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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

Decline and fall

As elections loom in March, Italy has reached the point where the return of

The discredited, disgraced Silvio Berlusconi seems almost reassuring

History repeating: with polls pointing to another hung parliament, Italy’s political sclerosis is likely to continue

When Italy failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup finals, it inevitably caused shock, dismay and a bout of national soul-searching. The fortunes of a football-obsessed society had been entrusted to a 69-year-old coach, Giampiero Ventura, whose greatest sporting achievement had been to clinch the third-tier Serie C1 championship 21 years earlier. Why had he been hired, asked Carlo Garganese on the website Goal? His answer, like that of many Italians, was “because of who he knew rather than because of his talent.” Ventura’s appointment exemplified the influence of what has been called “the veterans’ lobby.”

Their power is a function of Italy’s skewed demographics. Britain and the United States fret about being ageing societies, but next to Italy they look positively spritely. Where the median age is 38 in the US, and 40 in the UK, in Italy it is a touch over 44. And were it not for Italy’s immigrants the country would be greying even faster than it is. They are younger than native Italians, and women have a higher fertility rate, but they are not integrated enough to challenge the grip of Italy’s senior citizens. Few, indeed, have the vote. This means that 41 per cent of the voters called to the polls next month will be over the age of 55.

Men far older than Ventura continue to exert control in many areas of Italian society, infusing it with attitudes from a bygone era. In finance and industry, shareholder pacts allow firms to be controlled by investors with relatively modest holdings, and enable those same investors to retain influence almost indefinitely. Despite a reform some years ago that forced university teachers to retire at 70, academic staff are still getting older: the average age of professors is almost 60. Showbiz personalities— even pop singers—who built their careers way back in the 20th century remain among the biggest names in the charts.

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In Prospect’s February 2018 issue: John Naughton, James Ball, Yuan Ren, Hannah Jane Parkinson and Houman Barekat outline the ways in which our lives are controlled by big tech giants. Naughton argues that Facebook and Google have created a new “surveillance capitalism” in which they battle to grow user engagement of their products and monetise our lives for their own gain as they do so. The cover package also explores how “bots,” fake social media accounts, influenced the US presidential vote and the Brexit referendum as well as the effects of removing net neutrality in the US. Elsewhere in the issue: Samira Shackle asks what happens to ordinary civilians affected by Islamic State as they attempt to move back to their homes and rebuild their lives; Shahidha Bari asks whether we can continue to appreciate the work of actors, filmmakers and writers who have been disgraced; and Christine Ockrent profiles Michel Barnier.