Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti was called on to lead a caretaker government. His expertise was welcome, but then the economics professor was bitten by the bug of political ambition...
ROME - Italy finds itself at what seems to be another all-time political low.
After inconclusive February elections, center-left leader Pierluigi Bersani has been desperately trying to form a new government coalition; followers of comic-turned-politico Beppe Grillo stonewall in Parliament; and Silvio Berlusconi lingers amidst endless judicial inquiries.
Meanwhile, the Parliament must choose a new President of the Republic, as respected head of state Giorgio Napolitano's seven-year term ends -- and the country's diplomatic corps is reeling from the resignation of Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi, who fell out with interim Prime Minister Mario Monti over a dispute with India.
It could all be the source for general mockery, both at home and abroad. But perhaps now is the time instead to look back for the answer to a more specific question: Why did Monti’s government of experts -- who were called in to rescue a failed policy, and were so loudly lauded by the foreign press -- end up failing so disastrously?
It begs the bigger question of whether or not any technocrats should ever be called upon to lead when politics isn’t able to solve our problems. But the disappointment of the Monti era should not lead us to the false conclusion that expertise itself is unnecessary, nor an obstacle to a good politician. Instead, the lesson that can be learned from what happened with Monti, in a year-and-a-half of activity, is that a mess begins when experts drift outside their area of expertise, seduced by the prospects of a career change to fully and finally become politicians.
In a world where we think we can do without doctors by looking up treatments on the Internet and avoid plumbers by going to the DIY store, maybe it’s time the so-called technocrats respected their own skills and professionalisms enough to stop trying to do the work of others.
Faced with this tempting genetic mutation of species, here are the Ten Capital Sins that experts who want to become politicians commit:
1. OVER-RATE OWN COMPETENCE As they've been called upon because their theories are infallible, if mistakes occur, the blame isn’t on errors in their theories, but an erroneous reality that fails to adapt to them.
2. THIN SKIN Accustomed to academic reverence, they have trouble withstanding political clashes.
3. NAIVETÉ They underestimate the power of bureaucracies, which can derail any attempt at innovation.
4. PROFESSIONAL ISOLATION If the advisors are the ones in charge, who advises the advisors?
5. A QUESTION OF RESPECT Nothing worse than trading in a classroom full of university students who are afraid of you for a Parliament ready to attack you.
6. A MATTER OF EMOTIONS Politics is personal, but you are doomed if you take it personally.
7. TIME Politics doesn’t slow down for those who are used to having time to respond to things (not even when you’re on camera).
8. TIME II Knowing their assignment is just temporary doesn't stop them from wanting to always be on the *tenure track* instead.
9. HOPE They create too much hope, which inevitably leads to disappointments.
10. VANITY Unlike actors and politicians who know how to handle it, the sin of vanity can take over a technocrat -- and return like a boomerang.