Improbable ideas

Martin Feldstein pens a curious opinion piece (FT sub needed) arguing that Italy is perfectly capable of saving itself from a Euro exit. Did anybody ever suggest otherwise? Italy is capable of anything. The problem is that the country’s political and professional classes are incapable of putting national interest before their own.

Is there a mechanism to make the professional class behave? My thought is that rather than some counter-productive tax raid on bank accounts (as is often suggested in Italy), what would be much more effective would be a mandatory conversion of a share of bank deposits over a certain minimum into government bonds yielding 5 percent interest. No one would have their savings confiscated — indeed they would get more interest than in the bank. Such a move would have the effect of forcing the Italian elite to take responsibility for debt and therefore for economic reforms that would lead to growth.

The cash raised could be used to pay down a chunk of debt, thereby reducing interest demanded on the rest. But the real objective would be to get Italians focused on reform.

It is often pointed out that Italy’s private wealth is three to four times its public debt. The real issue is getting people to take responsibility.

The problem? Can you imagine Monti calling the MPs into a closed-door meeting of parliament and demanding they vote to support such a move? They’d all be trying to make mobile phone calls to their bankers ordering TTs to Switzerland.

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