Italy is approaching a crunch. Rather like Venice in the 18th century, it has coasted for too long on the back of its past success. Again like Venice, it has lost many of the economic advantages which underpinned that success. For Venice, it was a near-monopoly on trade with the East that paid for the creation of its beautiful palaces and churches; today’s Italy has benefited hugely from a combination of low-cost labour and a switch of workers away from low-productivity farming (and the south) into manufacturing (mostly in the north). But such good things invariably come to an end.
Italy badly needed a dose of pro-market reforms, liberalisation, privatisation, deregulation and a shake-up of the public administration, all of which Mr Berlusconi had promised. He even pledged to cut taxes. A majority of Italian voters, backed by much of Italian business, were willing to overlook both his legal entanglements and his conflicts of interest and give him a chance to reform the country. But as the next election approaches, very little of what he promised has been delivered, so many of his erstwhile supporters are feeling disillusioned. Continue reading →
In a post back in May about the bloody repression in Uzbekistan I noted that Crooked Timber’s John Quiggin was suggesting that US troops should be withdrawn immediately (I didn’t agree if you read the post). Well he seems to have got his way, and the reasoning behind the Uzbekistan parliament decision is of course interesting. The parliament has backed a government order which gives the United States six months to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad airbase. The suggestion is that this order is not entirely unconnected with the U.S. decision to join international demands for an independent investigation into May’s bloody crackdown.
That the US jobs report last Friday showed continuing weakness in the labour market is certainly by now far from breaking news. I wouldn’t however want to let it pass by without comment. I think it is now abundantly clear that there is a pattern in all this somewhere (what that pattern is precisely, and what is causing it may be another matter). The US is not creating the quantity of new employment it needs. This means that the output gap (the gap between potential and actual output) is unlikely to reduce, and that the Fed will in all probability be unable to raise interest rates as vigourously as it had anticipated. This is also likely produce downward pressure on the dollar (with a consequent upward pressure on the Euro) and all sorts of other weird and wonderful things which should preoccupy those given to thinking about these matters. I think the debate is effectively over though: this is more than just a ‘soft spot’. Continue reading →