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

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Italians are not singing anymore: No joke for this April 1st

The latest data on the COVID-19 epidemic in Tuscany, similar data describe also the situation in Italy.  The spread of the epidemic has been contained, but the true problems start now (data courtesy of Aldo Piombino

For some years, every year, I published an April's fool joke on Cassandra's Legacy. This year, I was thinking of something, but, really, I couldn't do that. It is no time for jokes. The situation in Italy, as everywhere, is dramatic and the worst has yet to come. Not so much in terms of the epidemic -- although it has hit hard,. But because of the consequences on the economy.

The reaction of the Italian government to the epidemic could have been worse, but it was far from perfect. It was uncertain at the beginning, then haphazard and focused only on day-to-day survival. Mostly, newspapers did what they do best: terrorize people by emphasizing the bad news. People have been bombarded with numbers always out of context, and with fake news exaggerating the threat. Then, politicians quickly discovered that scaring people pays and that, when people are scared, any politician can gain popularity by looking tough. It has been a race to look like the toughest of the pack.

Several prominent leaders from the right took the occasion to blame the European Union for everything and people seem to have swallowed the bait. They lashed out against Europe, Germany, and Angela Merkel, seen as ancestral enemies of Italy, as if we were still living at the time of the Roman Empire. The European flag has been taken down in many offices and government buildings, not yet burned and stepped upon, but I wouldn't be surprised to see that happening. People are seriously talking about using the virus as an excuse to leave the European Union. This is worst than playing with fire: it is more like playing the Russian roulette with a fully loaded gun.

All this has been hard on people. We have been all locked inside our homes for more than 3 weeks, initially people took it as a joke: you heard the story of Italians singing from their windows and their balconies. But now we see an atmosphere of reciprocal suspicions: people have been reporting their neighbors to the police if they saw them walking out of their apartment. And the police took as their duty to sanction, sometimes with criminal charges, people who just interpreted in different ways the decrees of the government. Being locked at home with the police patrolling the streets is a nightmare: a dystopic science fiction movie, something one would never have expected to see in real life.

But the real problem is that the economy is wrecked. We lost the revenues from international tourism and several industrial sectors took such heavy blows that it is hard to see how they could ever recover. Lots of people have lost their jobs and they are at zero income for the foreseeable future. And they still have to pay their rent, their mortgages, their groceries. We have already seen food riots in Southern Italy, that has scared the government which is rushing to provide food stamps for the people who can't buy food. The government is expected to give money to almost everyone. Why not? They can print it, can't they? Sure...........

The good news that the epidemic is abating. Maybe we can still recover -- Italians are known to be resilient and enterprising. But, for this April 1st, there are no jokes to be told.


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)