Notes from the continent where good times are always just around the corner
This post was written by Kevin O’Rourke
The markets are going into a minor tizzy this morning thanks to the news that Mario Monti is stepping down earlier than expected. And I can certainly understand why people like Beppe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi might seem like a cause for alarm.
But what if Wolfgang Münchau is right, and the real problem in Italy right now is the austerity policies that Monti is pursuing, and that are being praised to the skies by the entire European establishment as we speak? Bang on cue, we learned this morning that Italian industrial output fell by 1.1% in October, much faster than expected. If Wolfgang is right, then what Europhiles (and the markets) should be devoutly hoping for is centrist, Europhile politicians willing to reject the status quo policies that are doing such damage. Why should Eurosceptics have all the best tunes?
One of the things that makes it possible for Europe’s politicians to persist with this nonsense is their conviction, like Mr Micawber, that something will turn up. There is no sign in Ireland that anything at all is turning up. The most important indicator of all, employment, is still falling, and you can see signs of strain all around if you care to look. At the panto last night, I was struck by the lack of sparkly fairy wands, light sabres, and all the rest compared with previous years: it really was very noticeable. And these were the people who could still afford to take their kids to the panto. Also noticeable was the almost complete absence of recession jokes, which were such a feature in 2008 and 2009. It just isn’t funny any more.
Colm McCarthy was in good form yesterday regarding this over-optimism in the Irish context. Of course, it is always possible that predictions of rapid growth just around the corner aren’t fuelled by optimism at all. It is at least theoretically possible that these growth predictions are whatever is required to make Ireland — the Eurozone’s supposed success story — seem solvent.
Mind you, you’d have to be a complete cynic to believe that such a thing was possible.
Update: Good Heavens Above. The corner appears to be receding from view in the Netherlands.