Posts Tagged ‘Mario Monti’

When Britain was like Italy

April 21, 2013

A day in London allows for a few minutes talking about How Asia Works on CNBC here, and a longer discussion on the UK’s Monocle Radio ‘Globalist’ programme, (beginning at the 16 minute mark).

In between I decide to spend a couple of hours wandering the corridors of the Royal Courts of Justice, as the large building that contains the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal on The Strand is confusingly called. The place is of interest to anyone who wants to understand the need to constantly reform institutions. In particular, Italians should visit this building. It was constructed in the late 19th century to stop the British justice system being what Italy’s is today.

Law Royal Courts panorama

Before anyone enters, the essential book to read is Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, probably his greatest, which centres on a legal case that has multiplied and gone on for so long that no one can really remember exactly what the case is about, or quite why it started. People just attend hearings because the case(s) has(ve) taken on life(ves) of its(their) own. All that is clearly remembered is that the whole, huge, expensive, draining, painful affair concerns the Jarndyce family, which is enshrined in the case name, Jarndyce v Jarndyce. The different sides of the Jarndyce family just do what the lawyers tell them, and the case does not end until it has consumed all the family’s money, and caused the death of a sympathetic character, because the system makes it possible for cases never to end.

Things were so bad in the British legal system by the 1860s — students of development should note that this had not stopped the British economy growing and becoming the world’s most powerful — that there was eventually a cross-party consensus that radical reform was necessary. A royal commission (essentially an independent review) was set up to consolidate a morass of different legal institutions under one roof, streamline procedures and simplify judicial processes so that the system worked. The Royal Courts of Justice, which opened with their 18 (now 88) courts in 1882, shunted Britain on from the world of Bleak House. Opening the court, Queen Victoria’s speech stated the aim was to ‘conduce to the more speedy and efficient administration of justice’.

Almost always, you can just wander in to a court here and sit down and listen to what is going on. I spent half an hour observing the goings on in each of two randomly selected courtrooms. In Italy, I haven’t seen courtrooms beyond the provincial level (except on television). But some very loose points of comparison can be offered. Here in London there is no chatting during court proceedings, no playing around with mobile phones, no lawyers saying hello to their friends and colleagues in court while ignoring their clients, no male lawyers dedicating their working day to trying to flirt with any woman in sight. And everything is taped. When I once asked to tape record proceedings in an Italian court the judge grudgingly acceded, but with a look that suggested I was proposing a coup d’etat.

Unlike Italian courts, the Royal Courts give a sense of being places where stuff gets done. This is not to say that there isn’t plenty wrong with the justice system in the UK. However, compared with Italy, this is the modern world. The Royal Courts are a living museum of institutional development that is well worth a visit. For the kids, there is a room displaying all the silly outfits that judges and lawyers have worn over the years — and thankfully wear less of these days. The grown-up exhibit is the institutional progress captured in quite a beautiful building with its varied, interesting and business-like courtrooms.

Could Italy have the same thing in the foreseeable future? One way to consider this is to remember that the leaders who made the British reforms of the 1870s possible were Gladstone and Disraeli, working in concert. Would you consider that any of the putative ‘reformers’ of contemporary Italian politics — Monti,Berlusconi, Bersani, or Grillo — is in their league?


Imagine this in Italy: Edwin Wilkins Field, one of the key reformers and the Secretary to the royal commission of 1865 on the Royal Courts of Justice, declined remuneration!

Evolution continues: didn’t have time to go see it, but the latest addition to the Royal Courts is the Rolls Building, opened in 2011.

The dog has it

February 25, 2013

As polls closed in Disneyland today, it looked like the big winner was Goofy. And why not? Given the choice between Mickey Mouse, Mini Mouse and Donald Duck, I might well have voted for Goofy myself.

The result puts Disneyland right back at the centre of global entertainment. All that stuff about a post-global crisis return to normality was so much hot air. It is time to tune in for the next episode of the Disney story — the biggest, most unbelievable, most enduring cartoon of them all.

Ital election goofy

Ital election grillo red beret

Ital election Grillo votes buffon

That is sooo not all folks!

See where Goofy’s votes came from:

This graphic from Corriere della Sera is useful. It shows the fall in the popular vote for, in turn, Berlusconi’s mob, Berlusconi’s pro-fascist Northern League allies, Bersani’s mob, and the rump of the Christian Democrats (UDC).  All the ‘traditional’ parties haemorrhaged votes. In terms of what people who turned away from the traditional parties did, around half of Beppe Grillo’s vote came from the centre left Democratic Party. To me, that says Bersani has to go. But of course he won’t go, because Italian politicians of the left don’t understand principle any more than ones from the right.

Elections in Disneyland

February 18, 2013

Only a week now and the kids are asking: ‘Who’s gonna win, daddy?’ How do I know, when the people running are larger than life itself.


Mickey Mouse. The original cartoon character. He’ll make you laugh. He’ll make you cry. And if you are under 20, he may well offer you cash for a quick one. Mickey has posted a late surge in the polls as many Italians conclude that no one will ever be funnier.

Ital election Mickey face

Ital election berlusconi face



















Mini Mouse. Billed as a new kind of mouse, Mini turned out to be much like Mickey — all talk, talk, talk — but not nearly as funny. Mini speaks English, but who cares except the foreigners who pay Disneyland’s bills? May have to move to Brussels.

