L’inganno e l’autoinganno sono stati e sono centrali alla strategia evoluzionistica della specie umana. Salon ne parla in questa intervista a Robert Trivers, autore di The Folly of Fools, appena pubblicato.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi rejected an offer of financial aid from the International Monetary Fund, but accepted monitoring of his policies in a bid to restore investor confidence in the country.
The external supervision—extremely rare for a nation of Italy’s size—is another blow to the credibility of the premier amid pressure from world leaders and a mutiny inside his own political ranks.
For bond investors, Mr. Berlusconi’s acknowledgment that the IMF had offered aid suggested that Italy’s crisis may be deeper than previously acknowledged. They responded by pushing yields on Italian government bonds to euro-era highs.
Molti commentatori (l’ho fatto io stesso) hanno dato notizia dell’editoriale con cui anche il Financial Times (non un quotidiano comunista, mi pare) chiede a Berlusconi il famoso passo indietro. Vale forse la pena, però, di riflettere sul fatto che l’invito non è uno sfogo emotivo (noi ne avremmo ben d’onde, un osservatore britannico probabilmente no) ed è basato su analisi e considerazioni che vale la pena di conoscere.
Cito pertanto alcuni passi prima dall’articolo di analisi degli esiti del G20 per quanto riguarda l’Italia (Berlusconi brushes off debt crisis – FT.com), e poi dall’ormai famoso editoriale. Dei corsivi mi assumo io la responsabilità: servono ad attirare la vostra attenzione sui passi salienti.
Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, said on Friday that he had refused the offer of an International Monetary Fund loan to his indebted country, arguing that Rome did not need one even as its borrowing costs remained at near-unsustainable levels.
During meetings on the sidelines of a summit of world leaders in Cannes, Mr Berlusconi instead agreed to accept highly intrusive IMF monitoring of his government’s promised reforms – an unprecedented concession by a eurozone country that has not received a bail-out.
Yields on Italy’s 10-year bonds surged to euro-era highs after Mr Berlusconi said he had declined the offer of a low-interest IMF loan. At 6.4 per cent, they are near the level at which Greece, Ireland and Portugal were forced into IMF-European Union bail-outs. Italy must refinance €300bn ($413bn) in borrowing next year.
The rise in borrowing rates came despite reports from traders that the European Central Bank was purchasing Italian bonds to try to drive yields down. The ECB has bought an estimated €70bn in Italian bonds since panicked selling began in August.
“Italy does not feel the crisis,” Mr Berlusconi said after the G20 summit of industrial powers. He described the Italian bond sell-off was “a passing fashion”, adding “the restaurants are full, the planes are fully booked and the hotel resorts are fully booked as well”.
Qui permettetemi un commento. Il Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri (e gli mettiamo tutte le maiuscole di cui i nostri burocrati amano decorarsi, come i generali di galloni e le signore di giri di perle) non dovrebbe limitarsi a riportare aneddoti sull’affollamemnto di alberghi, ristoranti e crociere (peraltro non di prima mano, evidentemente), ma avrebbe il dovere di consultare le statistiche ufficiali prodotte e diffuse con i quattrini del contribuente (l’Istat è finanziato dal bilancio statale per oltre 150 milioni di € all’anno, se non ricordo male). D’altra parte un’analoga considerazione per la statistica pubblica l’aveva dimostrata il ministro dell’economia Giulio Tremonti in un intervento pubblico all’assemblea della Confcommercio nel giugno del 2009:
Ma torniamo la Financial Times:
Christine Lagarde, IMF managing director, said she had not offered Italy a loan – known as a “precautionary credit line” – but other officials familiar with the deliberations in Cannes told the Financial Times that Italy had urged to accept as much as €50bn in assistance.
Senior European officials had hoped Mr Berlusconi’s acceptance of intensive IMF monitoring would return calm to the Italian bond market. Several said they believed Italy’s reform programme would improve the economy but feared that markets doubted the prime minister’s ability to implement them.
“The problem that is at stake, and that was clearly identified both by the Italian authorities and its partners, is a lack of credibility of the measures that were announced,” Ms Lagarde said […].
The addition of IMF monitors, who will publish quarterly reports on Italy’s progress, makes the mission almost identical to so-called “troika” teams of Commission and IMF evaluators who conduct reviews of the eurozone’s three bail-out countries.
