Commentary. In Cernobbio, the Italian establishment is meeting to reinforce the centrality of markets. Down the street, a counter-summit is proposing a program led by movements to tax the rich and reduce inequality.

At Cernobbio, a minimal program of radical proposals

If we connect all the dots, the signals we’ve been seeing these weeks are pointing towards a devastating autumn for the economy, workers and families. Inflation is surging towards 10%, the ECB’s (and the Federal Reserve’s) expansionary policies are gone, the gas, energy and utility bill price emergency is here for all to see, and the politics of the war in Ukraine are slowing down trade and the global economy.

The concrete consequences are the risk of business closures and worker layoffs, a heavy slowdown in private and public consumption, the loss of purchasing power of wages and incomes, the growth of poverty, the further aggravation of public debt, and yet another slowdown in GDP, after the collapse during the pandemic.

Against this background, starting last Friday in Cernobbio, at the famous Ambrosetti Studio seminar, which has been organized for more than 45 years, the Italian (and international) establishment will offer us the usual litany of a neoliberalism in its twilight years, with a market whose failures were well highlighted during the pandemic, as they are now.

The same businesses that have been filling our heads for years with the notion of the “centrality of the market” are now calling on the state to intervene, which they always saw as an enemy to be defeated.

For entrepreneurs – who have long since ceased to be a ruling class, becoming just another interest group – the market means “freedom for both the fox and the henhouse,” whether they are profiting from the pandemic, gas or weapons.

Politics (including that of the Draghi government) has gone along with this (in a complicit manner) by bowing down before every one of their prescriptions: anarchic capital circulation, labor precariousness, privatization, reduction of public spending.

At Cernobbio, among the precious stuccoes and mirrors of the Villa d’Este, there will be no shortage of expressions of concern about this delicate phase we are in – but we’re willing to bet there will be no doubt expressed about the goodness of a development model that has exponentially increased social inequalities and brought the planet to ruin.

On the other hand, these pandemic years have been a boon for the super-rich Italians, who have seen their wealth increase by €70 billion, while ISTAT tells us we have had a million more people joining the ranks of the poor over the same period.

And while in Cernobbio, a place firmly within the establishment, they will surely discuss concerns about the energy emergency caused by the war (not forgetting the fact that among the guests at Villa d’Este there will also be representatives of the companies that have been making a ton of money for many years speculating on gas and selling weapons to the same countries involved), we can predict a great deal of tone-deafness about the reality of the war being fought on the ground, and about what should be done to stop the conflict: a topic that is missing in this election campaign as well.

But there is also an alternative summit in Cernobbio, promoted by Sbilanciamoci, one involving the social movements, civil society and trade unions, which is meeting on the same days in the hall of a local parish, a few hundred meters from the luxurious villa frequented by the Italian elite. It is being organized to send a message that alternatives are possible, involving a different model of development, based on public-minded policies and not on market anarchy; industrial policies for sustainable mobility and clean energy; social policies for a universal welfare state and not one based on “social markets”; redistribution policies to give more to the poor and take some of the privileges away from the rich.

A century ago, Fabian socialist R.H. Tawney wrote: “What thoughtful rich people call the problem of poverty, thoughtful poor people with equal justice call the problem of riches.”

Concentration of wealth produces inequality. That is why the Tax the Rich campaign is being launched at the other Cernobbio, aiming to take away some of the privileges (tax-related and otherwise) of the holders of great fortunes and financial speculators: without real tax justice, there can be no fight against inequality.

Instead of the endless reams of paper of the electoral platforms – often ambiguous and contradictory, unrealistic and unsustainable – the other Cernobbio offers a minimalistic program of radical and feasible proposals to change the face of Italy, a program that certainly needs forces to support it – movements, mobilizations – but which would also require an act of generosity and openness on the part of politics, so that the latter would be able to break out of its self-sufficiency and the dynamics that are isolating it from society more and more.

No matter how the elections go, this is the challenge before us to rebuild the conditions for a possible change.

The “other Cernobbio” is being held at the parish hall at 8 Via Cinque Giornate in Cernobbio. You can follow the event live on Facebook by logging on at, where you can also download the program and materials.

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