In the March 2018 general election, two Italian political parties (the League and the Five Star Movement) that eventually formed the current government campaigned against many of the structures that are the foundation of the European Union. One part of their agreed policy program, a proposal that resurfaced in the past week, concerns the possibility of issuing mini-BOTs (which stands for Buoni del Tesoro). These would be small denomination “bonds”—non-interest-bearing, tradeable securities—issued by the Italian government to pay debts and usable to pay taxes or purchase goods and services provided by the state. Printed in the size and shape of currency notes, recipients could view them as a new means of exchange.
In this post, we discuss the possibility of Italy leaving the European Monetary Union, and why there is an increased incentive for the government to plan for an abrupt and unanticipated exit. The strategic analogy is to the appearance of a first-strike capacity that undermines nuclear peace. In our view, however, that appearance is misleading: any attempt to exit would not only be a disaster for Italy, as we explained in our post from a year ago, it would be the “mother of all financial crises” …. Read More
After years of calm, fears of a currency redenomination—prompted by the attitudes toward monetary union of Italy’s now-governing parties and the potential for another round of early elections—revived turbulence in Italian markets last week. We have warned in the past that an Italian exit from the euro would be disastrous not only for Italy, but for many others as well (see our earlier post).
And, given Italy’s high public debt, a significant easing of its fiscal stance within monetary union could revive financial instability, rather than boost economic growth. Depositors fearing the introduction of a parallel currency (to finance the fiscal stimulus) would have incentive to shift out of Italian banks into “safer” jurisdictions. Argentina’s experience in 2001, when the introduction of quasi-moneys by the fiscal authorities undermined monetary control, is instructive…. Read More
With Sunday’s election of President Emmanuel Macron, voters confirmed that France remains a bedrock of the euro area, buttressing the region’s financial markets. But political risks to the euro have not disappeared. In coming months, concerns probably will turn to Italy, where the leader of one popular party has called for a referendum on leaving the euro area, and where parliamentary elections must be held before 20 May 2018.
From an economic perspective, Italy stands on a knife-edge. The economy is smaller and less productive than it was in 2001, while government debt has jumped by 30 percent. As long as interest rates remain low, and the government continues to run a primary budget surplus, the situation is only mildly unsustainable (with the debt/GDP ratio creeping higher). But even a small problem at home or abroad could drive funding costs higher and expose Italy’s precarious state.
Would independent Italian monetary policy, controlled by the Banca d’Italia in Rome, be sufficient to bring Italy back from the precipice and promote economic growth? We doubt it. In the long run, the most effective way to ensure debt sustainability is to implement growth-enhancing structural reforms. Nothing about Italy’s membership in the monetary union prevents this. The problem is a lack of political will... Read More