobody in Italy seems to be interested to talk with anyone outside Italy: the debate is all about whether these people should be let to drown or their ship sunk by the navy. 


  1. Nice picture illustrating the post. A muscular black man, surrounded by another fit youngsters, fleeing to Europe instead of fighting the problems created by his own people in his own country... resistance is futile, mother fu**ers, give us your money!

    1. wow! yoy are very inteligent! "the problems created by his own people in his own country"... your vision is like a picture of the objective reality!.
      European and north-american companies and governements got nothing to do with the african problems!

    2. Yeah, none of the problems of his country caused by Western policies at all at all at all.

      God you are thick, or vicious, or compounds of.

  2. Are there any statistics regarding how many Italians understand English? Is English taught in Italian schools? How does this compare with other European nations and their understanding of English? Maybe it's the subject matter of this blog as well as the lack of English that keeps Italians away. How does the readership of Cassandra's Legacy compare with the readership of Effetto Casandra. (I read that too, because it helps me with learning Italian, but it's again the subject matter that interests me and not what is going on in Italy.)

  3. Man, he's not even a "celebrity" anymore! If this was 1980, a few Italians might have liked him! Just dumb.

    On other fronts, we just got up an interview with George Mobus, another academic concerned with issues of collapse from his specialty, Systems Science. George takes a different view of the potential for Renewables than Ugo does, and it's an interesting comparison of academic viewpoints. A worthwhile listen I think for readers of Cassandra's Legacy.


  4. >This story may be highlighting a fatal flaw of democracy: once leaders discover that the nastier they are, the more they are liked, they tend to overdo it and the result is a spiral that nobody knows how to stop.

    I don't think that highlights it's a fatal flaw, its just another symptom. Democracy is in itself discriminatory eg which Italians voted in the US elections and yet what the US does impacts Italians. Once upon a time women couldn't vote, various races couldn't vote etc etc If all of African could vote in Italian elections, would it be different ? My point ? Democracy at a national level is exclusive, that necessarily means inequality is integral. Once you have inequality, you will eventually fail, no matter what you do. The only groups to last for 10s or 100's of thousands of years are those that have no inequality

    The fatal flaw is having a government, no matter what it is , it will always fail because of inequality, be in Democracy, Monarchy etal Resource depletion are all symptoms of that, i.e someone can exploit more then someone else.

  5. Italy already has international agreement - EU laws which says that country of enter should keep all the migrants. The only way to deal with such idiotic law is to prevent migrants to enter by any means.

  6. I'm italian and i can read this post...
    I think Mr. Gere, american citizen, should make his political struggle on the mexican border of his country, and leave alone Italy and EU that have enough problems to deal with, without him.

  7. Italy is in overshoot (like the rest of the world). Let's bring in some more consumers that will adopt the super consumer lifestyle of the locals. That should solve a lot of problems.......

    I notice Richard Gere and the other virtue signaling elites don't talk about towing the boat back to it's port of origin.

  8. Election Day is potential Doomsday for any of the candidates. This becomes increasingly true the higher one climbs up the political ladder. Winning is EVERYTHING. Ethics and civility go by the board. Ergo, electoral systems self-select for the schemers, the most ruthless, the intellectually dishonest, etc.

    Furthermore, elections destroy any meaningful possibility of long, or even medium term thinking. If the date of the next election could mean your political destruction, concern for anything after this date goes away. Win now and worry about post-election problems to-morrow becomes the dynamic.

  9. With the contraction of energy you have a contraction of complexity. From centralized government to decentralized. Hence, more tribal. All tribes fear and dislike outsiders. Perfectly natural and it is a survival mechanism. So, yeah, why not let them drown? Not our people, not our problem. ( by "our" I mean you folks, not myself. Although I feel the same about immigrants here in the States. Go back and starve in your own hole, else you'll see to it I'm starving one day )

    1. Although mass starvation will in due time become a problem due to lack of food, that isn't the problem right now. There's still plenty of food to go round, it's the distribution that is the problem. If you don't want food scarcity refugees coming to you, ship more food to them where they live now.

