The wrong menu

With the publication of Monti’s ‘nation saving’ budget in Italy (here in Italian) and news that Frau Merkel and Sarko have agreed a ‘fiscal compact’ to save the Euro we can see the shape of a week that may postpone Italy’s exit from the Euro but which will surely make it yet more likely in the long run.

First, Monti’s budget looks like a classic Italian serving of pointless, bureaucratic complexity. There’s another expensive-to-collect tax on yachts, and one one private aircraft, which will doubtless raise a net of about 8 euros. There is the return of property tax on first homes, but at a pretty low level and with various possible exemptions. Note that there is no attempt at simplification of different house-related taxes by, say, merging the new levy with the tax on rubbish disposal (known by the acronym TARSU), and sacking half the people who collect these taxes. Monti, may be a technocrat in theory, but this looks like the standard, tried-and-failed fare of the left-of-centre parties. On that note, the Welfare Minister cried while announcing pension cuts (perhaps troubled by the enormity of her own salary).

Why not do tax like Italy does its food? Simple, digestible and to the point. And then apply the tax. You never get to leave a restaurant without paying.

Meanwhile Frau Merkel and Sarko are coming up with a scheme to sanction countries like Italy that don’t stick to budget targets. This plays to German political opinion, but completely misses the point.

It treats Italy as a debt problem. But it isn’t. Italy is a growth problem that can only be resolved with legal system, bureaucratic and labour market reforms that make growth possible. Italy needs to be made to work institutionally.

All this Merkel-Sarko deal is likely to do is to keep the fiscal squeeze on Italy and provide a temporary respite for the Euro. But if Italy cannot grow it will never be able to pay its debts, even at 5% interest.

What we are likely to get this week will be the worst possible outcome. There won’t be pressure for pro-growth reforms from Merkel. And Mario’s budget performance suggests he can’t produce institutional change either.

The Italian economy will just shrink away faster than cuts can be made and taxes levied.

More:

The FT (sub needed) on Merkel and Sarko’s agreement.

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