The last year has rocked the world as we thought we knew it. Two particular examples seem to serve as lead indicators of what’s to come: The “Brexit” vote in the UK and the recent abrupt end to yet another Italian PM’s incumbency.
For those of you who have been off the grid – Brexit is the referendum-driven decision by the UK to exit the European Union (EU). What began as a ploy by the then sitting Prime Minister Cameron to affirm his support in dealing with his counterparts at the EU turned into a populist complaint about the UK’s place in the world. The tide seemed less about the politics of being or not being a part of a larger economic market than a demand to return to the good old days that were remembered as better than today. Surely a strong opinion among particularly the older and less educated that UK (and some mean England) was better off on its own. While the data and the future indicators suggest otherwise, once again “life as we used to know it” won out.
The new Prime Minister Theresa May finds herself scrambling to observe the law without surrendering what little bargaining power she has with her continental colleagues, new noise from Scotland that they want to stay with the EU (some might say to legitimize another vote for independence) and some uncertainty across the pond with what use to be an easy ally – a Trump-led US.
Italy has just given the boot to its 41st Prime minister since WWII (there have been 13 US presidents since the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.) Matteo Renzi was heralded as a reformer who wanted to trim down the mere size of Italy’s senate – one of the primary obstacles to getting anything done – say nothing about innovation or resolution to its national financial crisis. As with most change efforts – the attacks got personal and pegged Renzi as a power-hungry despot. He lost the referendum by 20%. His opponents – a medley of populist parties want to take over – promising the end of austerity and promising growth.
Promising people better days has always been the song of incoming politicians. In the days we find ourselves it has risen to a new and potentially troubling level. PM May has only promised to do what’s best. She’ll be hung out to dry by the Brexit supporters if things don’t get better – even if the vote itself is what fractured the UK’s short-term future. Ending austerity in Italy without reducing the expenditures that exceed their income is folly. What’s worse – Italy is but one of the major players in the EU who have such large issues at home – more nations could end up leaving the EU under the guise of returning to “life as we used to know it.” Setting direction based on dissatisfaction rather than aspiration is slippery slope.
If the brown shirts begin to appear – then we should really be worried…