Soros Thinks The Unthinkable About Europe

In a lengthy, honest, and somewhat gloomy op-ed in The New York Review Of Books, George Soros follows a similar tack to our post yesterday with regard to the current crisis and its origins in and similarities to the 2007/8 subprime crisis in the US. He then steps into discussing possible resolutions and does what any and all Keynesian-clowns are unable to do - think the unthinkable in order to reach a tenable solution.

In just four steps, he outlines how the unthinkable could be possible but critically (as we are well aware) explains the German-centric nature of any resolution (and the change of heart required to get there). A bona fide taxing-and-borrowing central treasury under a new treaty seems the approach-du-jour for Mr. Soros and while it may have merit as an 'unthinkable' idea, he ends with the threat that [his approach] "is the only way to forestall a possible financial meltdown and another Great Depression".

The Start

The euro crisis is a direct consequence of the crash of 2008. When Lehman Brothers failed, the entire financial system started to collapse and had to be put on artificial life support. This took the form of substituting the sovereign credit of governments for the bank and other credit that had collapsed. At a memorable meeting of European finance ministers in November 2008, they guaranteed that no other financial institutions that are important to the workings of the financial system would be allowed to fail, and their example was followed by the United States.


Angela Merkel then declared that the guarantee should be exercised by each European state individually, not by the European Union or the eurozone acting as a whole. This sowed the seeds of the euro crisis because it revealed and activated a hidden weakness in the construction of the euro: the lack of a common treasury. The crisis itself erupted more than a year later, in 2010.


The Current

Risk premiums that must be paid to buy government bonds have increased, stocks have plummeted, led by bank stocks, and recently even the euro has broken out of its trading range on the downside. The volatility of markets is reminiscent of the crash of 2008.


Unfortunately the capacity of the financial authorities to take the measures necessary to contain the crisis has been severely restricted by the recent ruling of the German Constitutional Court. It appears that the authorities have reached the end of the road with their policy of “kicking the can down the road.” Even if a catastrophe can be avoided, one thing is certain: the pressure to reduce deficits will push the eurozone into prolonged recession. This will have incalculable political consequences. The euro crisis could endanger the political cohesion of the European Union.


There is no escape from this gloomy scenario as long as the authorities persist in their current course. They could, however, change course. They could recognize that they have reached the end of the road and take a radically different approach. Instead of acquiescing in the absence of a solution and trying to buy time, they could look for a solution first and then find a path leading to it.


The unthinkable (and just four steps)

To resolve a crisis in which the impossible becomes possible it is necessary to think about the unthinkable. To start with, it is imperative to prepare for the possibility of default and defection from the eurozone in the case of Greece, Portugal, and perhaps Ireland. To prevent a financial meltdown, four sets of measures would have to be taken.


First, bank deposits have to be protected. If a euro deposited in a Greek bank would be lost to the depositor, a euro deposited in an Italian bank would then be worth less than one in a German or Dutch bank and there would be a run on the banks of other deficit countries.


Second, some banks in the defaulting countries have to be kept functioning in order to keep the economy from breaking down.


Third, the European banking system would have to be recapitalized and put under European, as distinct from national, supervision.


Fourth, the government bonds of the other deficit countries would have to be protected from contagion. The last two requirements would apply even if no country defaults.


The Problem

All this would cost money. Under existing arrangements no more money is to be found and no new arrangements are allowed by the German Constitutional Court decision without the authorization of the Bundestag. 


[Any solution] would presuppose a radical change of heart, particularly in Germany. The German public still thinks that it has a choice about whether to support the euro or to abandon it. That is a mistake. The euro exists and the assets and liabilities of the financial system are so intermingled on the basis of a common currency that a breakdown of the euro would cause a meltdown beyond the capacity of the authorities to contain. The longer it takes for the German public to realize this, the heavier the price they and the rest of the world will have to pay.

The Solution

There is no alternative but to give birth to the missing ingredient: a European treasury with the power to tax and therefore to borrow. This would require a new treaty, transforming the EFSF into a full-fledged treasury.

The Alternative

...a possible financial meltdown and another Great Depression.


Read the full article here.


While it does seem apparent that our European brethren are pricing (sovereign debt and the entire capital structures of European financials) for the kind of scenario that we, Jefferies, Bass, and now Soros are concerned with, US equity market participants remain calmly aloof to the unfolding quagmire - if only they could look back and consider how Lehman impacted the rest of the world.