'Arrivederci, Roma'

Pat Buchanan

11/4/2011 12:01:00 AM - Pat Buchanan

Will popular democracy bring down the New World Order?

A fair question. For Western peoples are growing increasingly reluctant to accept the sacrifices that the elites are imposing upon them to preserve that New World Order.

Political support for TARP, to rescue the financial system after the Lehman Brothers collapse, is being held against any Republican candidate who backed it. Germans and Northern Europeans are balking at any more bailouts of Club Med deadbeats.

Eighty-one members of David Cameron's party voted against him to demand a referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union altogether, the worst Tory revolt ever against the EU.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou imperiled the grand bargain to save the eurozone by announcing a popular vote on whether to accept the austerity imposed on Greece, or default, and let the bank dominoes begin to fall. The threat faded only when Papandreou cancelled the referendum.

But the real peril is Italy, No. 3 economy in the eurozone, with a national debt at 120 percent of gross domestic product.

After the plan to save the eurozone was announced, interest rates on new Italian debt surged above 6 percent, with 6.5 regarded as unsustainable.

When Papandreou announced his referendum, the cost of Italian debt surged again. Should buyers of Italy's debt go on strike, fearing a Rome default or write-down, that is the end of the eurozone and potentially the end of the EU.

But an even larger question hangs over Rome.

Will Italy survive as one nation and one people?

For the austerity demanded of Italy to deal with its debt crisis is adding kindling to secessionist fires in the north, where the Lega Nord of Umberto Bossi, third largest party in Italy, seeks to lead Lombardy, Piedmont and Veneto, with the cities of Turin, Milan and Venice, out of Italy into a new nation -- Padania.

The north has long resented Rome, Naples and Sicily, seeing them as lazier and less industrious. Bossi, who calls himself "Braveheart," after the Scottish hero of the Mel Gibson movie, sees northern people as Celts who are ethnically different and separate from the rest of Italy.

The Northern League belief that people of Southern Italy caused their debt crisis, bringing on austerity, mirrors the belief of much of Northern Europe that Italy and Greece do not deserve to be bailed out.

As the north is also home to 60 percent of the immigrants who have poured into Italy -- Gypsies from Romania, Arabs from the Mahgreb and Middle East -- Bossi's party is aggressively anti-immigrant, as are the other surging populist parties of Europe.

Americans who deplore the tough laws against illegal immigration in Arizona and Alabama might look to Italy, where the Northern League managed to have illegal entry into the country declared a felony.

The League was also behind a new law calling for sending back tens of thousands of Arab Spring migrants who arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than Italy.

But while resentment against the south for alleged freeloading and causing the debt crisis is bringing the secession issue to a boil, demography may be the greater threat to the national future.

Italy, says Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Bishops Conference, is heading for "demographical suicide," and the reason is a low birth rate caused by its "cultural and moral distress."

According to Italy's National Office of Statistics, in 2009 the fertility rate of Italian women was 1.41 children per woman. This is only two-thirds of what is needed simply to replace Italy's existing population.

Italy's fertility rate has been below replacement levels for 35 years. By mid-century, Italy will be a nation with a birth rate that will have been below, at times far below, zero population growth for 75 years.

Italy's birth rate in 1950 was almost twice its death rate. But the death rate equaled the birth rate in 1985, exceeds it today and will be approaching twice the birth rate by 2050.

Italy is not only aging, with the median age of its population going from 43 today to 50 at midcentury, Italy is dying. If this does not change, what the world knows as Italy will not exist at the end of this century.

Like other European nations, Italy faces an existential crisis.

Her national debt is twice what the EU says is tolerable. She must undergo years of painful austerity to pay back what she has borrowed and spent. Yet a shrinking population of working age young and an expanding pool of seniors and aged to care for will make that increasingly difficult, and default on her debts increasing attractive, as it is today to the Greeks.

The Northern League, seeing the south as the source of its troubles, will grow in appeal, as those troubles grow.

If your debts are larger than your economy, your death rate exceeds your birth rate and every new generation will be one-third smaller than the previous one, what kind of future does your country have?

The kind of future Italy faces.