The country's slow-motion bank run could end the euro -- if the ECB lets it.
Bank runs usually have one speed: all-out-sprinting. But today, the Greeks are jogging.
There's been a quiet bank run in Greece the past three years. Since 2009, Greek banks have lost somewhere between 25 and 30 percent of their deposits. That's actually surprisingly low considering that a euro in a Greek bank doesn't look like it's worth as much as a euro in a German bank. The calculus is simple. Greece might turn its euros into cheaper drachmas and Germany won't. Why wouldn't more Greek people move their money to be safe?
Increasingly, they are. On Monday and Tuesday alone, Greeks withdrew over €1.2 billion ($1.53 billion). That's roughly 0.75 percent of remaining Greek deposits. This still-gradual bank run -- what FT Alphaville's Joseph Cotterill calls a "bank jog" -- is accelerating because Greek politics is making a Greek exit look more imminent.
It is a classic case of self-fulfilling economic expectations. Greeks are nervous about leaving the euro. The nervousness leads to a bank run. A bank run increases the chance that Greece will have to leave the euro. Which makes people more nervous. And around we go.
GOOD NIGHT, EURO
As Greek banks lose deposits, they need new sources of funding. But they can't raise money from markets. That leaves the ECB. The ECB has so far been a reluctant lender-of-last-resort, but it has been a lender-of-last-resort -- for banks, if not countries. The Cliff Notes version is that the ECB has kept Greek banks afloat by giving them money in exchange for collateral.* Warning bells might be going off. If Greek banks have good collateral, why can't they use it to get private loans? The answer is that they don't have good collateral. In other words, if Greece defaults and exits, the ECB will be stuck holding a bag of mostly worthless pieces of paper.
How big is the problem? Let's take a look under the hood of the ECB. The below chart courtesy of Scotty Barber shows so-called TARGET2 balances. It's a bit technical, but TARGET2 shows how much countries owe or are owed by the ECB. That's more or less a decent proxy for where deposits are moving from and to within the euro zone.
A Greek default would effectively cost the ECB roughly €100 billion ($127 billion), to be split between the remaining euro zone members.
Here's how this could push Greek out of the euro zone. Greek banks are running out of collateral. Even bad collateral. All they have is really bad collateral. As the bank jog speeds up, they need to get more and more money from the ECB. But they might not have good enough collateral to get it. The ECB can change its rules and accept dodgier collateral -- but that would open the ECB up to even bigger losses down the line, assuming a Greek exit is inevitable.
If the ECB says no, then the jig would be up for Greece. Its banks would run out of money. That's when the bank jog would turn into a full-fledged run and then a sprint -- if it hadn't already. Of course, when banks don't have money, nobody has money. The Greek government wouldn't have a choice: It would have to start printing new drachmas. Good night, euro.
AFTER GREECE ...
The damage won't stop there. Take a look at the TARGET2 balances again. Italian and Spanish banks are even more dependent on ECB funding than Greece. Already, there are signs of a bank racewalk going on among them. If the ECB cut the cord on Greece, Italian and Spanish depositors would frantically move their euros to German banks to protect themselves against the same fate. This deposit drain would eventually push them into the same collateral bind. The ECB would have to dramatically reverse itself to save the common currency.
Let's take a step back for a minute. The world of TARGET2 balances can be something of a rabbit hole, but there are two big takeaways here. First, the Greek bank jog will put more pressure on the ECB to do more. It will have to decide again whether or not to boot Greece from the euro zone. And second, a Greek exit would be a mess for Italy and Spain regardless of whether Greek politicians or the ECB makes the move.
It's hard to imagine the ECB pulling the plug on Greece anytime soon. Europe doesn't have anywhere near the bailout fund it needs ready, nor a consensus on euro bonds, nor on more aggressive ECB action. But the longer the ECB keeps Greek, Italian, and Spanish banks on life support, the greater the final cost if one of them exits -- and the greater the panic will hit the other countries in that event. The danger is that the ECB will lose its nerve -- that it will worry about potential future losses. That's what Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann fretted over a few months back. That could become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
The biggest thing Europe has to fear is ECB fear of a euro breakup.
* It's a bit more complicated than that. There are two ways banks effectively get money from the ECB. They can either pledge collateral to the ECB directly, or pledge collateral to their national central banks. The benefit of the latter option -- so-called Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) -- is that banks can use worse collateral. Still, the ECB has to okay the collateral. ELA are technically liabilities of each individual country, but if a country defaulted and left the euro zone, the ECB would be on the hook. Joseph Cotterill has a good summary of ECB versus ELA liquidity in Greece.
A new report details a black market in nuclear materials.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press published a horrifying report about criminal networks in the former Soviet Union trying to sell “radioactive material to Middle Eastern extremists.” At the center of these cases, of which the AP learned of four in the past five years, was a “thriving black market in nuclear materials” in a “tiny and impoverished Eastern European country”: Moldova.
