Magazine article The American Conservative

Business Trumps Politics

Magazine article The American Conservative

Business Trumps Politics

Article excerpt

Gianni Agnelli has been dead for 13 years, but still his name resonates when people discuss Italy, style, or the Fiat automobile company. Gianni was the founder's grandson, and became Fiat's president sometime during the '60s. Throughout his life--one I shared throughout my youth--Gianni fought the reputation of being a playboy.

An extremely handsome man who dressed impeccably and had great style, Gianni could not resist the pleasures of women and cocaine, in that order. A great seducer of women, he nevertheless tried desperately to go straight--whatever that means--once he turned 60, becoming a senator for life, hobnobbing with Henry Kissinger and various European heads of state, but still the rumors persisted.

The Agnelli family was by far the most powerful and richest in the land of pasta, controlling newspapers, TV stations, heavy industries, and, of course, Fiat. Now you'd think the head of that family, an extremely intelligent, even well-read man like Gianni, would ignore the gossip, take hold of the reins, and actually change Italian politics for the better. But no. He never even considered running for high office. He just had his sister Suni appointed secretary of state and various buddies sent to the Senate.

Agnelli played it safe as Fiat's head. With 200,000 workers in Turin alone, the protective tariffs kept Fiat humming along until the EU opened up the European markets. Then Fiat had to come crawling to America for help--hence the Chrysler-Fiat deal sealed after Gianni's death that has been a bonanza for both companies.

"Ah, if only Gianni had gone into politics," is a lament I have heard hundreds of times throughout my life. And I always answer it with "it would have been plus ca change, nothing more." If Gianni played it as safe as he did with Fiat, why would he have ventured more with the fate of a nation?

Silvio Berlusconi did. Berlusconi famously began his career as a singer on a liner yet ended up Italy's richest man--and as a three-time prime minister. Trump haters now compare The Donald to Berlusconi, but they fail to note that the Italian was in the midst of radically changing a corrupt judiciary and political system when he was stymied by the very system he was trying to do away with. …

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