Before the Greeks say goodbye to the great European experiment, both Athens and the EU need to gird themselves for the mother of all economic fall-outs.
Is Greece ready to go it alone?
That's become the guessing game du jour after anti-austerity parties captured a shocking share of the vote in the latest Greek elections. But don't expect the drachma to return any time soon.
It won't be easy for either Greece or Europe to prepare for a divorce. If it was, they'd have already done so. Greece needs to get its budget ready, and Europe needs to get its firewall ready. The politics are terrible for both.
THE BUDGET AND THE FIREWALL
Right now, Greece is running a primary deficit. That means the Greek government would still need to borrow money even if it didn't have any interest payments to make. A euro exit and default wouldn't solve its austerity problem. A euro exit and default would create an even worse austerity problem -- or an inflation one. Remember: Greece is getting piles of cash from Europe as part of its bailout. Greece would lose that money if it defaults. And they wouldn't be able to replace it. Nobody wants to lend to them now and likely won't for a long, long time. Greece would have to either cut spending and raise taxes much more, or print the difference. It's a choice between hyperausterity and hyperinflation.
A premature Greek exit wouldn't be much better for Europe. It would set off a potentially euro-ending bank run. Depositors in Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy would pull their money out of local banks and move it to "safe" countries like Germany. The logic is simple: If countries can leave the euro zone, then not all euros are created equal. Euros in Italian banks might turn into cheaper lira overnight. Euros in German banks would stay euros -- or maybe even turn into stronger deutsche marks overnight. Investors would see this and bet on a breakup. Borrowing costs would soar.
There would only be one way to prevent a meltdown: Throw money at it. It would be the mother-of-all-bailouts to deal with the mother-of-all-bank runs. (A firewall is just a bailout fund that you haven't used yet). The ECB would have to buy bonds directly from troubled governments. And the Germans would have to give bonds to troubled governments -- a joint eurobond. It would take such a complete show of financial support to convince markets that Europe was determined to save itself at any cost.
But just as there is an unbalance of payments between Greece and Europe, there is also an unbalance of challenges. Greece's primary balance is more of an economic problem than a political hurdle. Europe's firewall is more of a political hurdle than an economic problem. That makes this a dangerous game.
NO DRACHMA (YET)
Neither side is ready for a split. Greece doesn't have a primary surplus and Europe doesn't have a genuine firewall. That gives both every incentive to kick the can a bit more. So that's exactly what we should expect -- for now.
The problem is that people eventually get tired of kicking the can -- and convince themselves that they might not need to.
As Greece gets closer and closer to a primary surplus, it will ask for more and more from Europe. That's basically what far-left leader Alexis Tsipras wants to do now. But Europe doesn't want to give in too much. Besides, Europe could just bailout everybody after a default, like the U.S. did with TARP. It would be messy -- and far worse than setting up a firewall in advance. But the world wouldn't end. So both sides might think that they have more leverage than they actually do. That's how you lose a game of chicken.
The safest strategy is simply to stop playing the game. Europe should create a firewall, kick Greece out of the euro, but then provide bridge loans to the troubled country.
The First Lady took to the stage at the Democratic National Convention, and united a divided hall.
Most convention speeches are forgotten almost before they’re finished. But tonight in Philadelphia, Michelle Obama delivered a speech that will be replayed, quoted, and anthologized for years. It was as pure a piece of political oratory as this campaign has offered, and instantly entered the pantheon of great convention speeches.
Obama stepped out onto a stage in front of a divided party, including delegates who had booed almost every mention of the presumptive nominee. And she delivered a speech that united the hall, bringing it to its feet.
She did it, moreover, her own way—forming a striking contrast with the night’s other speakers. She did it without shouting at the crowd. Without overtly slamming Republicans. Without turning explicitly negative. Her speech was laden with sharp barbs, but she delivered them calmly, sometimes wryly, biting her lower lip, hitting her cadence. It was a masterful performance.
When something goes wrong, I start with blunder, confusion, and miscalculation as the likely explanations. Planned-out wrongdoing is harder to pull off, more likely to backfire, and thus less probable.
But it is getting more difficult to dismiss the apparent Russian role in the DNC hack as blunder and confusion rather than plan.
“Real-world” authorities, from the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia to FBI sources to international security experts, say that the forensic evidence indicates the Russians. No independent authority strongly suggests otherwise. (Update the veteran reporters Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef cite evidence that the original hacker was “an agent of the Russian government.”)
The timing and precision of the leaks, on the day before the Democratic convention and on a topic intended to maximize divisions at that convention, is unlikely to be pure coincidence. If it were coincidence, why exactly now, with evidence drawn from hacks over previous months? Why mail only from the DNC, among all the organizations that have doubtless been hacked?
The foreign country most enthusiastic about Trump’s rise appears to be Russia, which would also be the foreign country most benefited by his policy changes, from his sowing doubts about NATO and the EU to his weakening of the RNC platform language about Ukraine.
For the party elders, day one of the convention was about scolding the left back together.
