Two Italians from different backgrounds offer call-and-response pieces on the post-millennial economic collapse.
The title, taken from Jim Morrison’s “Ghost Song,” and the opening evocation of U2’s Bono suggest from the start that this will not be a dry economic analysis restricted to the native Italy of the co-authors. Instead, the narrative is often impassionedly lyrical, both literary and musical in quality, as it proceeds from the unbridled optimism of the late 1990s to the abject hopelessness that the authors blame on globalization in general and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in particular. Nesi is a prizewinning novelist (Story of My People, 2013, etc.) and politician who had faced unemployment after being forced to sell the textile company that his grandfather started in the 1930s. Brera is the founder of an Italian investment management company that saw benefits from the economic downturn that plagued Southern Europe. Interestingly, alternating chapters find both authors following the same emotional arc, from a faith in “a future that had never before looked so promising,” amid the 1990s and its “grand, continuous, thrilling process of acceleration,” through “the disasters of globalization” and the “desperate, sentimental, Luddite war against the world and against the future.” What happened? Among other factors, outsourcing, cost-cutting, national debt, and, most egregiously, competition from demagogues that have had no respect for worker rights, environmental controls, or trademark protections under which the industrial West operated. Globalization promised to lift more than 1 billion people out of poverty, and it did, agree the authors—“one billion Chinese.” The analysis often soars as a work of sociocultural criticism, though it doesn’t offer much hope as economic analysis. Instead, it shows how hopes so high could be brought so low.
The result is an analysis that sings, though its melody turns increasingly sour.