Advice for Mario Monti

(cross-posted from Core)

The Italian political scene has given rise to a phenomenon seen often in developing countries: a care-taker government run by a respected economist with an implicit mandate to ‘get the country out of the mess’. That mess, a public debt of 120% of GDP that outside financial observers are increasingly sceptical can be paid back, has two possible happy endings: some outside agency manages to miraculously get Italy to grow or Italy manages internally to re-start economic growth.

In terms of what the best policy would be to get Italy growing again, you don’t need to be a genius economist. It can be summed up in one phrase: the special interest groups that paralyse Italy need to be tackled. Well, that and producing babies again, for there is no long-term growth without people!

What special interest groups, you might ask? The tax evaders, which are heavily represented in the top layers of society; the entrenched old civil servants who are close to an overly generous pension paid for by too few young workers; the many special subsidy receivers (including millions of welfare dependents); the criminal gangs who siphon off parts of the national wealth and evade taxes (the shadow economy is estimated by Schneider, using fairly controversial methods, to be 20%); the professional cartels who have a stranglehold on health and bureaucratic services (think of medical specialists and the closed professions); etc.

It’s not the solution that is hard, but implementing the solution: tackling special interest groups is incredibly hard. They are well-organised, know the law better than others, have their tentacles through all the main political parties, have captured part of the public debate such that few even recognise that they are the problem (rather, they are seen as the pillars of society), and they are highly alert to any threat to their position. This is also why they are so entrenched: before any political party can mount a campaign against them, they would already have opened a counter-attack against the political forces mustering against them. They are undoubtedly watching the situation closely, ready to fight any incursion to their rights.

So, what should Mario Monti do?

My advice is to move with lightning speed and to actively maintain a sense of desperate crisis until a reform package is agreed and is being implemented. Mario has to feed that atmosphere of desperation and encourage a widespread belief that Italy is staring into the abyss if he is to have any chance to dislodge some of the major interest groups. The first thing he should do is to arrange for new information to be brought out every week outlining how much worse everything is than previously imagined. The debts are higher, tax collection is lower, crime is higher, capital flight is worse, etc. This is the time to talk Italy down, whilst projecting confidence that he knows how to get Italy out of it under the right ‘tough measures’.

How quick should he move? I would say that he would need to get key legislation to parliament that tackles the most crippling interest groups (tax evaders and ageing civil servants) in no more than a couple of weeks. If he gives the interest groups 6 months to rally against him, he has no chance. Undoubtedly, the interest groups will still mount demonstrations and a vigorous media campaign if he manages to get legislation to parliament within weeks, but if he is fast enough then Mario will have the advantage that there is a feeling of desperation and that there is no alternative to his package.

In order to do this, Mario will need help. Given his relation to a raft of European think tanks (Friends of Europe, Bruegel, and several others) and a large network of connections, he should be able to find help. He will have to rely on young people with the energy and drive to spend many sleepless nights on new legislation designed to disentangle the embrace of the interest-groups from the Italian state. He should know that there is no chance to keep such an assault a secret, so he should assemble small teams of young experts as soon as he can and establish the right expectations amongst these groups (i.e. that their mission is to tackle the interest groups). They should be told to work harder than the interest groups can organise to oppose them and he should see his own job as tirelessly protecting these teams from the assaults on them that will come from within the bureaucracy and parliament. He should probably aim to get a couple of quick wins under his belt to cement his position. Going after some famous tax-evaders should do the trick, hopefully Berlusconi.

What should Mario not do? Mario should not play the ‘trust me, things will work out’ game, giving out positive and soothing noises about the Italian economy. He also should not spend a half year forging alliances between various parties, trying to hammer out compromise programs that a coalition of parties could agree to. If he does that, he will find himself with nothing: his coalition would sift like sand through his fingers when the going got tough; the markets would eventually see through the optimistic chit-chat; and no serious changes will occur. He might still get austerity packages through (they are much easier to implement than tackling interest groups), but getting the economy going forward again would be out of sight.

