Dogged by controversy for most of his career, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has never had trouble accumulating wealth and earning popular support from the electorate. His charisma, unpredictability and capacity to convince people he is the right man for the job transformed him from a small entrepreneur to a global leader worth billions of dollars.
Indeed, Berlusconi has amassed tremendous wealth, political clout and respect from global leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Yet while his career has advanced, Italy’s financial and democratic stability has weakened, according to a bold new analysis by journalist John Kampfner.
In his latest book, “Freedom for Sale: Why the World is Trading Democracy for Security,— Kampfner dissects the geopolitical and social economic dynamics of Italy and seven other countries — Singapore, China, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, India, Great Britain and the United States — to reveal the compromises a citizenry would endure for security and consumer independence.
In this not-so-complete modern history of the world (the influences of Latin America, Africa and Australia are not addressed), Kampfner prepares a convincing argument for how the world works.
Moreover, the writer questions the manner in which leaders, such as Berlusconi, manage their governments and affect the lives of their constituents. These leaders, Kampfner writes, are motivated by greed and power.
During his political career, Berlusconi has appointed supporters to government posts and imposed regulations on the national media to criminalize the criticism of the body politic.
Kampfner also assumes that Berlusconi’s intimate dealings with Putin, depicted in the book as a brilliant but heartless leader, are detrimental to Europe’s economic prosperity because power and wealth remain concentrated at the top.
And his explanation as to why Italians put up with this is simple: “So low is the voters’ view of the state’s ability to improve their lives that all they want it to do is to turn a blind eye to what they are up to; in return, they pledge not to trouble their leaders too much.—
As in Italy, Kampfner declares that the other countries in his case studies are false democracies beholden to the will of global corporations and rulers who call on their riot police to pulverize whomever interrupts the accumulation of wealth.
In China, Kampfner observes, “many young people, influenced by their parents’ harrowing tales of life during the Cultural Revolution, see the ability to be apolitical as a privilege.— Thus, the majority of Chinese preserve the integrity of the “Walmart miracle,— the low-margin, high-production revolution that supplied China with unparalleled wealth and the West with goods at unparalleled low prices.
In Russia, the silencing of dissenting voices in business and the takeover of private enterprise by the security and intelligence elite is an everyday affair. “Putin’s message was clear: The media must see itself as a mechanism for delivery, not as an outlet for criticism, least of all as a plaything for business,— Kampfner writes.
And in Britain, Singapore, India, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, Kampfner theorizes that politicians ensure the rich stay in power and the poor get exploited.
Kampfner explains that politics is a full-contact (sometimes deadly) sport with real winners and losers, thus control of the education system’s curricula and the press’s content would ensure the longevity of the ruling class.
Despite the notion that we all live in a Tammany Hall-esque incoherent world, “Freedom for Sale— is thoroughly researched and intriguing. It relies heavily on other journalists for guidance, and in the chapter about Russia, Kampfner pays tribute to Anna Politkovskaya, the investigative journalist killed outside of her Moscow apartment in 2006.
Kampfner reaches the conclusion that “As long as a country was pro-Western in its geostrategic loyalties, the West glossed over its approach to democracy and human rights internally.— He adds that foreign companies found that the “financial links were simply too close, and too mutually beneficial, for them to be sacrificed on high politics or principle.—
Now, as many countries endure financial instability, Kampfner predicts the people will elect more Orwellian governments that will lead them deeper into tyranny. And their sales pitch to voters will be: “Your lifestyles will be guaranteed only through central control, which should not be challenged, particularly in a time of adversity.—