Listen to this article
Give us your feedback
Thank you for your feedback.
What do you think?
This article is from today’s FT Opinion email. Sign up to receive a daily digest of the big issues straight to your inbox.
Italians may once have been enthusiastic supporters of the European project, but the results of this month’s elections make it clear that those warm feelings have cooled. The vote delivered a big victory to the Eurosceptic insurgents of the Five Star Movement, founded less than a decade ago by an irascible comedian. Meanwhile, the governing centre-left Democratic party, in which the European establishment had put its trust, suffered a punishing defeat.
“Why are Italian voters so disenchanted?” asks Martin Wolf in his most recent column. The obvious answer is that Italy’s economy has performed dismally while its policy makers have been ineffective. But it is the eurozone that has become the biggest scapegoat for their frustration.
Not without reason, Martin says. Macroeconomic policy in the eurozone has let Italy down, allowing huge gulfs to open up between the performances of different member countries — and restricting governments’ freedom to direct national policy. If Italian leaders, whatever their political stripe, have no choice but to carry out policies handed down from Brussels, then why not vote for a party created by an angry clown?
Echoes of Smoot-Hawley: Donald Trump’s intervention to block Broadcom’s hostile bid for US chipmaker Qualcomm is the latest example of his protectionist bent, writes Richard Hurowitz. For clues about what will happen if he continues on this path, we should remember one of the most notorious legislative blunders in American economic history: the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariffs that led to an unfettered trade war and global economic misery.
From Eeyore to Tigger: Philip Hammond, the UK chancellor, wasn’t joking when he promised his Spring Statement would ‘not be a fiscal event’, says Paul Johnson, director of the UK’s Institute for Fiscal Studies. That is no bad thing. The growth and fiscal numbers have not changed on anything like the scale that would justify a shift in policy — but neither do they justify Mr Hammond’s peculiar shift from gloom-monger to bouncy optimist.
Keeping secrets: Brooke Masters tells the extraordinary tale of Jeffrey Wertkin, the former US Department of Justice employee who copied and stole 40 secret whistleblower complaints and then tried to sell them back to the accused companies. The lurid story is a lesson in how much whistleblowers need society’s protection. People who are brave enough to report wrongdoing must feel safe to come forward.
You’re fired! (And rehired): Edward Luce observes that with the sacking of US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump has now cleared the administration of almost all those who would oppose him. His replacement, former CIA director Mike Pompeo, shares the president’s anti-globalist mindset. But, says Courtney Weaver, with the notable exception of Mr Tillerson, the Trump White House has been like the Hotel California. Whether you check out after 10 days like Anthony Scaramucci, or seven months like Steve Bannon, you can never really leave. The president likes to hold tight to his small circle of confidants — we may not have seen the last of some familiar faces.
Best of the rest
Philip Hammond is trying to hide the pain of austerity. Don’t fall for it — Faiza Shaheen in the Guardian
India’s state run banks must be privatised — Nandan Nilekani in The Hindustan Times
The last temptation: how evangelicals got hooked on Donald Trump— Michael Gerson in The Atlantic
Will Betsy DeVos expand the school-to-prison pipeline? — Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times
Trump’s trade war won’t take place — Jean-Pierre Petit in Le Monde (in French)
Tell us what you think
Do you think it’s time for the UK government to ease austerity and increase public spending?
In the run-up to the Spring Statement both Labour and Conservative MPs called on Philip Hammond to loosen the purse strings, following news that the Treasury had met its deficit reduction targets. But today’s statement
As part of an initiative to spotlight our readers’ opinions, we are asking for your perspective on this question. Should Philip Hammond have increased public spending? Send your opinion (maximum 250 words) to email@example.com by Wednesday. We will publish a selection of the best in the FT later this week.
What you’ve been saying
Our attitudes to work and family life are out of date — letter from Helen Rose
Having children should not affect your career progression and so there should not be a right or wrong time to have children. Talking about having children in these terms simply ingrains existing attitudes and further cements the status quo. The way our society functions has changed significantly over the past 50 years, yet our attitudes towards balancing work and family life remain outdated.
Research from TSB shows almost half of men feel there is a societal stigma attached to taking shared parental leave. And we know many women struggle to find ways back into the workforce after an extended period of leave. We must reframe the conversation we’re having. Employers must recognise the need to support employees when they become parents, so they can still achieve their career aspirations and reach their potential. One shouldn’t cancel out the other.
Comment from Spaven on How the UK might take action over Skripal attack
One of the most powerful economic sanctions applied against Iran proved to be bans on providing insurance. UK companies were stopped from insuring Iranian ships and aircraft in 2011. Because the global reinsurance market is focused on London, this had the effect of grounding all Iran’s non-domestic commercial aviation and keeping Iranian tankers in port, because no other countries’ ports would accept uninsured vessels. It is difficult to picture a military strike that could have such a devastating effect on an economy as that!
Divestment should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy — letter from Stephen Beer
Change can be accelerated if investors focus much harder on industries that are significant users of fossil fuels. That focus should be expressed through engagement and voting at annual meetings, alongside the option to divest. Divestment should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy. Focusing on the supply of fossil fuels may assuage the conscience, but it is not clear how that will lead to change without shareholder activism elsewhere. Attention should also be devoted to the demand for those fuels from other companies represented in an investment portfolio.
Instant Insight: Appointing Pompeo brings Trump’s America First policy closer The US president has fired almost all those who do not share his instincts
Mohammed bin Salman’s triumphal tour masks mis-steps at home The crown prince’s relentless efforts to rebrand Saudi Arabia has sown bitter seeds
Welcome to Donald Trump’s Hotel California You can check out of this president’s White House but you can never really leave
Instant Insight: Grown-up Philip Hammond tries to make the best of Brexit The UK chancellor’s Spring Statement contained glimmers of good news
Free Lunch: You’re not as rich as you think Beware of treating pseudo-wealth as the real thing
Instant Insight: How the UK might take action over Skripal attack Moscow could be surprised by the severity of the British reaction
Opinion today: How trade wars become real wars Donald Trump and Xi Jinping’s readiness to stoke patriotic grievances could be explosive
Give us fewer Budgets, but keep up quarterly corporate reporting Philip Hammond’s approach to the Spring Statement should not be adopted by business
Whistleblowers deserve our thanks — and protection, too Many remain sceptical about people willing to turn in their colleagues
Markets Insight: Bitcoin not the answer to a cashless society Digital token reveals the weakness of our current payment systems
FT View: Philip Hammond delivers scant fiscal cheer amid Brexit gloom The chancellor’s minimalist Spring Statement ignored long-term perils
FT View: Rex Tillerson’s abject exit from Foggy Bottom Mike Pompeo needs to ensure US diplomacy has a seat at the table
The Big Read
The Big Read: Backlash grows over Chinese deals for Germany’s corporate jewels Geely’s investment in Daimler crystallises fears about a loss of engineering knowhow and expertise