      This of course also has distribution problems, and it would be very costly. But, it's also very costly to try and stop migration. You need more enforcement boats and more personnel with the job of ejecting people.

      Meanwhile...back at the Emerald Queen Casino Buffet, I shoveled more food onto my plate in one meal than most of these folks see in a month. Plus they NEVER see a plate loaded with Prime Rib and Shrimp Scampi, Linguine with Clam Sauce and Mongolian Beef. I did it for FREE also, by sitting in front of a penny slot machine for 2 hours making a penny bet every 5 minutes. lol.

      You don't see a problem with this?


  10. Agreed migration has potential, but what an extraordinary load of comments this one has atracted. I still give 'two cheers for democracy' as the man put it about 100 years ago. Guess it is the best we can do.

    Rule of law? Existing international treaties? Discussion of war zones? Now who was it destabilised Libya a few years ago? (OK, not Italy, if I remember, but there is a lot still going on in Africa.) Ugo, you have to be right, this looks like 'a race to the bottom'. Sadly a big pile of losers likely down there.

    very best
    Phil H

    1. Indeed.

      Some of the reactionary types might want to do some homework and google 'International Arms Trade'. That includes the squishy wiberal nations like Sweden and Canada, who are making out like bandits.

      Bonus points for the professional victim-blamers if they bother to google 'Sykes-Picot'.

    2. phil,

      No matter how much I like Italy and Italians, Italian authorities and industry have indeed very sinister role in recent chaos in Libya.

    3. Ivan
      I guess so - see my reply to Antoinetta. I'm glad to have looked up some of the details. Reminds me to keep a tally of 'interventions'.

      Sure, a lot of good people in Italy.
      Most of the time I feel much the same way about most of my fellow Brits - but there is if anything more of the sinister stuff here.

    4. If my memory serves me well, I think I red somewhere at the time of intervention, that Italy along with France, had some debt for Libyan oil. It's much easier to kill the ruler than to pay, so Italy was indeed interested in this "mafia style" scenario.

  11. Most of the comments on here seem to vindicate the article!!! Depressing is not the word

  12. If I recall correctly, Italy was involved, along with France and possibly several other NATO countries. For once, the United States was not leading the charge, as Obama was reluctant to get involved, until pressured by the venomous Hildabeast, who was Secretary of State at the time.

    As for international law, it seems to be to be an idealistic fantasy. The problem being the lack of any enforcement authority that doesn't have its own interests involved. The UN is largely impotent, as any one of the five permanent members of the Security Council can veto decisions against themselves or their allies/vassal states.

    Thus the great powers do as they please; international law seems only applicable to the small, weak, and those of no geopolitical interest to the great powers.

    Antoinetta III

    1. OK, 'Rule of Law' is easily bent. Hmmm ... Italy? Libya?
      ‘We’ can many of us perhaps take some responsibility. ‘Interventionists’ were very quick off the mark. ‘Arab Spring’ got going in Tunisia in late December 2010. Egypt’s Mubarak resigned 11 February 2011 (military took over government). Libyan insurrection took off 17th February (‘Protest’, ‘Human Rights': protestors killed). Subsequent ‘Intervention’ then very quickly morphed into ‘Regime Change’. And then of course there was Syria.
      UN Security Council Resolution was March 17th. Germany, China, Russia, Brazil, abstained.
      “Hillary Clinton argued that, though arming anti-Gaddafi forces was not being proposed at the time, it would be legal to do so. “
      “Military intervention in Libya began on 19 March, as fighter jets of the French Air Force destroyed several pro-Gaddafi vehicles advancing on rebel stronghold Benghazi. U.S. and British submarines then fired over 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets throughout Libya, severely disabling the regime's air defense capability and allowing a wider enforcement of the no-fly zone to begin. A coalition of 10 states [Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, Qatar, Spain, UK and US] and the Middle East initially participated in the intervention, later expanding to 17. On 31 March, NATO assumed command of the operation.”
      “Italy initially opposed the intervention but then offered to take part in the operations on the condition that NATO took the leadership of the mission instead of individual countries (particularly France). As this condition was later met, Italy shared its bases and intelligence with the allies.”
      Phil H

  13. I think we've long entered the era where objectively established minimal scientific knowledge assessments have too be made mandatory prerequisite for all national leadership candidacies.
    It would still remain a very hackable system... but the world is complex enough in this day and age that a pertinent filtering, however imperfect, is warranted and must be added if "Democracy" is to prove that choosing it implies choosing truth, honesty and good governance.

