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20 CES Open Forum Series

Eurozone Crisis and Social Models: What We Can Learn from Italy and Spain

Jun 25, 2014 Sofia A. Perez


This paper considers the role of social model features in the economic performance of Italy and Spain during the run-up to the Eurozone crisis, as well as the consequences of that crisis, in turn, for the two countries social models. It takes issue with the prevailing view - what I refer to as the “competitiveness thesis” - which attri- butes the debtor status of the two countries to a lack of competitive capacity rooted in social model features. This competitiveness thesis has been key in justifying the “liberalization plus austerity” measures that European institutions have demanded in return for financial support for Italy and Spain at critical points during the crisis. The paper challenges this prevailing wisdom. First, it reviews the characteristics of the Italian and Spanish social models and their evolution in the period prior to the crisis, revealing a far more complex, dynamic and differentiated picture than is given in the political economy literature. Second, the paper considers various ways in which social model characteristics are said to have contributed to the Eurozone crisis, finding such explana- tions wanting. Italy and Spain ́s debtor status was primarily the result of much broader dynamics in the Euro- zone, including capital flows from richer to poorer countries that affected economic demand, with social model features playing, at most, an ancillary role. More aggressive reforms responding to EU demands in Spain may have increased the long term social and economic costs of the crisis, whereas the political stalemate that slowed such reforms in Italy may have paradoxically mitigated these costs. The comparison of the two countries thus suggests that, in the absence of broader macro-institutional reform of the Eurozone, compliance with EU dic- tates may have had perverse effects.

Eurozone, Eurozone crisis, social models, Spain, Italy, labor market, welfare state, internal devaluation.