Consider for a moment the injured feelings of the plutocrat. He's the target of round-the-clock protests stretching from Oakland to Norwich. He's denounced by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Goodness, even those carefully-placed "news" stories about how George Osborne must scrap his tax on the super-rich, which once commanded at least a respectful audience, now meet with the puzzled mirth of a country that suspects a wind-up. At this point the penny loafer drops: they're called the 1% because they're lonely.
But through every cold weather front a little sunshine must peep. Which is why the gym-buffed corporate financiers, the chauffeured captains of industry and all the others whose membership subs are simply too big to qualify for the 99% club must have managed a brave little smile at the past week's changes of regime in Italy and Greece. Because that swap of Silvio with Mario, Papandreou with Papademos, shows that however much fashionable opprobrium is now being dumped on the results of free-market fundamentalism, the arguments used to justify it remain powerful.
Over the past few days, the debate over the usurpation of democratic leaders in southern Europe by unelected technocrats has run thus: general rejoicing at the deposal of Berlusconi; a little light brow-furrowing over what this says about the eurozone's respect for the will of its people, and much use of phrases such as "safe pair of hands". The consensus has been that this is politically bad (subtext: then again, those wobbly southern European democracies do need their stabiliser wheels); but probably for the best economically.
Which is the sort of argument to cheer up neoliberals everywhere, implicitly accepting as it does that they have the best tools to run an economy. Even the term technocrat is extraordinary: it pretends to divorce economics from politics, when all that happens is that vulgar material interests are disguised under a luxurious tablecloth.
So let me sketch out why these assumptions are wrong: why the imposition of unelected officials at the head of two European governments is both bad politics and bad economics.
None of this is intended to defend Berlusconi, whose only justification on the world stage was as a long-running experiment into what happens when you crossbreed Benny Hill with Vladimir Putin. Nor am I especially bothered about the loss of George Papandreou, who is the sort of weak-chinned social democrat that any observer of New Labour will be heartily tired of.
But nor can their successors Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos be passed off as ideologically neutral technicians. Until this weekend, Monti served as an adviser to the world's number one investment bank, Goldman Sachs. As for Papademos, his biggest political intervention before becoming prime minister was to argue against the recent eurozone deal to write off half of Greece's debts – it should, he claimed, be a far smaller discount, so as not to hurt banks. One man was a banker, the other defended their interests, and yet the claim is that they have shed those prejudices in the past few hours. This is about as likely as Bob Diamond being made chancellor, and declaring war on the wealth gap.
And it matters because one big question that will dominate Greek and Italian politics for years to come is who foots the bill for their country's financial troubles: the bankers or the pensioners, students and public servants? Another big issue is how far either country will stand up to the demands of northern Europe – and both newly-minted leaders already have form here: Monti was an EU commissioner; Papademos worked at the European Central Bank.
You may say, at least these are fully-trained economists, able to spot the right policies for their countries. Except that the Greeks are already doing pretty much what they were told by the eurozone's economic officialdom – and it isn't working. Under the tutelage of the rest of the EU and the IMF, Papandreou pulled off one of the biggest fiscal consolidations in postwar history – with the result that Greece sank into a depression and its borrowing rose further.
And there's plenty of evidence that having an economist run your country's economic policy is no help whatsoever. Last week, Joachim Wehner of the LSE and Mark Hallerberg of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin published some research that looked at educational backgrounds of political leaders across Europe. Since 1973, 69% of Greek finance ministers and 55% of those in Portugal have had a PhD in economics; a qualification unknown to any British chancellor.
In his book 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism, the Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang points out that in recent history economic policy in Japan, Taiwan, China and South Korea has largely been set by lawyers or engineers. In India and Pakistan on the other hand, many world-class economists have been in charge of the treasury – yet their record have been no match for the Asian tiger economies. The euro is perhaps the high point of doing economics without any ostensible politics.
Until its crisis, the euro was a technocrats' triumph, a prime example of doing economics without any ostensible politics. As is now widely pointed out, the single currency was launched without significant political institutions behind it, let alone a common treasury. The result we now know about; and yet the governments of Europe seem keen to run the experiment in Greece and Italy all over again