“Those wanting to prevent change are willing to do anything,” firebrand Beppe Grillo griped. “They are desperate. Four people, Napolitano, Bersani, Berlusconi, and Monti, met in a living room and decided….” They’d ganged up on him and restarted the corrupt political machinery he’d brought to a stop. The one that is strangling Italy’s economic core.
Contributed by Chriss Street: Italians are electing their 63rd government in 68 years. Normally, Europeans chuckle about this. But Italian political trouble just became EU economic trouble as its debt was downgraded to BBB+ and a bank run seems to have begun. The realization that it’s too big to bail out is heating up the Eurozone debt crisis.
The ominous term “competiveness” is bandied about as the real issue, the one causing Eurozone countries to sink deeper into their fiasco. To address it, “structural reforms,” or austerity, have been invoked regardless of how much blood might stain the streets. And a core element of these structural reforms is bringing down the cost of labor.
The ECB and the national central banks of the Eurozone set out to collect “micro-level information” on household wealth. A massive bureaucratic undertaking. Surveys went out in 2010. Results are now ready. No one in Europe had ever done a survey on that scale before. And no one might ever do it again. Because, in the era of bailouts, the results are so explosive that the Bundesbank is keeping its report secret—and word has leaked out why.
Euros entered circulation on January 1, 2002. For six years, they grew on trees in southern Europe. But the bubble got pricked. Since then, the monetary union has been in crisis. Almost half of its existence! Until suddenly, its problems were solved. But now confidence in the monetary union is weaker than ever. With a hue of resignation in Germany.
Former Italian senator Sergio De Gregorio confirmed: “The Cavaliere paid me,” he said about the €3 million he’d received in 2006 from Silvio Berlusconi. “Of course I took the money.” Frustrated with this daily display of corruption, 8.7 million angry Italians voted for Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star movement. While it wasn’t enough to govern, it was enough to give the political establishment conniptions—and show that anger and frustration finally count.
“I’m appalled that two clowns have won,” said the man who’d try to knock German Chancellor Merkel off her perch this year. He was referring to former comedian Beppe Grillo and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. One of them is “a professional clown who doesn’t mind being called that,” he explained; the other is “a clown with special testosterone boost.”
The announcement couldn’t have been more glorious in crisis-struck Italy: Ferrari booked records sales and profits in 2012. Dazzling in every aspect. Not a single cloud darkened the horizon. Except in Italy where sales collapsed. And in the rest of the world, where central-bank printer ink stained the records.
By now we should have gotten used to the odor emanating from banks—bailouts, money laundering, Libor rate-rigging, the other misdeeds. But in Europe over the last few days, it was particularly dense. “In this uncertain world, I cannot exclude anything,” said Deutsche Bank co-CEO reassuringly.
It started on Monday. “Poverty is returning to Europe,” said Jan Zijderveld, head of Unilever’s European operations. The third largest consumer products company in the world was adjusting its commercial strategy to this new reality, he said, by redeploying to Europe what worked in poor countries of the developing world. Other stars of the industry affirmed it. “The logic of pauperization,” L’Oréal CEO Jean-Paul Agon called it.