The causes of Italy’s recession

Ben Chu

economist The causes of Italys recessionThe Economist’s latest leader on Italy reads like it was written by a fractious committee. On the one hand the newspaper concludes, as I have, that the Brussels /Berlin axis has overdone the austerity. But, on the other hand, it also seems to argue that Italy is in the mire because of its sclerotic labour markets.

This passage caught my eye:

“Italian GDP per head has actually shrunk during the euro’s first 13 years of existence. This performance has little to do with a lack of demand caused by excessive fiscal austerity, as some euro critics loudly claim. It has everything to do with year after year of steadily rising labour costs and falling productivity, which have undermined Italian competitiveness and exports.”

No per capita GDP growth since the creation of the euro in 1999? That’s a remarkable statistic. So I checked it out. And it’s true. Italian per capita GDP in 2012 was €22,874 according to the IMF, down from €23,187 in 1999.

Yet as the chart below (compiled using IMF figures) shows, the big drop has been since the 07/08 financial crisis and the global downturn.

Italy1 The causes of Italys recession

There was per capita GDP growth in Italy over the first eight years of the single currency’s existence. Indeed, Italian GDP per capita grew at a similar same rate to Germany and France, as this chart shows:

Italy2 The causes of Italys recession

Over the eight years German GDP per capita rose by 13.9%. In France it grew by 11.4%. Italy’s growth was 8.9%. A little worse, but still in touch.

Don’t get me wrong. Italy badly needs to overhaul its cronyish labour markets which penalise the young. But trying to claim that the present deep recession is a consequence of those long-standing macro problems doesn’t add up.

Indeed, confusing the issues is dangerous. Rome/Berlin/Brussels need to sustain demand while those reforms, which are necessary to raise Italy’s long-term growth rate, are carried out. Hinting that tax hikes and spending cuts in Italy at this moment aren’t really what’s hurting is unhelpful to put it mildly.

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  • Giovanni de Petris

    Thank you for the finally fair presentation. I wonder if “Finland the Netherlands and Germany” will read this article and learn something from it.
    They seems so in love with their sadness and Kierkegaardian darkness and Kantian ethics that i doubt it.
    To many Italians It starts to look more like a commercial war to get rid of Italy once andfor all ( those people are too happy and too different from us superior races..) than a honest effort to improve things, things have been going very badly for Italy in a greatly flawed and by default pro German EU. Flawed for Germany because the structures of the economies entering a pact on the euro were imbalanced: one based on old ways the other efficient and modern.
    Good for the Italians to rebel, too late but better late than never, is their country and no one wants to be a slave of a sad dark bureaucratnever elected. Salute!

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