    I concede it's a big "If" ...

  14. Frankly ONG are civil associations, just like an association of pensioners playing boules: ONG can't rule a Nation, ONG can't impose a migration policy to a Nations. If even a Nation A can't impose a migration policy to a Nation C, for sure ONG can't impose anything to a Nation.

    The african demographic bomb is NOT a matter of colour of the human skin.

    The african demographic bomb is matter of war, for NordEst Africa: because Africa is already in overpopulation status with 1.2BILLION of people, and in 2050 with 2.4BILLION of people (two times of China, and 1.4 times of India) with large damages of climate change, there will be not enough energy, fresh water, food, fertile land for agriculture, climate change desease, and so on... so in Africa will detonate wars.

    If Europe will continue to put money into african migration people, wars will detonate earlier, because in the african people' mind, there will be the fact to migrate in Europe for solving all african problem. This will cause an earlier wars between Europe and Africa. Instead, the european continental interest is to buld che CED DeGasperi (Europe Continental Defence) and to support a late birth control policy in Africa, to delay the explosion of the future wars.
    Nothing of european continental interest is done so, sooner or later european people will start to do, what they usually did in the past: wars between themself, as them happened from 476DC until 1947.

    In Italy, there's the law on the humanitarian protection of economic migrants, Prodi made it in 1999. There is no similar foolish law in other nations of Europe, and European partners don't want economic migrants, because other european nations already have lots of unemployed people and lots of problems to fix, so they don't want to add more problems in their nations.

    There is no logic into the the law on the Prodi humanitarian protection of economic migrants, because Italy is a small nation without no fossil fuels, no raw materials, high density population, and in Italy there is no wild wide lands as United States or Argentina, Brasil, Canada, Siberia, and other bigger nations. But into this foolish law made by Prodi in 1999 there was a clear political intent.

    ONG are deporting economic migrants in Italy for long time: PD-Letta-Renzi-Gentiloni started this suicide self invasion, +700 thousands of people have been deported in Italy, with Nigerian Mafia, TBC epidemics, and nobody of those people brought a patent for starting an industry in Italy. 4 Billion of Euros spent each year for 5 years, for a total amount of 20 billion of Euros (more or less), for doing simply anything. 20 billion of Euros burned out, and lots of money taking out from other important italian needs.

    If italian nation will continue to add african people, the number of population will growth, and because italian Gross Domestic Product will fall for climate change damages, scarcity, overpopulation issue, in the next decades, so the italian Gross Domestic Product per capita will fall down. This fall down, will mean the martyrdom of the Italian people for asymmetric urban wars, ethnic genocides, massive epidemics and so on... May be nowdays Italian Catholic Church like this idea, because martyrdom is a strong model into the theological doctrine, but for sure italian people won't like it in the future.

    The italian national interest about migration issue, it is the same of Australian policy for economic migrants: round up and expulsions for illegal economic migrants in Italy, and assisted rejections for all future economic migrants.

    Sorry guys, if you would want peace into Mediterranean area, you would have to think about 20 years ago, with a strong birth control policy in Africa.

  15. Actually, despite very high youth unemployment in Spain,lingering from 2008, ONG's and politicians are pushing for high immigration rates to 'support the economy, pay pensions', etc.

    The ONG's make money servicing their needs -'integration' etc. Politicians get to appear virtuous, while not having any contact with the social consequences of their actions.

    In the meantime, crime rates (rape,violent home robbery,street muggings ) are soaring where young African and Asian migrants are concentrated, and previously quite safe towns are becoming insecure.

