In the long run, we're all dead, but if you're part of the eurozone, what's the difference? You might as well be already. Indeed, it seems almost impossible, but Italy has only grown 4 percent—in total—since the euro was created 16 years ago. That's worse than Greece.
Now, it hasn't all been bad news in Europe. Not only did Germany grow at a faster-than-expected 2.8 percent annual pace in the fourth quarter of 2014, but so did Spain. Even Portugal grew at a 2 percent pace. It was enough that the eurozone as a whole grew an at-least-it's-not-a-recession 1.2 percent. But these glimmers of good news are only those—glimmers. Greece's latest austerity showdown with Europe has scared its banks and businesses so much that its nascent recovery turned into a 0.8 percent contraction. And while Italy didn't shrink, it didn't grow either.
It doesn't get any better if you take a longer view. Portugal, as you can see above, has only grown 7.2 percent in 16 years, Greece a little more than 4 percent, and Italy right at 4 percent. What's gone wrong? Well, everything. They all have supply and demand problems. That first part means that it's too hard to start a business, too hard to expand one and too hard to fire people. That makes their economies sclerotic even in the good times, and doomed in the bad ones. But those bad times have been worse than they should have been, because the ECB has refused to do its job and keep inflation near 2 percent. In fact, it actually made things worse by raising rates twice in 2011 to fight what was mostly phantom inflation. It didn't help that they were forced to try to slash their deficits all at the same time. The result was a double-dip recession that's almost pushed them back to where they were when the euro began—and made their debt problems worse.
Italy is the real problem here, though. Greece and Portugal both have a lot of debt and both have been bailed out, but at least they're starting to recover and are small enough that Europe can extend-and-pretend what they owe into a tomorrow that never quite comes. But Italy isn't recovering at all, and its debts are too big to be ignored. So, to say the least, it's going to need to start growing more than 0.25 percent a year. The question is whether its people will give up on that happening inside the euro.
Who could blame them if they did?