September 19, 2011 9:52AM

Europe’s Debt Problem in Microcosm

Rachel Donadio reports in the New York Times:

COMITINI, Italy — With only 960 residents and a handful of roads, this tiny hilltop village in the arid, sulfurous hills of southern Sicily does not appear to have major traffic problems. But that does not prevent it from having one full‐​time traffic officer — and eight auxiliaries.

The auxiliaries, who earn a respectable 800 euros a month, or $1,100, to work 20 hours a week, are among about 64 Comitini residents employed by the town, the product of an entrenched jobs‐​for‐​votes system pervasive in Italian politics at all levels.

She goes on to explain that much local spending comes from the national government, which is now in dire straits:

But what may be saving Comitini’s economy is precisely what is strangling Italy’s and other ailing economies throughout Europe. Public spending has driven up the public debt to 120 percent of gross domestic product, the highest percentage in the euro zone after Greece’s.