The similarities between the two prime ministers [Papandreou e Berlusconi] are striking: both men rely on a thin and shrinking parliamentary majority and they are both squabbling with their own ministers of finance. Most importantly, they both have a dangerous tendency to renege on their promises at a time when markets worry about their countries’ public finances. There is, however, one important difference: having reached €1,900bn, Italy’s public debt is so high that its potential to destabilise the world economy is way above that of Athens.
The good news, of course, is that Italy is still a solvent country. However, the interest rate on its debt is becoming ever less sustainable. The spreads between Italian and German 10-year bonds have doubled over the summer. Yesterday, they reached a euro-era record of 463 basis points and would have probably been higher if the European Central Bank was not buying Italian bonds. Although Rome can sustain high interest rates for a limited time period, this process must be halted before it becomes unmanageable. Next year Italy has to refinance nearly €300bn worth of debt. As the eurozone crisis has shown too well, once spreads have risen, they are extremely difficult to bring down.
The most troubling aspect is that this is happening even as Italy has agreed, in principle, to the structural reforms recommended by Europe and the G20. That the International Monetary Fund will monitor Rome’s progress can only be a good thing. However, this risks being undermined while the country retains its current leader. Having failed to pass reforms in his two decades in politics, Mr Berlusconi lacks the credibility to bring about meaningful change.
It would be naive to assume that, when Mr Berlusconi goes, Italy will instantly reclaim the full confidence of the markets. Clouds remain over the political future of the country and structural reforms will take time before they can affect growth rates. A change of leadership, however, is imperative. A new prime minister committed to the reform agenda would reassure the markets, which are desperate for a credible plan to end the run on the world’s fourth largest debt. This would make it easier for the European Central Bank to continue its bond-purchasing scheme, as it would make it less likely that Italy will renege on its promises.
After two decades of ineffective showmanship, the only words to say to Mr Berlusconi echo those once used by Oliver Cromwell.
In the name of God, Italy and Europe, go!
Il riferimento a Oliver Cromwell, che sfugge a quasi tutti coloro che non sono inglesi o non hanno studiato la storia britannica, è al discorso che tenne nel 1653 per chiedere lo scioglimento del Parlamento (il “Rump Parliament“):
You have been sat to long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of god, go!
IT’S become commonplace to criticize the “Occupy” movement for failing to offer an alternative vision. But the thousands of activists in the streets of New York and London aren’t the only ones lacking perspective: economists, to whom we might expect to turn for such vision, have long since given up thinking in terms of economic systems — and we are all the worse for it.
Perhaps the protesters occupying Wall Street are not so misguided after all. The questions they raise — how do we deal with the local costs of global downturns? Is it fair that those who suffer the most from such downturns have their safety net cut, while those who generate the volatility are bailed out by the government? — are the same ones that a big-picture economic vision should address. If economists want to help create a better world, they first have to ask, and try to answer, the hard questions that can shape a new vision of capitalism’s potential.
“It’s not just about Greece, it’s about the whole situation of overhung debt in Europe, of Italy and others which are more capable of bringing down the system,” said Ian Lesser, the executive director of the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels office.
Some of the damage has already been done.
Fears over Greece have already helped to compromise Italy’s position, pushing its borrowing costs to 6.5 percent, a record high since the country adopted the euro and a burden the country might not be able to bear for long. High borrowing costs helped tip Greece, Portugal and Ireland into deep enough trouble that they needed bailouts.
Those costs could ease on Monday. But analysts say coming up with a workable plan in Greece — or even just papering over its problems — will be necessary to buy time for Italy, which is mired in its own deep political troubles and which would be much more difficult to bail out because its economy is larger.
The increasing claims come from the aging of the population, while the slowing growth of available resources comes from a slowdown of economic expansion over the last generation. A complex mix of factors, varying by country, has slowed growth, and the slowdown has been exacerbated everywhere by the worst financial crisis and global recession in 70 years.
The combination has left Europe and the United States with frustrated populations that still have more sacrifices ahead. “These are very difficult moral issues,” said Benjamin Friedman, an economic historian at Harvard. “We are really talking about the level at which we support the elderly retired population.”