Time for Plan B. The Spanish bank bailout didn't even work for one day.
Apparently, $125 billion billion doesn't buy much these days. Not even six hours of relief.
Over the weekend, Europe announced a bailout of Spain's ailing banks. It wasn't quite financial shock-and-awe, but €100 billion ($125 billion) seemed like an impressive enough sum to buy at least a few weeks -- or at worst a few days, right? -- of calm in the markets. It wasn't. If anything, things are getting worse faster in Europe. What's going on?
First, a quick recap. As Paul Krugman put it, Spain was Europe's Florida. It had a prodigious housing bubble. And now its cajas saving banks have a prodigious amount of bad real estate loans on their books. But the Spanish government can't afford to bail its banks out. It can't print euros, and it can't borrow euros, except at punitive rates. We have a word for this. That word is "broke".
But Spain resisted going to Germany for a bailout. Spain feared the austere terms Germany would likely impose as part of any deal. So Spain played a game of chicken. First, it tried to get the European Central Bank (ECB) to bail out its banks instead. Germany balked. Then, it threatened eurogeddon -- memorably saying that they would not be bullied because "Spain is not Uganda" -- if it didn't at least get better terms on its bailout.
At first, it looked like Spain had won. Europe announced that the €100 billion aid package for Spain's banks would come without any further conditionality. Translation: Spain would get the money without having to do any more austerity than it had already promised to do. But then things unraveled. And fast.
The chart below from Bloomberg shows Spain's 10-year borrowing costs. Remember, the point of the Spanish bank bailout is, in large part, to reduce yields on Spanish bonds to break up the doom loop between weak sovereigns and weak banks. About that....
After briefly retreating, Spanish borrowing costs surged above 6.5 percent. That's the market giving a vote of no-confidence for the bank bailout. But the bad news hasn't stopped there. The Spanish IBEX stock index gave away a 5.9 percent increase, and finished down on the day. Italian bonds got hammered too. So did the Italian FTSE MIB stock index.
Why did markets turn so quickly from gloom to doom? The short answer: Investors are worried the Spanish bank bailout might make things worse -- and with good reason. The devil is in the details, and the Europeans have been embarrassingly short on those. Here are the four big questions that remain to be answered.
1) What's the interest rate on the €100 billion loan to Spain?
This being Europe, the term "bailout" is a bit misleading. Germany isn't cutting a check for Spain. It's a loan. European officials have promised that the interest rate on this loan is well below what Spain can borrow in the markets -- it'd better be, or what would be the point? -- but they haven't said what that rate is. It's hard to judge how good a deal Spain is getting without knowing this.
2) How much will the bailout add to Spain's debt?
This being Europe, Spain's bank bailout has a slightly Byzantine structure. The bailout funds will go to Spain's so-called Fund for Orderly Recapitalization of Banks (FROB) -- a government agency that will then inject the money into struggling banks. The Spanish government, however, backstops the FROB.
But this being Europe, this financial legerdemain doesn't really matter. The Spanish government is ultimately on the hook, full stop. So the bank "bailout" will add roughly 10 percentage points to Spain's public debt-to-GDP ratio, assuming growth doesn't collapse further. That's a big assumption.
3) Will the bailout loan be senior to other debt?
This being Europe, there are two bailout funds. There's the soon-to-be defunct European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the soon-to-be online European Stability Mechanism (ESM). Spoiler alert: They're supposed to increase ... stability. They haven't exactly succeeded.
This being Europe, it actually matters a great deal whether the EFSF or the ESM loans the money to Spain. The ESM is senior to all other creditors, after the IMF. The EFSF isn't. In plain English, an ESM loan increases the odds that private bondholders will take a loss if Spain ever restructures its debt. An EFSF loan doesn't. So private investors will demand higher interest rates on Spanish bonds to compensate for the higher risk of losses if the money comes from the ESM. That's precisely what happened on Monday after European officials announced that it would indeed be the ESM making the loans.