It’s a new iteration of an old problem with a familiar geography. The breakup of the Soviet Union left a superpower’s worth of nuclear weapons scattered across several countries without a superpower’s capacity to keep track of them. When Harvard’s Graham Allison flagged this problem in 1996, he wrote that the collapse of Russia’s “command-and-control society” left nothing secure. To wit:
Why Americans tend more and more to want inexperienced presidential candidates
The presidency, it’s often said, is a job for which everyone arrives unprepared. But just how unprepared is unprepared enough?
Political handicappers weigh presidential candidates’ partisanship, ideology, money, endorsements, consultants, and, of course, experience. Yet they too rarely consider an element of growing importance to voters: freshness. Increasingly, American voters view being qualified for the presidency as a disqualification.
In 2003, I announced in National Journal the 14-Year Rule. The rule was actually discovered by a presidential speechwriter named John McConnell, but because his job required him to keep his name out of print, I graciously stepped up to take credit. It is well known that to be elected president, you pretty much have to have been a governor or a U.S. senator. What McConnell had figured out was this: No one gets elected president who needs longer than 14 years to get from his or her first gubernatorial or Senate victory to either the presidency or the vice presidency.* Surprised, I scoured the history books and found that the rule works astonishingly well going back to the early 20th century, when the modern era of presidential electioneering began.
Also notable about this brazen show of might is that the missiles traveled through two countries, Iran and Iraq, before hitting their 11 targets in Syria. This means that both countries either gave their permission or simply didn’t confront Putin about the use of their airspace on his birthday.
It leaves people bed-bound and drives some to suicide, but there's little research money devoted to the disease. Now, change is coming, thanks to the patients themselves.
This past July, Brian Vastag, a former science reporter, placed an op-ed with his former employer, the Washington Post. It was an open letter to the National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, a man Vastag had formerly used as a source on his beat.
“I’ve been felled by the most forlorn of orphan illnesses,” Vastag wrote. “At 43, my productive life may well be over.”
There was no cure for his disease, known by some as chronic fatigue syndrome, Vastag wrote, and little NIH funding available to search for one. Would Collins step up and change that?
“As the leader of our nation’s medical research enterprise, you have a decision to make,” he wrote. “Do you want the NIH to be part of these solutions, or will the nation’s medical research agency continue to be part of the problem?”
In a new book, the former Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross explores just how close Israel came to attacking Iran, and why Susan Rice accused Benjamin Netanyahu of throwing “everything but the n-word” at Barack Obama.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Washington early next month for a meeting with President Obama, he should at least know that he is more popular in the White House than Vladimir Putin. But not by much.
This meeting will not reset the relationship between the two men in any significant way, and not only because Netanyahu has decided to troll Obama by accepting the Irving Kristol Award from the American Enterprise Institute on this same short trip. The meeting between the two leaders will most likely be businesslike and correct, but the gap between the two is essentially unbridgeable. From Netanyahu’s perspective, the hopelessly naive Obama broke a solemn promise to never allow Iran to cross the nuclear threshold. From Obama’s perspective, Netanyahu violated crucial norms of U.S.-Israel relations by publicly and bitterly criticizing an Iran deal that—from Obama’s perspective—protects Israel, and then by taking the nearly unprecedented step of organizing a partisan (and, by the way, losing and self-destructive) lobbying campaign against the deal on Capitol Hill.
Somewhere in Europe, a man who goes by the name “Mikro” spends his days and nights targeting Islamic State supporters on Twitter.
In August 2014, a Twitter account affiliated with Anonymous, the hacker-crusader collective, declared “full-scale cyber war” against ISIS: “Welcome to Operation Ice #ISIS, where #Anonymous will do it’s [sic] part in combating #ISIS’s influence in social media and shut them down.”
In July, I traveled to a gloomy European capital city to meet one of the “cyber warriors” behind this operation. Online, he goes by the pseudonym Mikro. He is vigilant, bordering on paranoid, about hiding his actual identity, on account of all the death threats he has received. But a few months after I initiated a relationship with him on Twitter, Mikro allowed me to visit him in the apartment he shares with his girlfriend and two Rottweilers. He works alone from his chaotic living room, using an old, battered computer—not the state-of-the-art setup I had envisaged. On an average day, he told me, he spends up to 16 hours fixed to his sofa. He starts around noon, just after he wakes up, and works late into the night and early morning.
Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.
“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”
The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.
That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
“If the office is going to become a collection of employees not working together, it essentially becomes no different than a coffee shop.”
There’s plenty of research out there on the benefits of remote and flexible work. It’s been shown to lead to increased productivity, and has an undeniable benefit for work-life balance. But what does it do to everyone back at the office?
In a 2013 memo to workers explaining why the company was eliminating policies that allowed remote work, Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s head of human resources,argued that some of the “best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussion,” and that actual presence in the office encourages better collaboration and communication.
National Geographic Magazine has opened its annual photo contest, with the deadline for submissions coming up on November 16, 2015.
National Geographic Magazine has opened its annual photo contest, with the deadline for submissions coming up on November 16, 2015. The Grand Prize Winner will receive $10,000 and a trip to National Geographic headquarters to participate in its annual photography seminar. The kind folks at National Geographic were once again kind enough to let me choose among the contest entries so far for display here. Captions written by the individual photographers.