Is Mario the kind of dynamic, fast-moving economist Italy at this time needs? I have never met him, but at the EU, he was a respected commissioner, known for being calm and collected, deliberating each decision carefully, in charge of the tough cases requiring diplomacy. He is the kind of person known as a safe pair of hands, able to see the woods through the trees, making the noises everyone wants to hear. He is the consummate insider who advises Coca Cola and mediates between governments.

Unfortunately, Italy does not need an ageing safe pair of hands. Mario’s party trick, that of being the smart guy in the room who calmly works at the behest of established political powers, will simply not be enough in this case. He is in a vipers nest asked to do the impossible. The question is not whether he can placate the vipers, but whether he can do what needs to be done before he is bitten. Italy needs someone with the political instincts of a cheetah, prepared to make unexpectedly fast moves against well-entrenched interest groups.

It is a tough ask to go from the trusted wing-man to the treacherous cheetah pouncing on Italy’s internal enemies before they can mobilise. He seems too used to spinning things positively to play the part of the harbinger of doom in order to create the desperation he needs to create political support for a reform program. We will see.

 

Update 18/11: so far, so good. Mario has more or less appointed whom he could and has named all the elements in the blog above as things he wants to reform: tax evasion, welfare, the labour market, education. He also talks of urgency.

Let’s see if he stays on track with quick reforms + desperation campaign.

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53 Responses to Advice for Mario Monti

  1. Fyodor says:

    Wrong. Monti has no democratic mandate to piss off a large chunk of the voting population. That point is moot, however, as Italy cannot escape its fiscal straightjacket without a mixture of external devaluation (i.e. leave the euro) and default anyway.

    First, Italy’s heading into a deep recession that will ensure Monti makes no material progress on debt/GDP. And that assumes he can persuade the Germans to refinance the €300bn in debt maturing next year. Any fiscal reform attempted without external devaluation will be seen, correctly, as politically pointless.

    Second, the recession will generate two mortal blows for its already fragile banking system: first, massive bad debts; and, second, capital flight, as depositors (correctly) assume that Italy will exit the euro, causing them to move their savings into safer domiciles. The Italian banking system and Italy’s sovereign debt are both too large for Italy’s government (or arguably the EU in aggregate) to bail out its banks. This will all play out in the next 1-2 years and obliterate any other agenda.

    What Monti SHOULD do, but most probably won’t*, is:

    1. Plan immediately to exit the € over a suitably long weekend. Immacolata Concezione’s on a Thursday this year, so it has to be Natale-Santo Stefano (i.e. Christmas-Boxing Day), or maybe Epifania early in 2012. The long weekend is preferred to manage the logistics around step 2.

    2. Reinstate the lira, with immediate devaluation.

    3. Default on, and restructure, Italian sovereign debt.

    4. Nationalise insolvent banks.

    5. THEN attempt structural reform.

    If Monti attempts the restructure you envisage without leaving the € his government will be brought down by the enveloping economic shitstorm. Ask the Greeks, Irish, Portuguese and – soon – the Spanish.

    The only hope remaining is that the Germans lose their collective wits and permit the ECB to monetise Italian sovereign debt. That will buy Monti more time, but won’t change Italy’s fiscal conundrum within the eurozone.

    * Because he doesn’t have the mandate for it either.

  2. Dan says:

    Mike Whitney’s reading of Mario’s allegiances is less sanguine:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/11/14/big-finance-moves-in/

  3. Marks says:

    “I would say that he would need to get key legislation to parliament that tackles the most crippling interest groups (tax evaders and ageing civil servants) in no more than a couple of weeks.”

    You forgot one of the biggest crippling interest groups – bankers.

    If you are going to cut pensions, then you are actually repudiating the agreements with those people who you employed with that as part payment. Now I do not doubt that the pension deals may have been generous, but if governments want to repudiate agreements freely entered into out of necessity, then surely ALL bets should be off, and NO crippling interest groups should be able to hide behind contracts or agreements.

    I think Fyodor’s solution is at least a bit more equitable…and likely to spread the pain more evenly. The exercise is going to be how to spread the pain equitably so that people can see that everyone is contributing to the solution, and not some sections of the community getting off scot free.

  4. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Thanks Paul,

    You know much more than I do about European politics, but I’m still wary of the ‘crash through or crash’ meme. After all that’s what they tried in NZ and they’re all now saying we did it better.

