By Matt O’Brien
No joke: Italian comedian Beppe Grillo is the leader of the second-most popular political party (Laura Lezza/Getty Images)
What do you call a country that has grown 4.6 percent—in total—since it joined the euro 16 years ago? Well, probably the one most likely to leave the common currency. Or Italy, for short.
It’s hard to say what went wrong with Italy, because nothing ever went right. It grew 4 percent its first year or so in the euro, but almost not at all in the 15 years since. Now, that’s not to say that it’s been flat the whole time. It hasn’t. It got as much as 14 percent bigger as it was when it joined the euro, before the 2008 recession and 2011 double-dip erased most of that progress. But unlike, say, Greece, there was never much of a boom. There has only been a bust. The result, though, has been the same. As you can see below, Greece and Italy have both grown a meager 4.6 percent the past 16 years, although they took drastically different paths to get there.
Part of it is that Italy, as the IMF points out, has real structural problems. It’s hard to start a business, hard to expand one, and hard to fire people, which makes employers wary about hiring them in the first place. That’s led to a small business dystopia, where nobody can achieve the kind of economies of scale that would make them more productive. But, at the same time, Italy had these problems even before it had the euro, and it still managed to grow back then. So part of the problem is the euro itself. It’s too expensive for Italian exporters, and too restrictive for the government that’s had …read more