Published on The Economist, Dec. 9, 2012.
However understandable his decision, Mario Monti’s announcement of his intention to resign as prime minister will inflict serious, short-term damage. It means his government will come to an end in a premature, probably disorderly and possibly chaotic fashion.
Mr Monti told Giorgio Napolitano, the president, on December 8th that he would step down as soon as the 2013 budget was passed. But it looks as if much else his government had been working on in recent months will now not be approved (or, in the case of measures introduced by decree, confirmed) in parliament. Legislation doomed or in jeopardy includes bills on competition, taxation and the simplification of bureaucracy. Another would have put into effect the new constitutional requirement for a balanced budget. Perhaps most importantly, a package of measures to stimulate economic growth is vulnerable – and particularly so because its ministerial sponsor Corrado Passera, the economic development minister, dared to criticise Silvio Berlusconi’s decision to run for prime minister and has become a hate figure for Mr Berlusconi’s followers.
Mr Monti’s unexpected move has also dispelled what faint hopes remained of a new electoral law. So Italians will again vote under the same, deplorable arrangements that rob them of meaningful local representation. (Lawmakers are being chosen from closed lists for multi-seat constituencies.)
Compounding the atmosphere of uncertainty, it is highly likely Mr Napolitano will himself resign soon. His mandate does not expire until May, but he has said on more than one occasion that it would not be right for him to appoint the next prime minister and then leave his successor to deal with the consequences.
The latest upheaval in Italy’s seldom-tranquil political landscape does not necessarily mean that Mr Berlusconi will now coming storming back into power with a mandate to slash taxes and boost spending. His People of Freedom (PdL) movement is divided, demoralised and languishing in the polls at around 15%. The same polls indicate that even an alliance with the Northern League, which now becomes possible, and others, would win less than a 25% share of the vote. It seems unlikely that such an alliance could make up the ground needed to secure an outright victory. But in an already confused situation in which a party led by a comedian, Beppe Grillo, is reckoned to have the second-biggest following of any political movement, Mr Berlusconi and his followers and allies could put themselves in a position to determine events after the general election.
Mr Berlusconi had been looking forward to almost three months in which the PdL movement would keep alive the current, non-party government in parliament with a policy of abstention rather than opposition. During that time, he would have been able to plot his electoral campaign, reorganise his divided followers and, at the same time, comprehensively denigrate the austerity and other policies of the government while presenting himself as the man to give the electorate a less painful way forward. But because of Mr Monti’s decision at the weekend, Mr Berlusconi is now in a headlong rush to a snap election, possibly as early as February 17th, and with the Christmas, New Year and Epiphany holidays in between … //
… (full text).
Chart of the day: real wages and labour productivity in developed economies 1999-2011, on RNER Blog, by David Ruccio, Dec. 11, 2012;
The monetary core of the Famous Fama Fallacy, on RNER Blog, by merijnknibbe, Dec. 10, 2012.