    Damning any questioning of mass migration as being necessarily and always 'nasty' and racist, etc, in motivation is to be economically, socially and political illiterate.

    It is to walk blindly in to the gathering storm.

    1. Somebody "Anonymous" producing fake news. Bring real links to statistics or bgone, hater.

    2. Alien observer: try reading the Spanish liberal press (not Right-wing): these stories, with statistics, are reported there every week. At least there is some residual honesty left in the press.

      Unemployment among migrants and those of foreign origin within the EU is 46-100% -this was an official statistic form a couple of months ago. The increase in violent crime is an everyday experience, and people are getting scared and angry.

      I am not a 'hater', but you are ill-informed and ignorant.

      And, by the way, I have Gypsies in my family, so know a great deal first-hand.They left the criminal path, which they were brought up to follow, and have told me all about it -I admire and love them for their good character.

      Begone, uneducated person who cannot take in ideologically-unwelcome data!

    3. still no statistics, still a hater fallin for haters propaganda. Any statistic I know always shows that crime and poverty go together. There is no science that proofs otherwise. In the same social class, all folks are equally criminal. See i.e. this study:

      Are migrants more often poor than others? Yes probably, but the real issue is that the rich manage to divert attention from their crimes by blaming the poor for all social issues. Repeating half truths and lies often enough sadly will convinces those of low intelligence, like anonymous.

      Salvini,Bolsonaro,Trump and all those other fascists all use this narrative and people like anonymous fall for it all the time. The "other" is to blame, not us, how very convenient.

      The rich are those in power and responsible, not the poor and most notably, not the even poorer refugees.

      Finally, are some migrants assholes? Yes for sure. But we must live with assholes all the time. We all have to live with all the racist assholes all the time even if we'd rather not.

      But wait, maybe there is the solutioin. Racist haters get their own country where they can all be forcefully deported to, to hate each other anyway they like.

    4. It is certainly not true that 'all poor people are equally criminal': 1930's Britain for instance showed that many totally impoverished people would rather have died than steal anything. My own Grandfather half-starved in the 1930's and never stole a thing, unlike the trash we have imported who are perfectly well-fed and housed on the whole -crime is their business, do you get that?

      You are a disgrace,have pretensions to intellectual analysis which you cannot in fact sustain, and shouting 'hater'or 'racist' shows that you haven't the slightest interest in the truth of what is happening in Europe.

  16. I think what's flawed is not democracy, but Bardi's understanding of it.
    Democracy is about doing what voters ask, not about doing what is right, what is good or whatever is in the mind of Ugo Bardi, Richard Gere or whoever wants immigration for whatever noble reason.
    I think Salvini's success is more than anything the result of his opponents failures, otherwise he would have been on the rise long before.
    Before Salvini we had a left/liberal executive that spent a disproportionate amount of time on the issues of minorities such as LGBT and migrants. Too bad you don't win the elections with the vote of minorities and migrants can't vote at all. The old politics turned his back on the majority of Italians so Italians turned their back on them and looked elsewhere (5 Stars Movement and Lega).
    Again, it's about what people think it best for themselves, not about what you think is best, no matter how much you think you have a superior culture, morale, etc... because it's simply not about that.

    1. See, anonymous? You start from a certain assumption and then you arrive to conclusions that confirm it -- not surprising. If you assume that democracy is the supreme authority to decide what's right and what's wrong, then you are right: Mr. Salvini, right now, could probably command a clear majority if we were to come to a vote.

      The problem is that there is much more than democracy that decides what's right and what's wrong. It has been known for a long time: think of Antigone, fighting the laws of Thebes that she thought were unjust. Surely, she was a minority, but she was right. That the majority has to be right is a peculiar delusion of our times. It will pass.

