Italy, the ESB and Europe’s Populist Fantasyland, by Daniel Lacalle

There is no law that says a government has to live beyond its means and go into debt, even though that’s what most of them do. From Daniel Lacalle at dlacalle.com:

The populist coalition in Italy has presented an “economic” program and a threat to the European Union that makes Greece look like a walk in the park.

Let us start with reality.

Italy’s economic problems are self-inflicted, not due to the Euro.

  • Italy has seen more governments since World War II than any other country in the European Union.
  • Governments of all colors have consistently promoted inefficient dinosaur “national champions” and state-owned semi-ministerial corporations at the expense of small and medium enterprises, competitiveness and growth.
  • Labor market rigidities remained, leaving high unemployment and differences between regions.
  • A perverse incentive financial system, where banks were incentivized to lend to obsolete and indebted state-owned companies in their disastrous empire-building acquisitions, inefficient municipalities, as well as finance bloated local and national government spending. This led to the highest Non-Performing Loan figure in Europe.
  • A nightmare legal system that makes it virtually impossible to repossess assets from bad debt, led non-performing loans through the roof and malinvestment to soar.
  • A thriving export and small enterprise ecosystem were constantly limited by taxation and bureaucracy. This made the thriving companies smaller and actively looking to set activities outside of Italy.

Because of this, government spending continued to rise well above revenues. As Italy -like Spain and Portugal- decided to penalize high-productivity sectors with rising taxes, revenues fell short, while expenditures continued to rise. Italy, like so many peripheral countries, created a massive “crowding out” effect of the public sector against the private. It is not a coincidence that most citizens in Italy, like Spain or Portugal, prefer to be civil servants than entrepreneurs.

It is no wonder that, while private companies managed to survive and improve “despite government”, debt and non-performing loans soared.

Now they blame the Euro. As if the same crowding out would not have happened outside.  The only difference is that outside the Euro the government would have destroyed savers and citizens through constant “competitive devaluations” that were the cause of the economic weaknesses of the past. Constant devaluations did not make Italy, Spain or Portugal more competitive, they made them perennially poor and perpetuated their imbalances.

To continue reading: Italy, the ESB and Europe’s Populist Fantasyland

 

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