    One of the problems is that you seem to think these things can be done at the stroke of a pen or at least at the stroke of a pen over two weeks with a hundred young turks burning the midnight oil in the background. You can cut tariffs, change rates, deregulate shopping hours and so on like that, but you can’t reshape elites like that – because
    1) as you’ve said they control things (this is apart from their political power – there’s a deeper problem which is that they ARE the system you’re trying to reform.) You couldn’t for instance reform the monopoly on medical specialists in Australia over two weeks. You’d quite likely just stuff things up. Ditto lawyers, ditto public servants.

    Of course the paradigm case of the overnight ambush was Russia. Didn’t work too well did it? That was because we needed to develop the institutions that underpinned an efficient market economy and they’re a subtle collection of things.

    Italy isn’t in that kind of state, but I wonder if similar principles apply – at least mutatis mutandis.

  5. JC says:

    Fyodor.

    Do you think Italy would need to leave the Euro if the ECB QE’ed?

    I’m actually starting to think perhaps Germany and some of the northerners ought to leave, as they are becoming part of the problem. That’s if the Euro is worth keeping.

    Milt was right as like most things.. The Euro would never survive its first crisis.

  6. JC says:

    Marks

    The banks are busted no matter which way they go. In other words the shareholders of these banks (and pension funds) have been screwed by governments forcing them to maintain liquidity ratios in government bonds which are supposed to provide “risk free rates of return”.

    I wonder if the term ” risk free rate of return” will take on new meaning after this clusterfuck.

    Will we hear about this massive scale government failure destroying most of the European banking system or we keep hearing about greedy bankers.

    Having said they are busted/ broke and the shareholders taking the hit I don’t know what you are suggesting that the contraction has to be spread more equitably.

  7. JC says:

    The whole structure appears to be falling apart this morning. French and Belg bonds are tanking. If the ECB doesn’t QE the whole thing will be falling apart in the not too distant future.

    It may also become see a situation where Germany leaves the Euro if there is a refusal by them to QE.
    This is now appears to be getting seriously dangerous…

  8. observa says:

    So closer to home you think Baillieu might have missed the boat in the BigV Paul?
    I knew Vic was full of lefties but hadn’t realized just how much debt they were in. $56bill (or $10k for every Vic) is a lot compared to their share of the Federal debt now standing at $210bill, or about $19000 per worker only.

  9. observa says:

    Is Mario the kind of dynamic, fast-moving economist Italy at this time needs?

    Martin Hutchinson doesn’t think so.

  10. Richard Tsukamasa Green says:

    Like Nicholas I don’t have too much faith in the proposition that sufficient will is enough to change anything, but I haven’t really got any ideas. The Russian analogy did suggest something. In so far that Yeltsin and leaders in the Baltic republics etc. had the ability to enact rapid change, it was because they were not tied to the governance institutions of the USSR, but instead the more malleable institutions of the constituent republics.

    Perhaps the best option for Italy is to end 150 years of unity and return to being a “mere geographic expression”. After all, many of the non-nationalist rationales for a unitary state (such as domestic freedom of movement and lack of tariff barriers, or a unitary currency and need to form a military against one’s neighbours) have been superseded by the European Union, which has also given Italy the problems of many small countries, like being unable to borrow in one’s own currency. If power was devolved to the regions, there might be more ability to crash through entrenched interests. We might get neo fascists in the North and mafiosi in the South, but hey, how much worse is that than a system that produced Burlusconi?

    I still doubt it’d work though. Considerably doubt. But it is more concrete than mere wishing for sufficient will and midnight oil.

  11. Pedro says:

    It’s a supertanker, you just can’t change a country that much except over the long period. The ECB needs to inflate the buggery out of the place.

    RTG, might be the best idea for the long run, for the UK as well.

  12. Paul Frijters says:

    Nick, Richard,

    I agree with you that things major changes take time, particularly when it concerns the hold of the elite, but I do think you can ambush the rent-seekers in a legal sense. This recognises that entrenched rent-seekers have various layers of protection and that you can undermine them in the long-term by stripping them of their most important armoury: the notion that their position is there by right.
    What I thus have in mind is that you create new institutions that take away their legal protection and make it harder to become entrenched again. You essentially want to establish at a stroke where it is you are aiming to go and what the long-term expectations should be for Italy. That re-arrangement will be bitterly opposed if you give opposition time to build against it, but if you can push it through quickly, the pain is also over more quickly and the net opposition to it is less.