Against a restive backdrop, the party’s top lieutenants were forced into the role of prime time peacemakers, tasked with encouraging Democratic unity in a party that has only lately acquiesced to tenuous detente. They did so through a combination of alarmist truth telling—borne from the reality of a Trump-Clinton matchup that has lately gotten tighter—and cold-water scolding about party division—driven equally by frustration and exhaustion.
The pressures of national academic standards have pushed character education out of the classroom.
A few months ago, I presented the following scenario to my junior English students: Your boyfriend or girlfriend has committed a felony, during which other people were badly harmed. Should you or should you not turn him or her into the police?
The class immediately erupted with commentary. It was obvious, they said, that loyalty was paramount—not a single student said they’d “snitch.” They were unequivocally unconcerned about who was harmed in this hypothetical scenario. This troubled me.
This discussion was part of an introduction to an essay assignment about whether Americans should pay more for ethically produced food. We continued discussing other dilemmas, and the kids were more engaged that they’d been in weeks, grappling with big questions about values, character, and right versus wrong as I attempted to expand their thinking about who and what is affected—and why it matters—by their caloric choices.
The Democratic chairwoman had few supporters—but clung to her post for years, abetted by the indifference of the White House.
PHILADELPHIA—As Debbie Wasserman Schultz made her unceremonious exit as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, what was most remarkable was what you didn’t hear: practically anybody coming to her defense.
The Florida congresswoman did not go quietly. She reportedly resisted stepping down, and blamed subordinates for the content of the leaked emails that were released Friday, which clearly showed the committee’s posture of neutrality in the Democratic primary to have been a hollow pretense, just as Bernie Sanders and his supporters long contended. She finally relinquished the convention gavel only after receiving three days of strong-arming, a ceremonial position in the Clinton campaign, and a raucous round of boos at a convention breakfast.
Physicists can’t agree on whether the flow of future to past is real or a mental construct.
Einstein once described his friend Michele Besso as “the best sounding board in Europe” for scientific ideas. They attended university together in Zurich; later they were colleagues at the patent office in Bern. When Besso died in the spring of 1955, Einstein—knowing that his own time was also running out—wrote a now-famous letter to Besso’s family. “Now he has departed this strange world a little ahead of me,” Einstein wrote of his friend’s passing. “That signifies nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Einstein’s statement was not merely an attempt at consolation. Many physicists argue that Einstein’s position is implied by the two pillars of modern physics: Einstein’s masterpiece, the general theory of relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics. The laws that underlie these theories are time-symmetric—that is, the physics they describe is the same, regardless of whether the variable called “time” increases or decreases. Moreover, they say nothing at all about the point we call “now”—a special moment (or so it appears) for us, but seemingly undefined when we talk about the universe at large. The resulting timeless cosmos is sometimes called a “block universe”—a static block of space-time in which any flow of time, or passage through it, must presumably be a mental construct or other illusion.
Identity politics loomed large on the first night of the Democratic National Convention.
PHILADELPHIA––As successive speakers took the stage at the Democratic National Convention Monday, Farhad Manjoo of the New York Timesobserved that the participants were much more liberal than the ones that helped nominate Bill Clinton. One child spoke of having parents who were undocumented immigrants. Another was a college graduate who is here in this country unlawfully.
Those speakers alone would’ve marked a departure from the past. And alongside them were a lesbian veteran who spoke of serving in the days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” A disability-rights activist with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia spoke up against the prejudices faced by the community on whose behalf she works. And the whole roster highlighted the Democratic Party’s racial and gender diversity.
Stock-market crashes, terrorist attacks, and the dark side of “newsworthy” stories
Man bites dog. It is one of the oldest cliches in journalism, an acknowledgement of the idea that ordinary events are not newsworthy, whereas oddities, like a puppy-nibbling adult, deserve disproportionate coverage.
The rule is straightforward, but its implications are subtle. If journalists are encouraged to report extreme events, they guide both elite and public attitudes, leading many people, including experts, to feel like extreme events are more common than they actually are. By reporting on only the radically novel, the press can feed a popular illusion that the world is more terrible than it actually is.
Take finance, for example. Professional investors are fretting about the possibility of a massive stock-market crash, on par with 1987’s Black Monday. The statistical odds that such an event will occur within the next six months are about 1-in-60, according to historical data from 1929 to 1988. But when surveys between 1989 and 2015 asked investors to estimate the odds of such a crash in the coming months, the typical response was 1-in-10.
Two new novels ponder the still-urgent question of what could have compelled young women to do such terrible things.
The most fascinating part of the Manson story has always been the girls.
Not the man who cobbled together bits of hippie philosophy, Scientology and How to Win Friends and Influence People to gather followers who’d do his bidding and help make him a star (and when that didn’t work out, kill people to try to start a race war). The ones willing and vulnerable enough to be gathered. Who wanted a community to belong to.
Even now, no one knows whether Charles Manson believed his own insane manifesto, or was just using it as a tool to get what he wanted. But the girls believed. Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins—they believed. They belonged. And then, on two infamous evenings in 1969, they helped kill seven people.