Italy’s triple-dip recession has wiped out all its growth since 2000

Italy's Lost Decade

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing Italy to join the euro. It hasn't grown since.

After its GDP fell 0.2 percent, Italy is stuck in a triple-dip recession. Yes, triple: its economy started shrinking in 2008, relapsed in 2011, and now again in 2014. Although, at this point, it's probably more accurate to just call this a depression. After all, Italy's economy has contracted 11 of the previous 12 quarters. It's been enough to wipe out almost all its growth the past 14 years.

Think about that: Italy's GDP, as you can see above, is the same now as it was in 2000. That's actually worse than Japan, which has been the sick man of the global economy the past 25 years. It, at least, managed to grow 13 percent over this period. So what the heck has happened to Italy? Well, everything.

For one, Italy has genuine supply-side problems. It's too hard to start a business, too hard to expand one, and too hard to fire people. These obstacles all slow down its economy even in the best of times. Now, in the past, Italy could devalue its way to growth when these kind of structural problems became too much. But it couldn't do that with the euro. It could only reform, or stagnate. So it stagnated.

But Italy, like the rest of Europe, has genuine demand-side problems, too. The ECB is the main culprit here. It hasn't done nearly enough to support the recovery, and, at times, it's actually done the reverse. In 2011, for example, the ECB almost hiked the euro out of existence when it raised rates to fight phantom inflation, setting off a new panic. This irrational hawkishness is why Europe has fallen into a "lowflationary" trap like Japan's in the 1990s. And to make matters worse, Italy hasn't been able to offset this tight money with looser budgets, because the ECB has forced it into austerity, too.

In short, Italy missed the boom, but it hasn't missed the bust, which is still going on because of bad policy. Here's a bit of perspective on that. Seven years later, Italy's economy is still 9 percent smaller than it was before the crisis. But it only took the U.S. economy, yes, seven years to get back to where it'd been before the Great Depression hit.

Maybe it's time to stop calling this just a recession.

Matt O'Brien is a reporter for Wonkblog covering economic affairs. He was previously a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.
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