    As to analogies, Mancur Olsen would probably have said the Thatcher government was of this mould. Various war governments and post-war governments in Europe come to mind: things can happen fast if there is a feeling of crisis. In general, the setting up of competition authorities with independent powers is a good example of how a lot of entrenched interest groups got sidelined in a single stroke, even though it took many years for those authorities to work through the system.

  13. JC says:

    Look, Germany and the core northerners can’t suddenly act surprised and virginal as a result of this clusterfuck. They knew the debt had been accumulating in these countries long before the shit hit the fan. So in moral way they are also complicit and therefore own some of the responsibility. Where were they when the stability pact was breached?

    There are ways around this problem if Germany and the core stop acting so contritely. They could for instance allow the ECB to offer unconditional support to the distressed PIIGS if they continued to follow economic reform. The bonds could be purchased as a form of QE as this would assist in maintaining NGDP at higher rate.

  14. Peter Whiteford says:

    “Reinstate the lira, with immediate devaluation”

    How exactly does a country reinstate the lira (or the drachma or the Deutschmark, for that matter). You have to have ready supplies of currency hanging round to stick in your ATMS, you also have to change your your parking meters, your cash registers, your accounting programs and probably a few other things I haven’t thought of. As I recall from the dim distant times before 14 February 1966 we were being told to be ready for a number of years in advance, and as I lived in Europe when the Euro was introduced, I also recall a couple of years to switch over as a physical process.

    Announcing that you planned to leave the euro would result in a bank run, capital flight and many other unpleasant complications, I would assume. As far as I can see the only people whoc can credibly plan to leave the Euro are the Germans, but it would still take them roughly the same amount of time to do it as a physical process, and presumably they would end up with a grossly over-valued currency.

  15. KB Keynes says:

    Peter has beaten me to it.

    Getting out of the Euro would take a lot of time. One only has to look at the time involved in setting it up.

    the great lesson of Europe is how classical economics doesn’t work, indeed as Fyodor is now saying, it makes things worse.

    Poor Papandreou, He is easily the only one of the clan to have common sense. he announced the budgetary lies of his predecessors and then dutifully did all that was advised but he had to go.

  16. Dan says:

    It certainly is a mess.

    I agree with Peter that the lira (and drachma) are not readily reinstatable, even though this would be a good idea.

    May I jokingly suggest QE – Mediterranean Edition: PIIGs to be bailed out by the US, in US dollars, on the condition that a significant proportion of the money be spent by those countries in the US (say, enough to cover the bailout once multipliers are accounted for – and with all those unemployed people in the US right now the multipliers must be huge).

    http://notesandrestsmakemusic.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/europe-venn-092811krugman1-blog480.jpg?w=288&h=155

  17. KB Keynes says:

    I actually think a bit of inflation may be needed there for some time.

    more in Germany than in other countries.

  18. wilful says:

    Well, that and producing babies again, for there is no long-term growth without people!

    I cannot believe this bit of unthinking insanity/inanity still floats around the head of people who should know better. I could trot out Kenneth Boulding’s old line, it is still appropriate…

    The reductio ad absurdum of your argument is that there can never be a reduction in Italy’s population. When should Italy have a stable population? Currently ~60M. What target do you think they should ahve? 120M? 200M? 1B? But they’ll need to ‘grow’ even more then! Why don’t they just keep on putting on population?

  19. Paul Frijters says:

    fyodor,

    I must admit I had to laugh out loud when I saw your reaction. You say Mario Monti does not have a mandate to go after the internal rent-seekers, and then happily propose a nationalisation of banks and an exit of the euro. Wow.