But this being Europe, they subsequently reversed themselves. They said that the money might come from the EFSF instead -- at least at first. In the long run, it's unclear how much this would even matter. In the short run, Spain is still on the hook as a partial guarantor of EFSF loans. Um, what? The EFSF works by issuing bonds backstopped by Europe's healthy economies. But Spain can't get out of its commitment as a guarantor because its government technically isn't getting bailed out. Its banks are. So Spain would be guaranteeing a loan it's taking out. That makes even less sense than you think.
4) Will the bank bailout come with new strings attached?
This being Europe, it's not too surprising that the initial headlines that Spain was getting this money unconditionally might not be true. On Monday, German officials said that the so-called Troika of the EC, ECB, and IMF would "supervise" the bailout -- which is eurospeak for imposing more austere austerity. Still, it's unclear what this means. It's possible the Germans were talking about a previously announced agreement where European officials will reform Spain's sclerotic financial sector. But it's also possible that they were talking about further spending cuts and tax hikes.
This being Europe, it's almost impossible to say. But it's another reason for markets to worry. Troika reforms in Greece, Portugal and Ireland have knee-capped growth. And a country that can't print its own money can't pay back its debts when it's not growing. It creates self-fulfilling doubts about its solvency. It's just another reason for investors to push up the yields on Spanish debt.
There's a simple way to tell if the Spanish bank bailout is working. Look at Spanish borrowing costs. If they're falling, it's working. If they're not, it's not. By that metric, the 48-hour old bailout is already a clear failure.
It's easy to understand why. The bailout will increase Spain's debt. It will make Spanish debt riskier for private investors. And it might make it harder for Spain to pay back its debts. It kicks the can at the expense of zombifying Spain's economy.
Here's the worst part. It's not even clear that the Eurocrats understand the mistakes they're making. If they did, they wouldn't keep repeating them, from Greece to Ireland to Portugal, and now Spain. They're running out of time. So are we.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
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.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
ISIS did not merely blast apart old stones—it attacked the very foundations of pluralistic society.
If the ruined ruins of Palmyra could speak, they would marvel at our shock. After all, they have been sacked before. In their mute and shattered eloquence, they spoke for centuries not only about the cultures that built them but also about the cultures that destroyed them—about the fragility of civilization itself, even when it is incarnated in stone. No designation of sanctity, by God or by UNESCO, suffices to protect the past. The past is helpless. Instead these ruins, all ruins, have had the effect of lifting the past out of history and into time. They carry the spectator away from facts and toward reveries.
In the 18th century, after the publication in London of The Ruins of Palmyra, a pioneering volume of etchings by Robert Wood, who had traveled to the Syrian desert with the rather colorful James Dawkins, a fellow antiquarian and politician, the desolation of Palmyra became a recurring symbol for ephemerality and the vanity of all human endeavors. “It is the natural and common fate of cities,” Wood dryly remarked in one of the essays in his book, “to have their memory longer preserved than their ruins.” Wood’s beautiful and meticulous prints served as inspirations for paintings, and it was in response to one of those paintings that Diderot wrote some famous pages in his great Salons of 1767: “The ideas ruins evoke in me are grand. Everything comes to nothing, everything perishes, everything passes, only the world remains, only time endures. ... Wherever I cast my glance, the objects surrounding me announce death and compel my resignation to what awaits me. What is my ephemeral existence in comparison with that of a rock being worn down, of a valley being formed, of a forest that’s dying, of these deteriorating masses suspended above my head? I see the marble of tombs crumble into powder and I don’t want to die!”
Heather Armstrong’s Dooce once drew millions of readers. Her blog’s semi-retirement speaks to the challenges of earning money as an individual blogger today.
The success story of Dooce.com was once blogger lore, told and re-told in playgroups and Meetups—anywhere hyper-verbal people with Wordpress accounts gathered. “It happened for that Dooce lady,” they would say. “It could happen for your blog, too.”
Dooce has its origin in the late 1990s, when a young lapsed Mormon named Heather Armstrong taught herself HTML code and moved to Los Angeles. She got a job in web design and began blogging about her life on her personal site, Dooce.com.
The site’s name evolved out of her friends’ AOL Instant-Messenger slang for dude, or its more incredulous cousin, "doooood!” About a year later, Armstrong was fired for writing about her co-workers on the site—an experience that, for a good portion of the ‘aughts, came known as “getting dooced.” She eloped with her now ex-husband, Jon, moved to Salt Lake City, and eventually started blogging full time again.