    2. I don't assume that democracy exists to decide what is right or wrong, in fact I said that it's all about what people wants for themselves. But you seem to agree in the end: expecting democracy to determine what is right is a delusion.
      My point is that you called it flawed and it's not, not in that regard at least. Something is flawed if it fails to reach its goal, but since democracy never had the goal to determine what is right or wrong, it never failed in that regard. When people asked universal suffrage and thus some form of democracy, it was because they wanted to be part of the decision process. Assuming that this would always lead to the best outcome, again would be a delusion.
      To be honest, as much as I dislike Salvini I still want democracy and, unlike you, I hope it will last long. What would be the alternative anyway? A benevolent dictator? A technocratic oligarchy? They're all delusions. But we know very well where the world is heading, because we know what's the ultimate goal of neo-liberism: the mythological free market. That's not even a delusion: that's pure deception, in the best interest of capitalists.

    3. Democracy is supposed to be a tool to attain good government. In itself, democracy need not be bad in this sense. The problem is that it can be perverted once its flaws are discovered. I don't know what a good alternative would be, as usual we move onward blindfolded without knowing where we are going.

    4. ‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’

      Winston S Churchill, 11 November 1947


  17. I would guess that interest in Ugo Bardis Blog suggests that its readers seem to understand that growth might have come to an end because the limits of exploitation on this planet have been reached.

    I would ask all of you to just follow this simple argument for a minute:

    GDP is the sum of all income (I) and capital gains (C)

    GDP = I + C

    { for those who think they know better I suggest this text ba economic mathematician Juergen Kremer: }

    So if GDP growth stops, as we believe it has, and capital gains increase, all income has to go down. That is not rocket science but first grade math.

    (Yes, richer became richer every year for decades, See i.e. Picketty Capital in the 21st century

    So capital gain when growth stopped could only happen by distribution of capital from the bottom to the top.

    Let me make this even simpler for you all to understand who blame the poor, the refugees and the immigrants:


    Please go make an argument as simple and clear why immigrants are to blame and add the scientific sources for your argument. Thank you.

  18. Really i agree with you, even seen from inside. Im italian and proud of being one even if people around us don't seem remember our history, latin blood is a lot about showing but we have also a lot of free whell thinking trought it.
    From a point in history the parting line between invasion and migration become blurryed, USA had this problems before during migratory waves, main driving force is ALWAYS economical and PSYCOLOGICAL: hope for a greather personal wealth and a slim real possibility to get it. Migration first wave is always from desperate people, those who have nothing to lose from departing, when a base comunity is estabilished more come because they have an ancor and can build from it at sme time the little comunity is big enough to become influential in states.
    The reciving nation is invaded if the coming migrants are not needed in the workforce, so become a burden to resources, else migrants are workforce (as for the first waves in USA, Chinese, Irish and Italians). Until migrations and invasions are distinguished only by the use of force no reasonng can be done,Seneca come: if not integrated in workforce migrating people can only displace exixsting one lowering salary (Social Darweenism)or become predatorian (crime, smuggling...).
    As rule excess user of resources can only be stopped after overshoot the renowing allowance, the collapse bring sectarian wars and famine, during this phase violence and pestilence bring bach numbers to equilibrium levels. Excess reseves are destroyed and a new equilibrium between production and consumption must be found, usually during the experimentation for find new equilibrium steps forward shows and are integrated in the new paradigm: fall of Rome bring end of slavery and large estates, small efficent farming become the new norm and new technologies in architecture and shipbuilding, the fall this order come in XII century with the formation of national monarchies and so on.
    I suppose, looking at this events, that migrations, overshoots and collapses are fuel for keeping the engine of human evolution going on.

  19. First, I want to preface my comment by making clear in no uncertain terms that one would be seriously mistaken to presuppose my comment translates into support for Trump. NOTHING could be further from the truth. The Grifter in Chief is a disingenuous fraudster of the worst sort whose hellbent on commiting ecocide as rapidly as possible. Good riddance to the fraudster ASAP.

    Nevertheless, I sympathize with the Italians. Any nation that supports illegal and unlimited immigration is destroying itself. Italy is a nation of laws; however, by permitting illegal immigration the message being imparted is laws are unnecessary. Additionally, it couldn't be easier for Richard Gere to fly in for a day to lend his support to illegal immigration, then leave. After all, he doesn't have to live with the consequences.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)