    Italy’s debt is not so bad if it can get growth going again. 120% public debt, and remarkably less private debt, is quite sustainable in a growing economy. Hence what Italy needs is to raise the realistic expectations that it will grow in the future, and for that it needs structural reforms. Austerity measures are a short-term stop-gap, but will of course also depress the economy even further in the short-run.

    wilful,

    ha! Explain to me how a fertility rate of 1.3 is sustainable. The logic of that fertility rate is that the Italians die out, ending with a highly inverted population pyramid that in turn will mean good youngsters will need to flee to avoid being taxed to oblivion by the old folks.

  20. jc says:

    KB Keynes said:
    I actually think a bit of inflation may be needed there for some time.

    more in Germany than in other countries.

    Homer, creating accommodative monetary policy is not the same as trying to stoke inflation. You really have no understanding of monetary economics.

    The objective of QE is not to stoke inflation but to settle the monetary shock.

  21. wilful says:

    ha! Explain to me how a fertility rate of 1.3 is sustainable. The logic of that fertility rate is that the Italians die out, ending with a highly inverted population pyramid that in turn will mean good youngsters will need to flee to avoid being taxed to oblivion by the old folks.

    immigration.

  22. jc says:

    Wilful

    These are monocultures. Large scale immigration into monocultures is disasaterous.

  23. Dan says:

    Sorry, wait: Italy’s a monoculture!? Ask a Southern Italian whether he thinks that about Northern Italy, or vice versa.

  24. KB Keynes says:

    I wasn’t talking about QE JC.

    Any person understanding economics would know that.

    Gee another of those outstanding predictions have come to be right.

    Italy wouldn’t have a crisis because they save a lot and just buy Italian bonds.

    Another outstanding insight by JC.

    please tell Steve Europe thinks classical economics is just doing fine as weel

  25. Fyodor says:

    JC @ 5:

    Fyodor.

    Do you think Italy would need to leave the Euro if the ECB QE’ed?

    No, if anything QE would be a last-ditch measure to keep Italy in the eurozone. German opposition to quantitative easing – by which I mean monetising the sovereign debt of vulnerable eurozone countries – is so intense that it would only be attempted within a full-blown crisis.

    Italy should leave the eurozone because it’s wrong for its economy. QE by the ECB may delay the recognition of that brute fact, but won’t avoid it.

    Peter Whiteford @ 14

    “Reinstate the lira, with immediate devaluation”

    How exactly does a country reinstate the lira (or the drachma or the Deutschmark, for that matter). You have to have ready supplies of currency hanging round to stick in your ATMS, you also have to change your your parking meters, your cash registers, your accounting programs and probably a few other things I haven’t thought of. As I recall from the dim distant times before 14 February 1966 we were being told to be ready for a number of years in advance, and as I lived in Europe when the Euro was introduced, I also recall a couple of years to switch over as a physical process.

    As I implied earlier, it’s a move which requires considerable logistical preparation, hence my point about planning and then implementation over a long weekend. It would be hard and painful. However, you overstate the complications, and thus the length of time taken to implement. Italy is an advanced economy which, despite a sizeable cash-based black market, relies overwhelmingly upon electronic money. All domestic financial accounts would be converted from euros to lira very easily. External accounts would be messier and cause havoc for the banks, but they can be managed separately – see below.

    Physical notes and specie are a problem, but you should be aware that all euro coins are identifiable by country of origin – i.e. a one euro coin issued by Banca d’Italia will simply be redenominated as equal to one lira. Likewise, all notes issued in the eurozone have a serial number with a letter denoting the country of issue. In Italy’s case, all notes issued by Banca d’Italia begin with the serial number “S”. These would be redonominated at €100 = L100 and continue to circulate until new notes are printed to replace them. One thing working in Italy’s favour is that the new lira would almost certainly devalue materially relative to the euro, so Gresham’s Law would facilitate cash circulation in the early phase. The equivalent conversion would be vastly more difficult for a perceived “hard” euro nation like Germany.

    You and Paul clearly think the idea fanciful, but you should likewise be aware that if the German Kanzler is talking openly about countries leaving the euro, then contingency planning is already underway in the central banks of the eurosystem. “Plan B” is almost certainly being worked up as we bloviate.

    Announcing that you planned to leave the euro would result in a bank run, capital flight and many other unpleasant complications, I would assume.

    That’s why you don’t announce that you “plan to leave the euro”, Peter. You just do it. Over a weekend.

