The only thing more frightening than Trump’s running for president would be Trump’s getting elected president. From a party perspective, while losing an election is bad, winning one with the wrong candidate for the party and for the country is worse. I know something about this: I come from Italy, a country that has elected as prime minister the Trumplike Silvio Berlusconi.
Trump and Berlusconi are remarkably alike. They are both billionaire businessmen who claim that the government should be run like a business. They are both gifted salesmen, able to appeal to the emotions of their fellow citizens. They are both obsessed with their looks, with their hair (or what remains of it), and with sexy women. Their gross manners make them popular, perhaps because people think that if these guys could become billionaires, anyone could. Most important is that both Trump and Berlusconi made their initial fortunes in real estate, an industry where connections and corruption often matter as much as, or more than, talent and hard work. Indeed, while both pretend to stand for free markets, what they really believe in is what most of us would label crony capitalism.
Berlusconi’s policies have been devastating to Italy. He has been prime minister for eight of the last ten years, during which time the Italian per-capita GDP has dropped 4 percent, the debt-to-GDP ratio has increased from 109 percent to 120 percent, and taxes have increased from 41.2 percent to 43.4 percent. Italy’s score in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom has dropped from 63 to 60.3, and in the World Economic Forum Index of Competitiveness from 4.9 to 4.37. Berlusconi’s tenure has also been devastating for free-market ideas, which now are identified with corruption.
I didn’t get to see the GOP debate the other night, but I’m very encouraged by the consensus that Trump didn’t do all that well, but Carly Fiorina did. Here in Tennessee, I’ve heard several people who did watch the debate say how frustrated they were by CNN’s questioning, which, according to them, seemed geared toward gigging the candidates to turn on each other in a personal clash rather than sussing out ideas.
Anyway, Zingales’s insight into how Berlusconi’s leadership corrupted the idealof the free market in Italy in the popular mind — a position that may be contestable, I dunno (Giuseppe? Carlo? What say you?) — reminds me of what several of us have been saying about how the Kim Davis case stands to corrupt the ideal of religious liberty in the American mind. People may say, if [the market/religious liberty] means that, then I’m against it.