Sunday, December 13, 2009
"In a country which is moving downhill, the fraction of stupid people is still equal to k; however in the remaining population one notices among those in power an alarming proliferation of the bandits with overtones of stupidity and among those not in power an equally alarming growth in the number of helpless individuals. Such change in the composition of the non-stupid population inevitably strengthens the destructive power of the k fraction and makes decline a certainty. And the country goes to Hell."
As a matter of fact, there is in Italy a certain degree of cognitive dissonance, particularly among Berlusconi's supporters and fans, including his party's allies.
An early version of cognitive dissonance theory appeared in Leon Festinger's 1956 book, When Prophecy Fails which documents the increased proselytization they exhibited after the leader's "end of the world" prophecy failed to come true.
Festinger first developed this theory in the 1950s to explain how members of a cult who were persuaded by their leader that the earth was going to be destroyed and that they alone were going to be rescued by aliens, actually increased their commitment to the cult when this did not happen (Festinger himself had infiltrated the cult, and would have been very surprised to meet little green men). The dissonance of the thought of being so stupid was so great that instead they revised their beliefs to meet with obvious facts: that the aliens had, through their concern for the cult, saved the world instead.
This means that is not easy to convince Berlusconi's supporters that they have made a mistake voting him. Imagine you've been going along for the past 15 years supporting Berlusconi. You think he's an ok guy, you don't understand his critics or why so many people seem to dislike and disagree with him. You find the chorus of disagreement to be getting louder and louder and harder to avoid, so you try harder to avoid it. If you give in and start listening and reading you might get a bad case of cognitive dissonance, what you believe not matching up any more with what you know to be true.
The same happened in the United States in the case of Bush. Cognitive dissonance was a major reason why the American public was so slow to turn against the Bush's administration.
It is likely that Berlusconi's supporters, for whatever reason, are extremely misinformed about what their Prime Minister stands for and are ignorant about the world around them.
In fact, there are a number of ways Berlusconi's supporters are avoiding cognitive dissonance. A typical one is the dissemination of classical fallacies via the suppression of scientific evidence and the perpetuation of misinformation.
For instance, given Berlusconi's problems in justice one of the classic fallacies is the Post hoc ergo propter hoc, (Since that event followed this one, that event must have been caused by this one). In other words, it is being claimed that Berlusconi's problems are caused by the fact that he entered into politics and those problems had been going on since then. It's actually more likely that Berlusconi entered into politics to solve his own problems. It's not a case that , like in Festinger's cult, many superstitious religious beliefs and magical thinking arise from this fallacy.
Another kind of fallacy of current Italian politics is the ad hominem argument. The use being made of different scandals reported by certain media show that insults and even true negative facts about the opponent's personal character have nothing to do with the logical merits of the opponent's arguments or assertions. Similarly the ad populum arugument, an appeal to the masses by saying that if many believe it then it must be true.
A third Berlusconi's government fallacy is the fallacy of necessity whereby a degree of unwarranted necessity is placed always in the conclusion. This means that every time a decision is made or a law is promulgated there is a certain degree of tautology and syllogism in it and the necessity of reducing or solving a problem is extended to imply the necessity of doing something the government has in mind (very often to avoid cognitive dissonance or simply to avoid Berlusconi's problems with laws ad personam). From economists point of view, it cannot be explained otherwise the government willingness to have nuclear energy in Italy or to build a bridge between Sicily and Calabria southern regions or the more simple recent increase of speed limit in the highway from 130 km to 150 km. Of course when pursuing this kind of fallacy you do not need to have a regulatory impact assessment of your laws and decisions or any cost-benefit analysis.
As the evidence is mounting that Berlusconi has been lying to the Italian people during the last 15 years, Italians who were duped tend to ignore or explain away that evidence. Cognitive dissonance helps reveal why the Berlusconi's noise machine has had so much success over the past few years — it tells the Italian people what they want to hear: that everything is on track, that the economy is going well, that democracy in Italy is just reality, that the Government is doing everything it can to protect Italians' interests, that President Berlusconi knows what he is doing.
Yet, it's not clear if Italians really want to continue to hear that the judiciary system and the Constitution are the real and only problems of the country, quod non.
However, along the same lines of last year Christmas' post about Bush's exit strategy and considering Berlusconi's achievements, performances and gaffes of this year...
UPDATE 16 December 2009: reading the international press you may have realized that somebody expressed in another, violent, way his dissent. Yet you may have also noted that Berlusconi's fans and supporters, including government, keep expressing themselves in exactly the same way as before, which means that dissonance discomfort is at its highest level. Now cognitive dissonance with banditism in power lead to totalitarianism regime which everybody should distance themselves from.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Yesterday Greece saw its rating downgraded to the lowest level in the eurozone amid fears over its deteriorating public finances. In fact suddenly Greece 's government realized to be running a Ponzi scheme where its deficit is being, according to new statistics, tripled over few months from 3.7% to 12.7% of GDP. According to Euro area rules (Stability and Growth Pact) deficits should be kept within 3% of GDP.
Economists will remember when in 2004 Greece admitted that deficit figures were fudged to secure euro entry.
Today original 'Bond Vigilantes', that is bond investors, are reacting to authorities' loose monetary or fiscal policies, including lies, by forcing sovereign bond yields higher, thus punishing central banks or governments by increasing the cost of issuing further debt.
(CDS Widening Spreads or Greatest Credit Deterioration by CMAVISION on Wednesday, 9 December 2009 — 12:30)
Of course those Bond vigilantes are not happy if somebody is also fudging national accounts in Ponzi style.
It’s a typical case of EU’s failure to scrutinise member states’ economies. Where was the European Commission when Greece had been fudging statistics?
There are lies, damned lies and statistics but markets, very often are considered true vigilantes very different from political institutions like the European Commission.
PS: "The European Union’s economic affairs commissioner said officials are ready to help Greece get to grips with its budget deficit after concerns about its public finances sparked a rout in Greek government bonds.
The European Commission “stands ready to assist the Greek government in setting out the comprehensive consolidation and reform program, in the framework of the treaty provisions for euro-area member states,” said Joaquin Almunia, who is in charge of economic and monetary affairs, in a statement late yesterday. He didn’t say what form any assistance could take".
What a statement. Perhaps we could have simply helped Greece to have reliable accounts and monitor them even before its Euro membership. Hindsight bias?
Friday, December 4, 2009
He is not new to this expression. Few weeks ago Berlusconi said that Italy, Italians and himself are "sputtanati" (sputtanare = To run down or badmouth someone) by the press, including foreign one.
Berlusconi must know very well the origin of the verb sputtanare, which means to shame someone revealing that he normally engages the services of a prostitute.
Everybody knows Berlusconi's story with an escort girl.
Therefore either he was speaking again for himself alone (confessing) or with reverse causation in mind (as usual).
Can anybody please tell Berlusconi who and where is the cause to be "sputtanati"?
(Image from The Economist)