Bankers & Fools

After a tense week with world markets teetering on the edge of collapse Angela Merkle finally met with her French counterpart Nicholas Sarkozy and they ended the seventh month chill in their once cozy relationship. According to  The Independent, they faced a serious impasse regarding bank haircuts in the "déjà vu all over again" Greek financial crisis. Sarkozy fought tooth and nail to guarantee that the largest holders of Greek debt, the French banks, wouldn’t get a clipping. Merkel made a valiant effort to demand accountability from the banks but she finally caved in, giving great comfort to the second largest holders of Greek debt: the German banks.

According to the Financial Times, French banks are holding $53 billion in Greek debt, Credit Agricole alone is $30 billion invested, while German banks are holding $34 billion. Colloquially speaking, Frau Merkel and Monsieur Sarkozy know who their daddy is.

Follow the Money

One key question is missing from the discussion of the Greek sovereign debt crisis. Imagine a close friend is moaning non-stop about a debt owed to them that looks like it won’t be paid. Worst of all they borrowed the money from someone else in order to lend it! Most attentive and caring friends would make that most indelicate but necessary of inquiries. Who did you borrow the money from?

We are blessed to have a corporate media so polite  that they don’t burden us with these embarrassing questions. Where did the French and German banks get the $87 billion to lend the Greeks? They would have you think that these are the deposits of hard working Europeans, small businesses, corporations and maybe even tax revenue from governments. This is not the case. Banks use their assets as reserves against which they either “create” money to lend or borrow "created" money  from central banks, in this case, the European Central Bank. When buying government bonds, which supposedly have no risk, they use maximum leverage and actually have no reserve requirements.

As John Maudlin put it:

“Why is Greece important? Because so much of their debt is on the books of European banks. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth. And just a few years ago this seemed like a good thing. The rating agencies made Greek debt AAA, and banks could use massive leverage (almost 40 times in some European banks) and buy these bonds and make good money in the process.”

This means that $1 million in assets for a French bank could have been used as colleteral to borrow up to $40 million from the European Central Bank to buy Greek bonds. And where does the European Centeral Bank get the money? They use a designer mouse from Apple and make a few clicks on a very hip computer. The bank does not lend any of its own money or that of its depositors, though they would certainly have you  believe they did.

And What if?

So what happens in the case of default? In the case of default, banking regulations demand that the bank place in reserve the amount of money it loaned out. This maintains the integrity of the money and deters the moral hazard of “printing money”.

Greece has a GDP of around $300 billion and its federal budget deficit is close to $425 billion. How will they ever pay this back if this year alone they will add another $30 billion in debt? This money will never be paid back, but, then again, no one ever worked to earn it. Since it was made out of thin air why not just write it off?

This is the key question that Europe will ask as the austerity measures begin to fail. The problem isn’t that the banks would collapse. It could be arranged so the banks don’t take such a big hit to their reserve requirements. As the Financial Times notes, the examiners can look the other way, as if the loans were not defaulting. The real hit to the banks are the huge profits they will forgo for their shareholders. No one’s money is lost, but the integrity of the banking system would be questioned and the curtain would be pulled on the great banking/political/corporate ponzi scheme. The alternative is a generation of austerity to continue to maintain the extravagant lifestyle of the richest 1% who own most of the equity in the banks. No one will be dying of hunger or begging in the streets if the banks have a few bad years.

A Wise Man

William Lyon Mackenzie King was not only the longest serving prime minister of Canada, but also the longest in the history of the Commonwealth; having been Prime Minister of Canada for 22 years. Mackenzie King had four university degrees and never married. 

"Until the control of the issue of currency and credit is restored to government and recognized as its most conspicuous and sacred responsibility, all talks of the sovereignty of Parliament and of democracy is idle and futile.”  William Lyon Mackenzie King

His mother, Isabella Grace Mackenzie, didn’t raise no fool.


  1. That's not quite right.The money the Greeks and the rest of the PIIGS borrowed and then recklesly spent on socialist entitlements, service sector and property developments/ instead of investing them in competitive economies and manifacturing thus ensuring their future economic prosperity/, were quite real;some of them in the range of billions actually are still hidden in secret offshore bank accounts in Switzerland,Cyprus and the Caiman Island.Surely the "evil" bankers didn't shoved down the PIIGS's throats the REAL billions these countries gladly borrowed or in any way did forcibly make these highly irresponsible/and gullible in my opinion/nations take out loans they could not afford in a first place. Then like little kids in a toy store they went on lavishly spending their pocket money on creating unsustainable welfare states, an unproductive bloated public sector and a system of socialist entitlements,where tax evasion , corruption and outright steeling are rampant and still the norm in these societies.
    Greece and the rest of the PIIGS were nothing short of willing participants in a business contract and they have no one but their own naivette to blame for the current mess they are in.
    There is nothing for free in this life;not the ouzzo, nor sirtaki, nor suvlaki, nor the dancing and singing in the taverns every night.
    Well, surprise, surprise:the bill had just arrived.
    They will learn the hard way and hopefully learn that you can't spend what you haven't worked for or pretend that you have the moral right to renege on your obligations for whatever unvalid reason.
    Obviously the PIIGS never heard Mrs.Margaret Tacher's famous quote :"Socialism ends when you run out of other's people money".

