The euro is crashing to record lows against the Swiss franc, and interest rates on Italian and Spanish bonds have hit record highs. This latest episode in the eurozone crisis is a result of fears that the contagion is now hitting Italy. With a $2tn economy and $2.45tn in debt, Italy is too big to fail and the European authorities are worried.
Although there is currently little basis for the concern that Italy’s interest rates could rise high enough to put its solvency in jeopardy, financial markets are acting irrationally and elevating both the fear and the prospects of a self-fulfilling prophesy. The fact that the European authorities cannot even agree on how to handle the debt of Greece – an economy less than one sixth the size of Italy – does not inspire confidence in their capacity to manage a bigger crisis.
The weaker eurozone economies – Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain – are already facing the prospect of years of economic punishment, including extremely high levels of unemployment (16%, 12%, 14% and 21%, respectively). Since the point of all this self-inflicted misery is to save the euro, it is worth asking whether the euro is worth saving. And it is worth asking this question from the point of view of the majority of Europeans who work for a living – that is, from a progressive point of view.
It is often argued that the monetary union, which now includes 17 countries, must be maintained for the sake of the European project. This includes such worthy ideals as European solidarity, building common standards for human rights and social inclusion, keeping rightwing nationalism in check and, of course, the economic and political integration that underlies such progress.