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Italy : escaping the high debt and low-growth trap


  • Céline Antonin

    (Observatoire français des conjonctures économiques)

  • Mattia Guerini

    (Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna)

  • Mauro Napoletano

    (Observatoire français des conjonctures économiques)

  • Francesco Vona

    (Observatoire français des conjonctures économiques)


With public debt amounting to 132.1% of GDP and negative productivity growth over the last twenty years, Italy appears to be stuck in a high-debt and low-growth trap. We focus on the causes of Italy's two main economic plights and discuss how they are intimately related: a slow growth limits the budgetary margins and casts doubts on public debt sustainability; the reduced fiscal space and the tight fiscal rules in turn weighs on growth and public investment. In the first part, we discuss the roots of the explosion of Italian public debt, the country's consolidation attempts in the 1990s and early 2000s and finally, the effects of the Great Recession and fiscal austerity. In the second part, we identify the structural weaknesses of the Italian economy. We notably emphasize the specialization bias towards low tech sectors, the “nanism” of Italian firms, the misallocation of talents and resources, the North-South divide and its related labor market consequences. We conclude with some policy recommendations for a revival of growth in Italy. Our first proposal calls for industrial policies which foster knowledge accumulation and firm learning. The second proposal envisages a new European fiscal golden rule which would remove specific public investments from the computation of structural primary balance. Our third proposal is instead related to labor market regulation, and advocates for the introduction of a minimum wage on the one hand, and the facilitation of retraining policies on the other hand. Our fourth proposal highlights the need to complete the banking union and to solve the issue of non-performing loans in order to improve the robustness of the Italian banking sector. Lastly, we conclude that Italy's fate is inextricably related to Europe's and that Italy needs more rather than less Europe to escape its high-debt and low-growth trap

Suggested Citation

  • Céline Antonin & Mattia Guerini & Mauro Napoletano & Francesco Vona, 2019. "Italy : escaping the high debt and low-growth trap," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/me28b7aoi8k, Sciences Po.
  • Handle: RePEc:spo:wpmain:info:hdl:2441/me28b7aoi8k7qunqdg5qlgrqk

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    Cited by:

    1. Cassandro, Nicola & Centra, Marco & Esposito, Piero & Guarascio, Dario, 2020. "What drives employment-unemployment transitions? Evidence from Italian task-based data," GLO Discussion Paper Series 563, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    2. Daniele, SCHILIRO', 2019. "Public debt and growth in Italy:Analysis and policy proposals," MPRA Paper 97950, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Nov 2019.

    More about this item


    Public debt; Negative productivity growth; Public investment; Fiscal rules; Industrial policy; Labour market;

    JEL classification:

    • E60 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - General
    • E61 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Policy Objectives; Policy Designs and Consistency; Policy Coordination
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General

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