    BTW, “unpleasant complications” are already upon us. Capital flight is happening right now. There is a reason why the Swiss National Bank pegged its franc to the euro – massive capital inflow from the eurozone. Check out the Bank of Greece’s statistics: the Greek banking system has seen a 13% fall in private deposits in the nine months to end-September. It was down 6.6% in just the two months from Jul-Sep. The smart money is already moving.

    As far as I can see the only people whoc can credibly plan to leave the Euro are the Germans, but it would still take them roughly the same amount of time to do it as a physical process, and presumably they would end up with a grossly over-valued currency.

    As noted, the logistical problems are surmountable and your logic is faulty. Indeed, the Germans would end with up a strong DM if they left the euro, which would reverse the unbalanced trade and capital flows within the eurozone of the past decade. The euro works for Germany, not for Italy, which is why Italy is a far more credible evacuee.

    Homerkles @ 15:

    the great lesson of Europe is how classical economics doesn’t work, indeed as Fyodor is now saying, it makes things worse.

    There’s nothing “classical” about dysfunctional currency unions created by “social democratic” bureaucrats, Homer. Get a clue, FFS.

    Paul Frijters @ 19

    fyodor,

    I must admit I had to laugh out loud when I saw your reaction.

    Snap! I had the same reaction when I read your post.

    <blockquoteYou say Mario Monti does not have a mandate to go after the internal rent-seekers, and then happily propose a nationalisation of banks and an exit of the euro. Wow.

    Wow. Read the last line of my first comment.

    Italy’s debt is not so bad if it can get growth going again. 120% public debt, and remarkably less private debt, is quite sustainable in a growing economy.

    Growing economy? Italy? What has its average GDP growth rate been since the euro was introduced?

    Hence what Italy needs is to raise the realistic expectations that it will grow in the future, and for that it needs structural reforms. Austerity measures are a short-term stop-gap, but will of course also depress the economy even further in the short-run.

    Thus inflating the debt/GDP ratio. Meanwhile, current yields on Italian government debt are over 7%.

    Can Italy grow its GDP faster than 7% within the eurozone, Paul? If you think it can, please explain why.

  26. KB Keynes says:

    yeah Fyodor all the nations are adopting Keynesian policies.

    I liked it better when you argued the countries were spending up bigtime because of structural deficits you didn’t understand.

    Italy announces they will convert back to the Lira. Guess what happens to the punters?
    no they don’t go the ATMs.

  27. Fyodor says:

    I liked it better when you argued the countries were spending up bigtime because of structural deficits you didn’t understand.

    Where and when was this? Provide evidence or admit you are lying.

  28. KB Keynes says:

    here alzheimers.

    That was the time of the famous Adam Posen cherry picking data. of course again since he gave two decades of data you couldn’t elucidate on what data he was cherry picking.

    There are a million fyodor stories just waiting to be told

  29. Fyodor says:

    That was the time of the famous Adam Posen cherry picking data. of course again since he gave two decades of data you couldn’t elucidate on what data he was cherry picking.

    As I said: where, when. Link it, prove it.

    There are a million fyodor stories just waiting to be told

    Go for it. I’m willing to go through every alleged instance just to prove what a shameless liar you are.

  30. JC says:

    Homer

    Provide the evidence please.

  31. KB Keynes says:

    has anyone seen fyodor and JC together?

    Bugger off Fyodor ,

    If you make JC statements live with it.
    It was here though.

    What a convenient memory you have as I have shown in the past.

  32. conrad says:

    PF: “The logic of that fertility rate is that the Italians die out, ending with a highly inverted population pyramid that in turn will mean good youngsters will need to flee to avoid being taxed to oblivion by the old folks”

    Actually, if this is to be believed, the fleeing has probably already started, although 60K doesn’t seem that much for their population — but it would add up if it accelerated (I presume many Italians are simply stuck because they can only speak Italian).

    Willful:”immigration.”

    Same thing that keeps them in keeps them out — where are you going to find a whole pile of smart well educated immigrants that speak Italian?

  33. JC says:

    (I presume many Italians are simply stuck because they can only speak Italian).

