Maybe that’s why the Irish roots of Jim O’Neill make him the cream of the Goldman crop. What that makes Mario Monti is entirely a matter for you to decide, based on the evidence.
I was reading some Tweets this afternoon, in which MEP Dan Hannan (fine man, good Irish stock) was taking the piss out of Monti’s rousing speech to the European Parliament. All good knockabout stuff, but let no man underestimate the Italian Prime Minister. You’d have to be up very early indeed to catch any flies on our Mario.
First up, he is a man who understands the markets. He is actively – and quite successfully – trying to reposition Italy as a sort of ClubMed Franco-Germany. After all, the Italians make cars like the Germans, and wines like the French. As a former adman, I am bound to observe that this is a product claim with at the very least a degree of substance. Mario told Italian Sky News last night that he sees “no reason why the bond spread between Berlin and Rome might one day soon be zero”. Trust me, I’ve written speeches for others, and this guy is a class act.
Second, he has avoided daft claims about the impossible – and stuck instead to what Italy can reasonably achieve. The markets have responded warmly to this. I think it is in no small part down to Signor Monti that the country just got away €4 billion of benchmark securities due in November 2014 at a yield of 3.41%….down from 4.83% at the last similar-maturity bond auction on January 13th.
But above all, Mario Monti has the common sense and killer instinct of a Mensa fox. Not only has the bloke grasped every opportunity to steer the euronauts away from austerity and towards growth investment, he has also used his political acumen to argue one very simple point: Greece is dead – don’t throw the good money after bad, whack it into those ezone economies that can, with help, survive. (For example, Italy).
What do I think? I suspect Mario is one of those individuals in history who accelerate changes that were going to happen anyway. Is that an insult? Not at all: he has been given a job to do, and thus far he has excelled. He inspires confidence, and he is his own man.
That last point is key. So many ClubMed politicians have wound up – whether they liked it or not – becoming (and playing) the victim. In taking on the received wisdom of austerity, Monti has become not so much victim as victor. This morning he openly took a swipe at the EU’s two founding nations as “widely recognised to be at the heart of eurozone problems”. There isn’t a thinking economist anywhere on the planet who would disagree with that, but it took a very brave man to say the unthinkable.
I have read his speech to the EU Parliament in Brussels today. I think it the cynical speech of a financial technician, and that worries me. His mentions of ‘democracy’ in particular struck me as gratuitous appeals to the gallery. But sometimes, the manipulative technocrat can be exactly what a liberal democracy needs….provided he knows when to step back.
If I had to lay money right now on the chances of a ClubMed survivor that might go on to prosper, it would be Italy. As early as 2009, The Slog fingered the country as suffering from accountancy sleight-of-hand at the fiscal level. Back then, I plonked for Italy as the Dark Horse of default: but Mario Monti stands an excellent chance of denying that prophecy.
Italy’s Prime Minister is a player. He is also – blinding glimpse of the obvious – Italian. And as such, he is more Mussolini than Berlusconi. But whereas Musso made the trains run on time, my feeling is that Monti Python will try to squeeze every last drop of potential out of what Italia as a brand has going for it.