Ital election mini

Ital election monti



















Goofy. Definitely funny. Appears daily in the piazza encouraging citizens to shout ‘Fuck Off’ at no one in particular. Indubitably a new kind of political animal. However a lack of facial grooming and tendency to piss on public monuments leaves the average Italian concerned he undermines the national image for form over substance in all things.

Ital election goofy

Ital election grillo red beret
















Donald Duck. What’s the problem with Disneyland? If only everyone listened to Donald, Disneyland would run fine. Donald is a well-meaning, somewhat gruff old time favourite, yet somehow never quite as funny as Mickey.

Ital election donald duck

Ital election bersani


















Projected outcome: Coalition of family favourites. Loads of laughs for everyone except Italians.

Ital election that's all folks

The cavalry mounts up

September 6, 2012



It isn’t yet Custer’s last stand, for Euroland is the longest Hollywood movie ever made. But Flexible Mario’s press conference today gave us the predictable shape of the final showdown.

Mario’s ECB holds in one hand the promise of unlimited sovereign bond purchases of up to three years maturity (this may include buying long bonds with less than three years to expiry, his language was unclear on the detail). The seniority of the ECB claim on the bonds will be no greater than that of private investors. In the other hand, Mario holds the great northern European stick of what he repeatedly called ‘strict and effective conditionality’. Indeed Mario promised a stick more flesh-splitting still, holding out the prospect of not only EFSF-ESM supervision, but also IMF involvement as well.

As a former Italian bureaucrat who was closely involved in his country’s successful efforts to avoid structural reforms in the 90s and 00s, Mario knows better than most that you need to point the gun directly at the heads of club-Med types such as himself.


If conditionality is agreed, and sov’ bond buying in the primary market goes ahead, it will be known as OMT. We must be careful not to confuse this with OMD. OMT means Outright Monetary Transactions. OMD was the 1980s’ band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Clearly, the two things are unrelated.

Mr Market, meanwhile, is very happy. He continues to believe that Flexible Mario’s pronouncements mean that Frau Merkel will pick up the tab for Club Med Europe. But it is not so. All that Flexible Mario has done is to prepare the stage on which politicians will play, a point which he repeatedly stressed.

Finally, the other salient point today: Mario claimed there was zero discussion in the ECB council of the possibility of NOT sterilising some of the bond purchases, if they happen. In other words, quantitative easing is not yet under discussion.

Comic interlude of the day:

Some genius from Fox News asked Mario how dangerous it is that the ECB already has bonds to the value of 33% of Euro-area GDP on its balance sheet. The ECB balance sheet actually contains bonds to the value of about 3% of Euro-area GDP. Yo, Murdoch…

Graphic of the day

This BIS graphic shows how French banks, which had the biggest exposure to the mess to begin with, have also been slower than their German counterparts to unwind their exposure to ‘peripheral’ Europe. Put another way, when you are very deep in ‘le poo poo’, it is that much harder to climb out.


Forgot to mention:

Since the cavalry are mounting up, I should repeat my little ditty of December 2011

IMF, IMF, riding as to war

We all hope you will not be…

As clueless as before

Oh! [repeat indefinitely until IMF arrives]

What is it with the FT and Italians?

The FT’s love affair with Monti spilleth over (sub needed) even unto Draghi… I can only assume it is because the badly-dressed FT journalists suffer well-cut suit envy.

La mamma severa

September 3, 2012

Queuing on the south side of the San Gottardo tunnel in Switzerland surrounded by Dutch and German cars, I wonder whether my fellow travellers have been convinced by their summer sojourns in Italy that their southern neighbour is changing. Myself, I cannot see it. Italy is miserable from the cuts that have been going on for years. But structurally the story is the same. In this respect, Mario Monti appears to be a continuation of Silvio Berlusconi, minus the bunga bunga.

What has Monti done? A labour law that no one in Italy believes is more liberal than the old one. Nothing to simplify legislation, the tax regime, or the bureaucracy. And absolutely nothing to create a functioning, more efficient judicial system. Just budget cuts. In sum: Berlusconi 2.0.

I am sitting in a German petrol station pondering this when I realise I have to get out of my car to fill it up with LPG. Unlike in Italy, there is no law in Germany that mandates that only a petrol station employee can fill a car up with gas. I glance wistfully over my shoulder, recognising that feudalism has its upside.

Mr Market, meanwhile, is feeling quite sanguine, having convinced himself that Frau Merkel is readying her cheque-book to bail Italy out. Or at least being ready to let Flexible Mario at the ECB write the cheque. The ECB is to announce the latest terms of its support for so-called ‘peripheral’ countries later this week.

Mr Market, methinks, underestimates Frau Merkel. Italians have been asking for 20 years for a northern European mamma who will put the kibosh on their bad habits, and I suspect they are to be rudely surprised by getting what they wished for. One way or another, with the failure of Monti, a bunch of Germans and IMF folk are going to end up moving to Rome to oversee the structural reforms that Italy requires. Either that, or it’s out of the Euro.

Related posts:

Why Super Mario is made of paper. As his 2012 budget foretold. My own cunning plan to solve the Italian debt crisis. How the buck stops in Paris.  The global picture of what we are dealing with. Why you should never listen to the Brits about Europe.