Italy Versus Japan, by Paul Krugman, in NY Times: A question (to which I don’t have the full answer): why are the interest rates on Italian and Japanese debt so different? As of right now, 10-year Japanese bonds are yielding 1.09%; 10-year Italian bonds 5.76%.
I ask this because in a number of ways the two countries look similar. Both have high debt levels, although Japan’s is higher. Both have awful demography. In other respects, the numbers if anything favor Italy, which has a much smaller current deficit as a percentage of GDP.
So what’s going on? I normally argue that members of the euro zone that have excessive costs — which certainly includes Italy — face a straightjacket in the sense that they will be forced to go through a period of grinding deflation to restore competitiveness. But while Japan has its own currency, it’s suffering from its own deflation all the same.
What is true is that the Bank of Japan is keeping rates at zero, while the European Central Bank seems determined to raise rates. Is that enough to explain the difference? Or is it something about the absence of a proper lender-of-last-resort function?
Or, finally, do Japanese politics — for all their disappointments — just look more mature than those of Italy?
I actually don’t have a firm view. But it seems to be an important puzzle to resolve.