Tuesday, September 26, 2017

An Italian Economist Says Berlusconi and Trump are the Same … Except Trump is Meaner

 Luigi Zingales
Here is the transcript of a fascinating interview of, Italian-born, University of Chicago Booth School of Business professor Luigi Zingales, by Business Insider's Sara Silverstein:

Sara Silverstein: And can we talk a little bit about Trump? I know that in your first draft of one of your books — I don't know how long ago is that?
Luigi Zingales: It was 2011.
Silverstein: Okay 2011, you had a chapter about how somebody like Donald Trump could become president and you use Berlusconi as an example but you cut it from the book. Why did you cut it and what did you say?
Zingales: So I cut it because one of my colleagues who was kind of enough to read the first version told me that I was crazy, that I would lose credibility to the book if I were to keep that in. And I think that for me, it was a very easy conclusion because the book that came out in 2012 was about how the United States is looking more and more like Italy — and not unfortunately in the good wine and food — but in the form of the way the economy is run, the form of corruption where it’s
institutional, and so on. And so, the natural outcome of the Italian economy was to have a prime minister like Silvio Berlusconi. So the idea of the United States having a sort of Trump president was not as foreign to me as it was to most of my colleagues.
Silverstein: And now that we have him, how similar or different do you think the two are?
Zingales: Actually I think that in their campaign and in their personality, they’re very, very similar. Almost scary how similar they are. And one of the key elements that makes them so similar — actually let me tell two, there are many but — one is they are phenomenal salesmen and the second is they both come from a business that is by nature not very competitive and very corrupt. They’re both real estate. And when people say, “I know how the market works, real estate.” I think that that’s not my sort of prototype of market: real estate. So, I think that that gives the background.
However there are two big differences in my view. One is that Berlusconi — I have to say — is a nicer person. I think he’s more like the prototypical comedian than actually the tough guy that Trump wants to pretend he is. And I think that, for example, Berlusconi was never really in favor of any wars, was not a war monger at all, was dragged in toward some wars by the United States, but it wasn’t like his primary thing. Trump unfortunately seems to be different there. So in that sense, this is a big important difference.
The second, which might seem a limitation to Berlusconi, but in fact in long term might be a benefit is, Berlusconi ran the first time for office because he feared and maybe rightly so, that he would’ve lost his economic empire, if the Left had taken over at that time. And the reason is that he was under investigation, he was high leveled — so the combination of the two things would really have put at risk, serious risk, most of his wealth.
You can say a lot of negative things about Trump but I don’t think that’s the reason why he ran. In fact, I think he is more at risk of going to jail after running than before. So that’s not the reason and his empire was not at risk.
Now, on the one hand, that’s a big limitation for Berlusconi because you say, there is a hidden agenda here and that limits the ability of being an effective prime minister and run the country in the interests of all the people at large, not the needs of one person.
However, it turns out also to limit the downside. In the sense that, once Berlusconi took power, besides taking care of his business, did not do much. And this a big limitation because Italy drifted and became worse, but at least did not do like a major disaster.
I’m not so sure we can sort of say the same for Trump. I think that — I’m not sure what drives Trump besides the fact that he wanted to be elected, what is really driving his economic policy. When he was elected, people asked me what I predicted and I thought one of the first things he would do is build a wall and he has not actually built a wall. And he doesn’t seem to follow very much on his electoral promises. I don’t know what he’s looking for, what is like really his final objective.
The video of the interview is here,

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