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The Italian economic crisis: why the euro must be abandoned – Lars Syll

Italian parliament building (source: Flickr cc)

“Investors had until recently been widely expected the European Central Bank to signal at its next meeting in two weeks’ time that it would wind down QE later in the year. Now, questions are growing about how feasible it will be to withdraw the ECB’s buying power at a time when investors are already driving Italian debt costs higher. Nearly half a decade ago, the Greek debt crisis turned into a crunch point for the bloc as a whole. The sheer scale of both the Italian economy and its bond market make it much more of a systemic challenge to the bloc than Greece was. Some commentators have dubbed Italy “too big to fail and too big to bail”. “On a number of levels — by challenging political cohesion, by raising public and private borrowing costs, and ultimately, through growing eurosystem imbalances – events in Italy could destabilise the euro area,” said Marchel Alexandrovich, senior European financial economist at Jefferies.” — Financial Times

The euro has taken away the possibility for national governments to manage their economies in a meaningful way — and in Italy, just as in Greece a couple of years ago, the people have had to pay the true costs of its concomitant misguided austerity policies.

The unfolding of the repeated economic crises in euroland during the last decade has shown beyond any doubt that the euro is not only an economic project but just as much a political one.

What the neoliberal revolution during 1980-2000 didn’t manage to accomplish, the euro shall now force upon us.

But do the peoples of Europe really want to deprive themselves of economic autonomy, enforce lower wages and slash social welfare at the slightest sign of economic distress? Is increasing income inequality and a federal über- state really the stuff that our dreams are made of? I doubt it.

History ought to act as a deterrent. During the 1930s our economies didn’t come out of the depression until the folly of that time — the gold standard — was thrown on the dustbin of history.

The euro will hopefully soon join it.

Economists have a tendency to get enthralled by their theories and model and forget that behind the figures and abstractions there is a real world with real people. Real people that have to pay dearly for fundamentally flawed doctrines and recommendations.

  • The ‘European idea’—or better: ideology—notwithstanding, the euro has split Europe in two. As the engine of an ever-closer union the currency’s balance sheet has been disastrous. Norway and Switzerland will not be joining the eu any time soon; Britain is actively considering leaving it altogether. Sweden and Denmark were supposed to adopt the euro at some point; that is now off the table. The Eurozone itself is split between surplus and deficit countries, North and South, Germany and the rest. At no point since the end of World War Two have its nation-states confronted each other with so much hostility; the historic achievements of European unification have never been so threatened …
  • Anyone wishing to understand how an institution such as the single currency can wreak such havoc needs a conceptof money that goes beyond that of the liberal economic tradition and the sociological theory informed by it. The conflicts in the Eurozone can only be decoded with the aid of an economic theory that can conceive of money not merely as a system of signs that symbolize claims and contractual obligations, but also, in tune with Weber’s view, as the product of a ruling organization, and hence as a contentious and contested institution with distributive consequences full of potential for conflict …
  • Now more than ever there is a grotesque gap between capitalism’s intensifying reproduction problems and the collective energy needed to resolve them … This may mean that there is no guarantee that the people who have been so kind as to present us with the euro will be able to protect us from its consequences, or will even make a serious attempt to do so. The sorcerer’s apprentices will be unable to let go of the broom with which they aimed to cleanse Europe of its pre-modern social and anti-capitalist foibles, for the sake of a neoliberal transformation of its capitalism. The most plausible scenario for Europe in the near and not-so-near future is one of growing economic disparities – and of growing political and cultural hostility between its peoples, as they find themselves flanked by technocratic attempts to undermine democ- racy on the one side, and the rise of new nationalist parties on the other.

These will seize the opportunity to declare themselves the authentic champions of the growing number of so-called losers of modernization, who feel they have been abandoned by a democracy that embraced the market and globalization.” — Wolfgang Streec


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