The Super Marios Have Failed

“The underlying pace of monetary expansion continues to be subdued...The December 2012 Eurosystem staff macroeconomic projections for the euro area foresee annual real GDP growth in a range between -0.6% and -0.4% for 2012, between -0.9% and 0.3% for 2013 and between 0.2% and 2.2% for 2014. Compared with the September 2012 ECB staff macroeconomic projections, the ranges for 2012 and 2013 have been revised downwards.”
--ECB president Mario Draghi, Dec. 6th, 2012

Here’s a brain teaser. Look at the two Marios, Monti and Draghi. No one would deny that they are exceptionally intelligent and perceptive people. Any country or central bank would be happy to have either of them at the helm. They are both Ivy League-trained economists (Monti at Yale, and Draghi at MIT). Either of them can think rings around most European or American politicians. I have had the occasion to meet them both a few times, and they are very impressive.

And yet, they are both pursuing policies that can only end in disaster, not only for Italy, but for Europe. I can’t believe that I could possibly know anything about economics or monetary policy that they do not; that is a truism: they know everything. So how do we explain the reckless and suicidal policies that they are pursuing today? I can offer a political explanation for their behavior and a psychological one, but neither are adequate. Politically, neither has sufficient authority to reject deflationism and to embrace reflation. Psychologically, Italian technocrats like the two Marios labor under the northern prejudice about the Latins, that they are lazy and hopelessly corrupt. It is understandable that these incorruptible technocrats would like to prove that the Latins are not constitutionally inferior to the Protestants and can live with a hard currency. Those are reasons but not very persuasive ones.

It is hard to believe that they are fully conscious of the fact that the policies they are pursuing are wrong and that they are both guilty of misfeasance and nonfeasance. Somehow they have convinced themselves that austerity, deflation and depression are, in the long run, good for Italy and for the eurozone. After all, every northern country has gone through austerity at least once since 1980 and they have all emerged stronger and more competitive. Why shouldn’t the south? I have to assume that their thought-process is that starvation is painful in the short-run but beneficial in the long run. If so, then one must ask: how large must the pile of contrary evidence grow before they can admit error, or have they gotten in too deep to ever admit error? I can understand that it is hard to call off a war just as you are starting to lose.