    Actually many speak English

    ———-

    Homer

    do you ever read the swill you post. It’s incomprehensible crap for the most part. What are you trying to say, Skanke Ho?

  34. conrad says:

    JC,

    I’m sure lots speak English — almost all would speak some, and quite a few speak quite fine English (at least of those I bump into, which are not representative at all — far better than France incidentally!). To be clearer, what I mean by that is something like:”I speak and write English well enough so that I can get a good job, and hence get through immigration in most countries, and have a normal life”. I think this would reduce the numbers substantially.

  35. Patrick says:

    I tend to agree with Paul, I suspect that too many things are broken though and that Italy’s debt is not the point, it is just the medium.

    Amongst other things, IR, the entire legal system and most of the south are quite fundamentally broken. That’s a lot to fix. The tax system is pretty disastrous too.

    At least IR and the tax system can be replaced at the stroke of a pen (whether that will work or not is another question). But how do you fix the legal system? They already have a German central bank, maybe they could acquire a German (or French) court system?

    I agree with some others here that restructuring would be a lot easier if the ECB would act as a credible LOLR, of course Monti has a friend there too!

  36. Fyodor says:

    has anyone seen fyodor and JC together?

    FMD. You’ve lost the plot, me ol’ china. Totally FUBAR.

    Bugger off Fyodor ,

    If you make JC statements live with it.
    It was here though.

    What a convenient memory you have as I have shown in the past.

    Yes, in the past you have shown many times that my memory is vastly superior to yours. This is just one more occasion where you have squibbed rather than risk yet another inevitable humiliation that I would have inflicted upon you.

  37. KB Keynes says:

    yes fyodor your convenient memory.

    Only a month or so and you can’t even remember!!

    Says it all really.

  38. Fyodor says:

    yes fyodor your convenient memory.

    Only a month or so and you can’t even remember!!

    Says it all really

    Squib. Show, don’t tell.

  39. Paul Frijters says:

    Conrad, Patrick,

    agreed. On the issue of the ECB as LOLR I tend to believe that as soon as the ECB drops a hint that it is willing to play that role, that the political elites of Italy and Greece go for that opening full-pelt as a means of avoiding internal reforms. At this stage of the game hence, I cant see the ECB acquiescing to that kind of a role.

    As Machiavelli said, there is nothing as difficult as being a reformer. I believe the phrase was something like ‘for one has enemies in all those who profit from the current system and only lukewarm support from those who might profit from the reforms’.

  40. JC says:

    :”I speak and write English well enough so that I can get a good job, and hence get through immigration in most countries, and have a normal life”. I think this would reduce the numbers substantially.

    Lol Ah that’s Carlo, my mother’s (now) 27 year old second cousin who arrived on their doorstep 4 years ago, got a job as a waiter (now running a restaurant), improved his English, sat for the immigration test and is now permanent resident with an indig girlfriend who has a tongue ring (is that what they are called?). His English actually got better over the first year he was here.

  41. JC says:

    Conrad…

    The interesting thing I found when he was sitting for English proficiency test was that they really are anything but if the testing books were indicative. They are really aptitude (IQ) tests that happen to be in English. You have to score above 75% to pass and you only get (I think) two tries.

    Homer would fail such a test I reckon.

  42. JC says:

    I cant see the ECB acquiescing to that kind of a role.

    Germany better start thinking about what it wants to do asap as the near “core” got hit yesterday with French, Belgium and even Austrian debt got hit. This is becoming a crisis to the near core now.

    Even the UK could help out. The UK is currently undergoing QE. They could actually also buy EU debt instead of their own and pack a harder punch because when the Euro collapses they also will end up losing a couple of limbs.

  43. Patrick says:

    yes Paul that seems likely (re the ECB). I think there is a further issue in that the ECB was designed as a German central bank and has operated quite successfully as one. It isn’t clear to me that German central banking ‘does’ LOLR.

  44. Patrick says:

    ps the only ‘core’ that counts is Germany itself. France is scrambling but has to pass these austerity measures if it is to convince anyone (cue heart attacks for Nick G and others).

  45. Pedro says:

    The italians are getting a ton of boat people from nth africa, but I don’t know if that will solve their demographic problem. Depends on whether they are getting smart and conscientious workers.

