Luxembourg’s Finance Minister said it out loud: "If the Greek people or the Greek political elite do not apply all of these conditions, they exclude themselves from the Eurozone." All of these conditions. And there are a lot of them. Then he added crucial words: "The impact on other countries now will be less important than a year ago."
Even the Soviets with their iron-fisted approach couldn't come up with a reliable five-year plan. In the US, one-year forecasts are accurate only by accident. And ten-year forecasts, whether by the White House or Congress, are the ugly sisters of BS—hilarious gimmickry during the dreariness of politics. So President Obama unveiled his budget for fiscal 2013 through 2022.
Tokyo, April 1996. Takano-sensei is mysteriously pleased with my progress or has changed strategy and is using false positive reinforcement to motivate me to work harder. Either way, it emboldens me, and I’m in high spirits when I enter an Internet café and ask in Japanese if they have AOL.
"The European Union is suffering under Germany,” said Georgios Karatzaferis, president of the right-wing LAOS party. He accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of trying to "impose her will on Southern Europeans." He called the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, and Luxembourg "satellite states" of Germany. And then, with a few words, he pushed Greece a step closer to bankruptcy.
High-speed rail works if it links big urban areas and has lots of riders. The most successful is the Tokyo-Osaka Shinkansen: 150 million passengers per year. Even Amtrak’s slower route between New York City and Washington DC is profitable, though the rest of Amtrak is not. In theory, California’s High-Speed Rail Project falls into that category. In Reality, it has turned into a scandal before construction has even started.
After the German-French council of ministers in Paris, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy gave a joint TV interview at the Elysée Palace, the official residence of the French president. Merkel berated François Hollande, Sarkozy’s top challenger in the upcoming presidential election. Then Sarkozy lashed out against him. Never before had a German chancellor campaigned so hard for a French president.
Japanese companies spent $70 billion on acquisitions overseas in 2011—a record. Armed with a ferociously strong yen, they’re going overseas to escape the pressures at home where electricity rationing has become part of corporate life, along with a stagnant economy and a dwindling working-age population. But they’re doing it just when Japan can least afford it.
Tokyo, April 1996. Cacophonous cawing of crows weaves itself disconcertingly into my dreams until it wakes me up altogether. It’s 5:45 a.m. Even the dual building walls of the love hotel fail to deaden the racket, and when you’re half asleep, it’s almost scary. But in front of my eyes is a tuft of black hair. She sleeps without sound, without movement, her arms contorted underneath her. I inhale her chemistry as if it were a controlled substance.
Greeks yanked €65 billion out of their bank accounts since 2009, the Finance Minister told parliament. “Of that, €16 billion was legally taken abroad,” he said. The rest? Stashed under mattresses or hauled to Switzerland via the land route. A whopping 20% of GDP! Capital flight of massive proportions. They see a forced conversion of their euros to drachmas. And politicians are planning for the “afterwards.”
California is broke again. The “balanced” budget last summer turned into a pile of overoptimistic assumptions. Out-of-money date is March 8. $3.3 billion must be dug up, pronto. Last fall, California had to borrow $21 billion to make it to April. Now all eyes are on Facebook. Its IPO will singlehandedly solve all budget problems forever—just like Google’s IPO had done.
Tokyo, April 1996. Mr. Song has already left. Mr. Kim is watching a garish talk show on TV. The kitchen sink is full of dirty bowls, utensils, pots, and pans. Vapors of grease and kimchi hang in the air.
“I’m going to walk to school,” I tell Mr. Kim.
Now he has what he has been looking for: incontrovertible proof that I’m crazy.
With IPO hype blowing like a maxed-out hairdryer into my face, I Googled ... Friendster—the shining star of social networking that everyone had drooled over. Turns out, in 2009, Friendster was bought for a pittance by MOL Global, a Malaysian company. In 2011, it discontinued social networking activities and rebranded itself as a gaming site. But there is one valuable asset it still has: user information.
Unemployment is a staggering problem in Eurozone countries that are at the core of the debt crisis. Spain’s jobless rate jumped to 22.8%. Among 16-24 year-olds, it’s an unimaginable 51.4%. In Greece, youth unemployment reached 46.6%. In Portugal, it’s 30.7%, in Italy 30.1%. But highly educated young people are leaving in massive numbers—with harsh long-term consequences for their heavily indebted countries.
Apparently, Charles Plosser, president of the Philadelphia Fed, failed to check with his handlers when he said that the Fed might have to raise interest rates later this year—from practically zero to almost zero, I guess—though just last Thursday, the Fed had announced the extension of its zero-interest-rate policy through late 2014. The umpteenth extension since 2009. Now, the economy is addicted to free money, and the damage is severe.
Tokyo, April 1996. I sit on my tatami, Japanese textbook in my lap. Mr. Song is starting his morning routine—cooking rice, chopping veggies, and frying meat. Mr. Kim emerges from the toilet and turns on the TV. But before he sits down to watch it, which he does every morning to improve his listening comprehension, he makes one step toward my tatami and stops at the edge.
Hope is pervading the media that an agreement might be reached between Greece and private sector investors on a debt swap, maybe even this weekend, though everyone is hobnobbing at the World Economic Forum in Davos where all sorts of things have already been said and leaked between drinks. But now a horrible sign has appeared: German individual investors are gobbling up Greek sovereign bonds.
In her speech at the World Economic Forum, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that Germany might be overwhelmed by its efforts to bail out the Eurozone. Germany must not make promises that it can’t keep, she said. It doesn't make sense to demand a doubling or tripling of Germany's contribution. "How long will that remain credible?" she asked. That reluctance has made Germany a favorite punching bag. And yet the numbers are staggering.
We finally have statistical proof that CEOs are ... a confusing bunch. PWC’s survey shows that CEOs in 60 countries are exhibiting signs of gloom about the economy but not their own companies. German CEOs, facing the Eurozone debt crisis on a daily basis, aren’t feeling the pain, according to Ifo’s indices. The Empire State Manufacturing Survey points at spiking optimism. And all three show patterns of false hope.
"The case of Greece is hopeless," Otmar Issing said today. He should know. He was a member of the Executive Board of the Bundesbank and of the Governing Council of the ECB. Another substantive voice in an increasingly loud chorus. But it’s legally impossible to kick Greece out of the Eurozone. So he suggested a procedure—a procedure that has been happening all along.
Treasury Secretary “Hank” Paulson was the trailblazer with his proposal for TARP in September 2008. He went to the Congress with a list of demands—unlimited powers to hand unlimited amounts of taxpayer money to whomever—and threatened that the whole world would collapse if his demands weren’t met. It worked. So Greek prime ministers imitated him. And now Christine Lagarde, managing director at the IMF, tried it too.