  2. In what way they were real? Because those billions bought something?

    The fact is that they had no counter value.

    The current trend is monetization of others' assets.

  3. Bank-Money 101:
    Mr.Apple deposited 1000$ to Bank A. Bank-A keeps 100$ for reserve, and loans 900$ to Mr.Brad. Mr.Brad paid Mr. Charlie 900$ for his service. Mr. Charlie then save the 900$ back to Bank-A. Now Bank-A will keep 90$ as reserve, and loans 810$ out to somebody else. This process continues... In the end, Bank-A on the asset-side of the balance-sheet will have 1000$ vault cash as reserve, and loans of 4000$ to various party; the Bank also has 5000 liabilities (savings from all the individuals). So from Mr.Apple's 1000$, now we have 5000$ on the market. This is how bank "creates money", it serves one important purpose: to promote economic activity. If Mr.Apple has kept 1000$ under his bed, none of the following economic activity will happen. Now imagine most of the 4000$ loans cannot be repaid?

  4. Despite Greece’s promises, government spending is up over last year’s already bloated levels, the deficit is bigger than ever, and it has utterly failed to meet the promised sell-off of some government assets. Not a single public bureaucrat has been laid off so far. …Greece can pay off €300 of the €347 billion debt by selling off shares the government owns in publicly traded companies and much of its real estate holdings. The government owns stock in casinos, hotels, resorts, railways, docks, as well as utilities providing electricity and water. But Greek unions fiercely oppose even partial privatizations. Rolling blackouts are promised this week to dissuade the government from selling of even 17 percent of its stake in the Public Power Corporation. …Greeks apparently believe that they have Europe and the world over a barrel, that they can make the rest of the world pay their bills by threatening to default. Greece’s default would be painful for everyone, but for Europe and the United States, indeed for the world, the alternative would be even worse. If politicians in Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and other countries think that their bills will be picked up by taxpayers in other countries, they won’t control their spending and they won’t sell off assets to pay off these debts. Countries such as Greece have to be convinced that they will bear a real cost if they don’t fix their financial houses while they still have the assets to cover their debts. …The real problem is the incentives we are giving to other countries. We have to make sure that “Kicking the can down the road” isn’t an option
    To be blunt, Greek politicians have miserably failed. Wait, that’s not right. You can’t say someone has failed when they haven’t even tried. Let’s be more accurate and say that Greek politicians have succeeded. They have scammed money from taxpayers in other nations to prop up a venal and corrupt system of patronage and spoils. Sure, they’ve made a few cosmetic changes and trimmed around the edges, but handouts from abroad have enabled them to perpetuate a bloated state. And now they’re using a perverse form of blackmail (aided and abetted by big banks) to seek even more money.

  5. To First and Last Anonymous:

    I share your views and think when all the shouting and arm waving has died down in Europe,then many pairs of eyes will focus on America. However, as I have muttered before, America is the most powerful Nation on earth and in fact has saved the European beast from self destruction twice in the past 100 odd years. Somehow , I doubt that America will bother a third time with Europe but the UK might be a special case., dont wish America ill cause were gonna need Her soon.
    As an Brit living in the USA, I can tell you that Americans are not in the mood nor are they able to bail out any countries in the EU. Americans see European countries as hopeless socialist experiments with far to many Government handouts. The mood here is to stop giving money to other countries and take start taking care of the problems within the US. It remains to be seen if the US Government will listen to its voters but with an election coming up I sense that they will.

  6. As the financial implosion of several EU member nations threatens to devastate economies throughout the union, British “euroscepticism” appears to have been well-founded — and not on the prejudicial basis that Politeia would allege, but on the basis of several facts: A single currency cannot make sound economies out of unsound ones, and the euro could not transform the fantasies of socialist thinking into a viable economic system. Italy did not magically become a viable economy by abandoning the lira for the euro; neither did the Greek economy rehabilitate itself by leaving behind the drachma for the euro. Instead, the weaker economies have been stabilized by relying on the vitality of stronger economies. Europhiles may have considered the financial cost of a unified Europe to be manageable when times were good and the euro was steadily gaining value. Now, however, the true cost of building the EU is beginning to be counted, and it is a high cost indeed.
    Multiple bailouts of fundamentally unstable economies will not create European prosperity; it will simply export Greek and Italian poverty north of the Alps. The British have long been skeptical of the EU; now Germany — for years one of the strongest advocates of a united Europe — may join the “eurosceptic” ranks. A growing number of Germans are pining for the stability of the old Deutschmark
    In other words, discontent with the euro was as high a year ago in Germany as it currently is in Britain — and for the same reason: Germans do not want to bear the burden of paying for the inability of other nations to fix their own self-inflicted economic problems. According to Reuters, German discontent with with the EU may finally pressure the government of Angela Merkel to take decisive action:default for Greece and no eurobonds/fiscal union as confirmed today.
    The bad idea of a European Union is now coming to its logical conclusion, and it is no surprise that many Europeans are unwilling to impoverish themselves for an internationalist fantasy

  7. Yes,and capitalism ends when working people discover that their efforts have gone to reward the idle rich and they finally take matters into their own hands.