The Political Fallout of Italy’s Growth Problem

Yesterday the news from Italy was the sudden drop in industrial output, today it is the fact that this makes Berlusconi’s re-election much more uphill work. In particular his coalition just lost a vote in Messina, Sicily, that they normally should have won.

This trend in indutrial output is important for what it implies about growth in Italy this year and next, and this is important for the knock-on implications for Italy’s deficit. This Italian government has incorporated an economic growth target of 1.5 per cent in its 2006 budget, and this target now seems improbable. This means the budget shortfall will be greater than agreed with Brussels, and that the deficit will rise more than anticipated. More problems.

The IMF is critical of the approach the Italian government is taking and has already expressed its fears that Italy will not meet its goal of reducing its budget deficit to 3.8 per cent of gross domestic product in 2006 from 4.3 per cent this year. The principal culprit for the IMF: Italy’s slow productivity growth.

“The nation’s economic problems are essentially ‘made in Italy’,” an IMF report said last month. “The fundamental factor accounting for weak competitiveness, and for a decade of disappointing economic performance, is slow productivity growth. Over 1996-2004, growth of output per hour worked was the lowest among all industrial countries and a cumulative 5.5 percentage points below the euro area average.”