Italy Referendum Results Illustrate Sense of Alienation Electorate Has From Governing Elites

The prime minister resigned after voters rejected his reform efforts by a wide margin.


On Sunday evening, I watched as Matteo Renzi acknowledged the negative outcome of the constitutional referendum and resigned, as promised, as Italy's prime minister. Renzi called the plebiscite in order to streamline Italy's baroque governing bureaucracy—a necessary prerequisite, he claimed, for much-needed economic reform. By a margin of close to 20 percentage points, the Italians said "No" and Renzi threw in the towel.

As he spoke, I emailed an Italian friend of mine to gauge her reaction. As a professor of economics and a free marketer, I expected her to be horrified by the events. Instead, she responded on Monday morning by saying that she too voted "No." "Nothing ever changes in Italy, anyway," she continued. I guess that I should not have been surprised. It is 2016, after all, and, in the political arena, anything seems possible.

Thinking about my friend's response more carefully, however, I have come to see some parallels between what happened in Italy, and the British decision to withdraw from the European Union and Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election. Tying all these events together is a profound sense of alienation of the electorate from their respective governing elites. Vast chunks of the populace in these three countries see their governments as, at best, inept, and, at worst, venal.

They feel that no matter who wins, be it center-left or center-right, "nothing ever changes." So, yes, Italy needs reforms, but the people did not trust Renzi, a conventional center-left apparatchik, to deliver them. What will follow is unclear. A new prime minister from the center-left could emerge. Or, the Italian Parliament could opt for a caretaker government under an unelected technocrat.

Or, there could be an early election. The party that stands to benefit most from early elections is the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo, who wants to call a referendum on whether Italy should stay in the Eurozone or return to the Lira. (Many Italians believe that the euro is responsible for Italy's economic problems. Whether they are right or wrong, there is no doubt that the country's economy is in dire straits—as my charts below show.) As such, I expect the forces of the European establishment to do everything possible not to allow Grillo anywhere near the Palazzo Chigi.

And that could be a problem. As I explained in my recent paper on the European Union, "With every electoral cycle, 'establishment' parties committed to further European integration are growing weaker and anti-EU parties are getting closer to power. The EU has been very successful in plodding along, but its rearguard action cannot succeed indefinitely. At some point, one of the EU's 28 member states will elect an anti-EU government. I fear that the longer the EU establishment ignores its opponents, the more belligerent the latter will become."

NEXT: Brickbat: Getting Drilled

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  1. I guess Italians really aren’t interested in how the sausage gets made?

    1. Sausage making would phase anyone who makes and eats casu marzu.

  2. Governing elites. I hate this term. These people are not elites, they’re the fucking hired help and we have let things get out of control.

    1. This, look at the people that have been in congress for years, decades even. Look at the last 16 years what the ‘elites’ have wrought. If that doesn’t debunk the term what does?

    2. I prefer ‘Ruling Class’. They act like a pack of aristocrats and fortify their positions with regs and certificationism – oh, and all the fucking money they funnel to themselves.

      1. I prefer “Reptilian Overlords” or “Ranchers of Humans”

    3. I like your take. We need a person (picture the offspring of Denis Leary and Christopher Hitchens) that we can watch on the pundit shows saying, “our so-called ‘servants’ in this dystopian Downton Abby we call D.C. have been buggering our sheep out in our barn and it’s time to get rid of them. In other words, how does Nancy Pelosi amass wealth of $200 million dollars while ‘serving’ us in the House? I think someone should check to see if any silver is missing.”

      1. I don’t know if the government has any silver holdings, but we might want to audit the copper used in pennies and see if any has gotten funneled to the black market.

    4. Shit, I angrily typed out my similar comment before seeing this. So let me just say: “this”.

  3. So can anybody give me Cliff’s notes version? The Italian Parliament is generally the go to bad guys for why we shouldn’t have a parliament in the US

  4. I was really looking forward to a single world order.

    1. I would prefer an improved word. order.

      1. And (see below), I’d like at least unambiguous word order.

        1. I’d like more disorder.

    2. Are you saying Renzi offered the world ORDER?

  5. “I have come to see some parallels between what happened in Italy, and the British decision to withdraw from the European Union and Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election.”

    Western Spring?

    1. Make the world safe from democracy.

      1. The current incarnation of what passes for democracy sure needs to be stopped. The credentialed elite aristocrats that dominates the political class reached a point where they no longer felt the need to neither successfully serve those that elected them nor hide the fact they took the job to basically plunder the coffers. What you are seeing is a rebellion against this class of worthless people that think the rubes need to just shut up, bend over and grab their ankles, and like it when they are told the ass rape is for their own good.

        1. “nor hide the fact they took the job to basically plunder the coffers”

          I said a couple years ago that the fact that politicians no longer feel the need for even a pretense to their looting and corruption was frightening, and was evidence that we were well past a point where simple reform or voting in a different set of centrist players would be a solution.

        2. Not to mention that, in the case of Brexit and the Italy referendum, we’re talking about the EU, which is not a fundamentally democratic body. I’m still amazed that Western media can be shocked by anti-EU backlash; I mean, what’s not to love about an unelected government body that can regulate your economy to death and (as in Greece) tell your elected government how to run your country?

          1. “You say that like it’s a bad thing” — Jean-Claude Juncker

    2. Western Spring!

      That’s nice!


  6. Peggy Noonan had had a great line

    We’re being condescend to by our lessers.

  7. As a professor of economics and a free marketer, I expected her to be horrified by the events.

    Grammatically it makes the most sense if you’re the prof. of econ & a free marketer, but logically it makes more sense that you’d be saying something about her. Which is it?

  8. just before I saw the receipt that said $7527 , I accept that my mom in-law woz like actualey making money in there spare time from there pretty old laptop. . there aunt had bean doing this for less than twentey months and at present cleared the depts on there appartment and bourt a great new Citro?n 2CV . look here……. Clik This Link inYour Browser


  9. Man, I’m so tired of hearing politicians referred to as “elites”. Those assholes are “elite” like I’m “athletic” or “intelligent” or “slender”.

    That is to say, laughably not so. Why do we keep fellating their egos by calling them that?

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