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Silvio Berlusconi's comeback won't fix the Italian economy

He's back!Silvio Berlusconi, the controversial media tycoon and former prime minister of Italy, has emerged as...

Posted: Mar 2, 2018 3:00 PM
Updated: Mar 2, 2018 3:00 PM

He's back!

Silvio Berlusconi, the controversial media tycoon and former prime minister of Italy, has emerged as a potential kingmaker in a crucial general election to be held Sunday.

Analysts have watched the resurrection of the self-described "Jesus Christ of politics" with trepidation. They worry that policies proposed by his coalition would blow the country's budget deficit wide open and damage its weak economy.

Berlusconi is not allowed to hold office because of a fraud conviction. But he could anoint the next prime minister if his alliance of center-right parties wins the largest share of the vote.

Once in power, his allies are promising to spend, spend, spend.

"[The] coalition has proposed a raft of sweeping policies that would cause a blowout in the budget deficit and possibly a significant shrinking of the workforce," said Jack Allen, an economist at Capital Economics.

Sound familiar? Berlusconi dominated Italian politics for decades, serving as prime minister between 2001 and 2006 and again from 2008 to 2011. He left office under the shadow of sex scandals and a debt crisis.

Productivity, incomes and living standards all stagnated under his watch.

"During the 2000s Italy recorded the lowest growth rate in the world," said Andrea Capussela, an independent economist. "It was a bad decade for just about everybody."

Berlusconi has convinced some voters that Italy's economic misery is not his fault. He blames unreliable coalition partners, the Italian elite and even an international conspiracy.

"A considerable portion of the Italian electorate believe that he wasn't able to do all he promised because he was not allowed to," said Fabio Bordignon, a political scientist at the University of Urbino.

Related: Italy's economy is still stuck in 1st gear

Berlusconi resigned in late 2011 during Europe's debt crisis as fears mounted that investors could refuse to buy Italian government bonds, pushing the economy into default and wrecking the euro.

The governments that followed adopted reform measures designed to avoid another debt crisis. Unemployment went down and the national debt stabilized.

But the recovery has been slow, and many Italians have not felt its benefits.

"The consequences of the crisis are still strong, especially in terms of unemployment, and so it seems that the parties of the outgoing government are not going to capitalize on the improvement," Bordignon said.

Berlusconi and his allies present an alternative. He has pledged to cut taxes, raise pensions, increase infrastructure spending and boost welfare payments.

Nicola Nobile, an economist at Oxford Economics, said the policies amount to a sugar rush.

"If enacted, some of these measures would potentially double Italy's growth next year at the expense of a dramatic deterioration in the fiscal deficit," she said.

More debt would rattle investors, but that's not a concern shared by supporters of Berlusconi. Instead, they see him as a stable political force in a county that has had 64 governments in 70 years.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 918230

Reported Deaths: 15011
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1252491952
Lake623371084
Allen52301746
Hamilton43009443
St. Joseph41155584
Elkhart32831485
Vanderburgh29698436
Tippecanoe26442247
Johnson23106414
Hendricks21708338
Porter21255340
Clark16988222
Madison16899378
Vigo15562272
Monroe14186190
LaPorte13961235
Delaware13613215
Howard13531258
Kosciusko11150134
Hancock10534159
Warrick10431174
Bartholomew10233166
Floyd10099202
Wayne9557216
Grant8858194
Morgan8654158
Boone8231109
Dubois7521123
Henry7391126
Dearborn734186
Noble7208100
Marshall7168127
Cass7060117
Lawrence6803150
Jackson638980
Shelby6386106
Gibson5999105
Harrison587984
Huntington586490
Montgomery5663101
DeKalb555691
Knox532999
Miami523183
Clinton522464
Putnam519067
Whitley509851
Steuben480267
Wabash470192
Jasper465760
Jefferson456091
Ripley439074
Adams435565
Daviess4008106
Scott389563
White383457
Decatur376895
Clay376455
Greene375589
Wells375183
Fayette363074
Posey351841
Jennings341756
Washington324046
LaGrange312074
Spencer310734
Fountain306553
Randolph302087
Sullivan294947
Owen275961
Orange269659
Starke268961
Fulton264451
Jay248134
Perry244950
Carroll239926
Franklin229337
Vermillion225850
Rush225530
Parke212020
Tipton205354
Pike200938
Blackford163834
Pulaski155250
Crawford140818
Benton138316
Newton138141
Brown130646
Martin124416
Switzerland122310
Warren112616
Union92211
Ohio75811
Unassigned0461

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1319265

Reported Deaths: 21265
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1480641537
Cuyahoga1311202313
Hamilton948871307
Montgomery647451122
Summit548531041
Lucas49502853
Butler45993649
Stark39954963
Lorain30438525
Warren29170326
Mahoning25988629
Clermont24726278
Lake24088411
Delaware21722140
Licking19822239
Fairfield19780218
Greene19671266
Medina19208285
Trumbull19195506
Clark17188321
Portage15585224
Richland15540228
Wood15187208
Allen13654254
Miami13283244
Muskingum11821148
Wayne11448234
Columbiana11100239
Tuscarawas10388264
Marion10273144
Pickaway10162128
Scioto9766124
Erie9479170
Ross8979172
Lawrence8225116
Hancock8105140
Ashtabula8083184
Geauga7976155
Belmont7791183
Jefferson7093168
Huron7087125
Union703549
Washington6823116
Athens666163
Sandusky6608132
Darke6394135
Knox6308120
Seneca6113135
Auglaize569888
Ashland5631110
Shelby555799
Mercer545188
Brown533067
Defiance5278100
Madison527368
Crawford5148113
Highland514876
Fulton508781
Clinton505379
Logan494582
Preble4788110
Putnam4733106
Guernsey439057
Williams437281
Champaign426463
Ottawa425783
Perry414051
Jackson402259
Pike367140
Morrow359149
Fayette353951
Coshocton345064
Hardin341868
Adams338864
Gallia329254
Holmes3148107
Henry312668
Van Wert299269
Hocking280467
Wyandot271858
Carroll250451
Paulding231742
Meigs197842
Monroe178649
Noble160340
Morgan153528
Harrison145740
Vinton130217
Unassigned05
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