  46. Pedro says:

    “cue heart attacks for Nick G and others”

    The problem is that it is not as easy as saying austerity is good or bad. Devil here, deep blue there.

  47. Tel says:

    Germany better start thinking about what it wants to do asap as the near “core” got hit yesterday with French, Belgium and even Austrian debt got hit.

    There’s an easy option for Germany… just be less productive, avoid working, and retire early to fit in with the rest of Europe. If they need more gear, then buy it cheap from the Asian manufacturers. Oh, and stop sending constant bailout money across their border.

    The only thing difficult is coming to grips with the idea that they won’t retire quite as wealthy as they expected, but that’s going to happen sooner or later regardless. In the scheme of things they could lose a lot and still be decently well off.

  48. Tel says:

    As for Italy…

    We might get neo fascists in the North and mafiosi in the South, but hey, how much worse is that than a system that produced Burlusconi?

    Hard to tell the difference as far as I can see.

    Cicero complained about Sicilian corruption in 70 BC, if the power of Rome at its peak couldn’t stamp it out then not much chance of the ECB making a dent. That said, provincial corruption is as good a protection against fascism as you are likely to get (and against all central-planned authoritarian socialism for that matter).

    Really I should say that decentralised corruption stands in opposition to centralised corruption, because that’s a better description of the situation. Stealth, deception and backstabbing are technologies and artforms, no different in principle to iron working or bread making.

  49. Mack says:

    Nice article and I do not disagree with many points, but all I could think of when reading was the NT Intervention…

    “Move with lightning speed”
    “actively maintain a sense of desperate crisis”
    “projecting confidence that he knows how to get (remote indigenous comunities) out of it under the right ‘tough measures’”
    “get key legislation to parliament that tackles the most crippling interest groups (land councils, NT Government) in no more than a couple of weeks”
    “They should be told to work harder than the interest groups can organise to oppose them and he should see his own job as tirelessly protecting these teams from the assaults on them that will come from within the bureaucracy and parliament”
    “He also should not spend a half year forging alliances between various parties, trying to hammer out compromise programs that a coalition of parties could agree to. If he does that, he will find himself with nothing”
    “needs someone with the political instincts of a cheetah, prepared to make unexpectedly fast moves against well-entrenched interest groups”
    “create the desperation he needs to create political support for a reform program”

    Not sure if I have a point or am full of crap, probably both…

  50. Patrick says:

    Well John Howard certainly knew how to do politics

  51. Tim Quilty says:

    Actually Fyodor @ 25, that was pretty much the scenario I’ve come up with for Germany leaving the Euro (or Germany and friends). Freeze all accounts for a couple of days. Convert all internal electronic balances on a 1:1 basis. Keep the Euro in circulation until a new currency can be printed, but let it depreciate against the new DM (EuroMark?) and make banks exchange it at the new market rates before deposit. Get the new currency into the field ASAP. (If it isn’t already sitting printed in a warehouse somewhere). Let the rest of Europe devalue.

    Tough, but doable. And the German voters won’t swallow anything less.

  52. Paul Frijters says:

    update: so far, so good. Mario has more or less appointed whom he could and has named all the elements in the blog above as things he wants to reform: tax evasion, welfare, the labour market, education. He also talks of urgency.

    Let’s see if he tries for the quick reforms + scare campaign.

  53. JC says:

    Tim

    Then I hope Germany gets exactly what it wants good and freaking hard. They are somewhat responsible too for the entry of the PIIGS into a less than optimum currency bloc and basically turned the other way when the Stability Pact (it originally demanded) was ignored.

    Honestly, fuck the Germans. Real GDP and Nominal GDP is literally collapsing both in Germany and more in the rest of the Euro bloc and they have the gumption to demand monetary policy austerity. Again fuck them.

    The ECB should basically ignore their demands and if they choose to leave the bloc then so it. Soon enough they will be doing what Switzerland did, which was to peg their currency to the Euro in order to quell its strength.

    The idea of following monetary policy austerity with a forced fiscal austerity is the poison that would lead to a re-run of 29/32. GDP could collapse 1/2. Germany is practicing economic lunacy.

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