In continuing to tinker with the universe she built eight years after it ended, J.K. Rowling might be falling into the same trap as Star Wars’s George Lucas.
September 1st, 2015 marked a curious footnote in Harry Potter marginalia: According to the series’s elaborate timeline, rarely referenced in the books themselves, it was the day James S. Potter, Harry’s eldest son, started school at Hogwarts. It’s not an event directly written about in the books, nor one of particular importance, but their creator, J.K. Rowling, dutifully took to Twitter to announce what amounts to footnote details: that James was sorted into House Gryffindor, just like his father, to the disappointment of Teddy Lupin, Harry’s godson, apparently a Hufflepuff.
It’s not earth-shattering information that Harry’s kid would end up in the same house his father was in, and the Harry Potter series’s insistence on sorting all of its characters into four broad personality quadrants largely based on their family names has always struggled to stand up to scrutiny. Still, Rowling’s tweet prompted much garment-rending among the books’ devoted fans. Can a tweet really amount to a piece of canonical information for a book? There isn’t much harm in Rowling providing these little embellishments years after her books were published, but even idle tinkering can be a dangerous path to take, with the obvious example being the insistent tweaks wrought by George Lucas on his Star Wars series.
Learning to program involves a lot of Googling, logic, and trial-and-error—but almost nothing beyond fourth-grade arithmetic.
I’m not in favor of anyone learning to code unless she really wants to. I believe you should follow your bliss, career-wise, because most of the things you’d buy with all the money you’d make as a programmer won’t make you happy. Also, if your only reason for learning to code is because you want to be a journalist and you think that’s the only way to break into the field, that’s false.
I’m all for people not becoming coders, in other words—as long they make that decision for the right reasons. “I’m bad at math” is not the right reason.
Math has very little to do with coding, especially at the early stages. In fact, I’m not even sure why people conflate the two. (Maybe it has to do with the fact that both fields are male-dominated.)
It’s not just Trump: With Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina on the rise, Republicans are loving outsiders and shunning politicians.
For the first time in a long time, Donald Trump isn’t the most interesting story in the 2016 presidential race. That's partly because his dominance in the Republican polls, while still surprising, is no longer novel and increasingly well explored and explained, but it’s also partly because what’s going on with the rest of the GOP field is far more interesting.
Some Republican candidates are promoting a policy change that would hurt workers by disguising it with a pleasant-sounding phrase.
Americans like their Social Security benefits quite a bit: They oppose cuts to them by a margin of two to one. Even Millennials, who won’t be seeing benefits anytime soon, feel protective of Social Security, according to a poll from the Pew Research Center.
One way to effectively cut Social Security benefits is to raise the age at which they kick in. And yet, when asked specifically about raising the retirement age, Americans are mixed.
Perhaps confusion arises because “raising the age of retirement” sounds like a nice jobs program for older Americans, or an end to forced retirement. I sympathize with that position: Anyone who wants to retire later and work into old age should have a job. But that’s not what raising the retirement age would entail—the fact is, raising the Social Security retirement age represents a reduction in benefits: Because the monthly payments a person receives grow bigger the later in life he or she retires, raising the age cutoff reduces the total amount of money paid out.
The man who made computers personal was a genius and a jerk. A new documentary wonders whether his legacy can accommodate both realities.
An iPhone is a machine much like any other: motherboard, modem, microphone, microchip, battery, wire of gold and silver and copper twisting and snaking, the whole assembly arranged under a piece of glass whose surface—coated with an oxide of indium and tin to make it electrically conductive—sparks to life at the touch of a warm-blooded finger. But an iPhone, too, is much more than a machine. The neat ecosystem that hums under its heat-activated glass holds grocery lists and photos and games and jokes and news and books and music and secrets and the voices of loved ones and, quite possibly, every text you’ve ever exchanged with your best friend. Thought, memory, empathy, the stuff we sometimes shorthand as “the soul”: There it all is, zapping through metal whose curves and coils were designed to be held in a human hand.