Deriving a normal country: Italian capitalism and the political economy of financial derivatives

Lagna, Andrea (2013) Deriving a normal country: Italian capitalism and the political economy of financial derivatives. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

The financialisation literature is an invaluable resource to explore the expansion
of finance in modern capitalism. However, the debate focuses on the US and the UK
extensively, whilst being too general with regard to other contexts. This inattention
hinders a proper understanding of financialisation in its di↵erential nature across
societies. To rectify such limitation, this thesis advances a theoretically controlled
and historically informed study about a striking instance of financial excess outside
the Anglo-American scenario: derivatives in Italy.
The work argues that scholars are inattentive to the heterogeneous nature of
financialisation because they conceptualise the power of finance as entrenched in
socio-economic structures. As a result, they underplay the actors who adopt financialised
practices di↵erentially. Premised on this critique, the thesis advances an
agency-centred approach that analyses power from the perspective of agents. In so
doing, it examines the diverse traits of financialisation in relation to the specific
power struggles in which actors are involved.
Drawing on this method, the work shows that financialisation studies fail to appreciate
how key social forces deployed derivatives for political-strategic purposes in
the Italian context. During the 1990s, a neoliberal-reformist alliance of pro-market
technocrats and centre-left politicians got to power and pushed for Italy to join EMU.
This project functioned as an external limit on the domestic political-economic establishment
which relied on high public debt, the vast state-owned enterprise and the
opaque corporate-governance regime. In brief, citing a slogan widely used in those
days, the neoliberal-reformist coalition attempted to make Italy a ‘normal country’
in Europe. Derivatives were crucial in this regard because they helped the Italian
government comply with the EMU admission criteria. First, reformists encouraged
hedge funds to arbitrage the interest-rate convergence between Italian and German
bonds via OTC derivatives markets. Second, they arranged a currency swap that
window-dressed the 1997 deficit.
The thesis concludes by examining how other actors adopted derivatives to deal
with the neoliberal-driven modernisation of Italy. It studies how the Agnelli family
used equity swaps to secure ownership over FIAT and how municipalities manipulated
budget restrictions through interest rate swaps.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > International Relations
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HB Economic theory. Demography > HB0501 Capital. Capitalism
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN5201 Italy
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 28 Nov 2013 16:08
Last Modified: 17 Sep 2015 12:33
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/47062

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