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Eurozone crisis: Uncertainty meets more uncertainty

Petros Giannakouris/AP

Shipyard workers demand their unpaid wages in central Athens. Greece is now as close as it's ever been to leaving the eurozone.

I went on "The Patt Morrison Show" on Tuesday to join NPR "Planet Money" correspondent Zoe Chace and travel expert Terry McCabe to discuss the ongoing, seemingly neverending eurozone crisis. As you probably know, there are now serious conversations happening in Europe about Greece exiting the euro. Spain and Italy could be in trouble. Ireland and Portugal already are. Governments have fallen; most recently French President Nicholas Sakozy lost his re-election bid to socialist François Hollande. 

Despite all this, it's easy to talk yourself into a false sense of calm. After all, the eurozone crisis feels as if it's been going in for years — because it has been going on for years!

At the Financial Times, Martin Wolf doesn't think we should be calm. He thinks we should acknowledge reality: that post-financial crisis, the world is in a "contained depression." And we're unprepared for the consequences of a eurozone meltdown:

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Greek debt crisis: Is this a financial coup d'etat?

The Parliamentary Headquarters Of Major Eurozone Nations

Vladimir Rys/Getty Images

ATHENS, GREECE - NOVEMBER 03: A general view of the building of the Greek Parliament on the Syntagma (Constitution) Square is pictured on November 03, 2011 in Athens, Greece.

I've been steering clear of the euro crisis for the past month or so, but given the latest frenzied spate of negotiations about how to prevent Greece from defaulting on its debt, I figured it was time to jump back in. The latest news is pretty straightforward: over the weekend, the Greek parliament voted to accept a new set of austerity measures, in exchange for a new round of bailout money — $171 billion, roughly.

This hasn't gone down well with the population, according the the New York Times:

[C]haos on the streets of Athens, where more than 80,000 people turned out to protest on Sunday, and in other cities across Greece reflected a growing dread — certainly among Greeks, but also among economists and perhaps even European officials — that the sharp belt-tightening and the bailout money it brings will still not be enough to keep the country from going over a precipice.

Angry protesters in the capital threw rocks at the police, who fired back with tear gas. After nightfall, demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, setting fire to more than 40 buildings, including a historic theater in downtown Athens, the worst damage in the city since May 2010, when three people were killed when protesters firebombed a bank. There were clashes in Salonika in the north, Patra in the west, Volos in central Greece, and on the islands of Crete and Corfu.

Greece and its foreign lenders are locked in a dangerous brinkmanship over the future of the nation and the euro. Until recently, a Greek default and exit from the euro zone was seen as unthinkable. [my emphasis] Now, though experts say that the European Union is not prepared for a default and does not want one, the dynamic has shifted from trying to save Greece to trying to contain the damage if it turns out to be unsalvageable.

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