This is a crisis of the welfare state, and Italy is a model basket case. Mario Monti, who is tipped to lead a new government of technocrats, once described the Italian economy as a case of “self-inflicted strangulation.” Government debt is 120% of GDP, making Italy the world’s third largest borrower after the U.S. and Japan. Its economy last grew at more than 2% a year in 2000.
An aging and shrinking population is a symptom, but not a leading cause, of the eurosclerosis. A fifth of Italy’s 60 million people are 65 or older and make increasingly expensive claims on state-paid pensions and other benefits. In fast-growing Turkey, only 6.3% fit that demographic. Italian women have on average 1.2 children, putting the country’s birth rate at 207th out of 221 countries.
But the bulk of the responsibility lies with politicians. Mr. Berlusconi, Italy’s richest man, promised a shake up each time he ran for office (in 1994, 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2008). He was the longest serving premier in post-war Italy, from 2001 to 2006, controlled parliament and could have pushed through reforms. He didn’t. Promises to lower taxes and hack away at regulations and protections for Italy’s powerful guilds—from taxi drivers to pharmacists to journalists—were broken.