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Niall Ferguson won an Emmy in 2009. He also has some pretty funny lines about capitalism.
Niall Ferguson is an extremely well-known and at times extremely controversial historian of finance, money, and imperialism. Born in Scotland, he now operates from a perch at Harvard. He's not afraid to tangle. And he's not afraid to be funny, something you have to concede no matter what you think of his conservative (some would say reactionary) politics.
I'd never seen him in action until yesterday, when at the Milken Institute Global Conference taking place this week in L.A. I caught him participating in a panel with the modest title of "The Future of Capitalism."
Prof. Ferguson outlined three varieties of existing capitalism: the old-school version we all know so well; a very new state-sponsored variation (see: China); and "cheese-eating" capitalism.
Ferguson enjoyed pronouncing those last few words. The cheese-eaters come from where you think they would: Europe. Social democrat-flavored Europe. Your socialist candidate for president of France, François Hollande, is a pretty solid example of Ferguson's cheese-eater. Hollande probably enjoys his cheese, so it's hardly a leap.
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CANNES, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 03: US President Barack Obama is welcomed by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the G20 Summit on November 3, 2011 in Cannes, France. World's top economic leaders are attending the G20 summit in Cannes on November 3rd and 4th, and are expected to debate current issues surrounding the global financial system in the hope of fending off a global recession and finding an answer to the Eurozone crisis. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The world's ninth largest economy is now joining the first largest in the unhappy doghouse of Standard & Poor's downgrades. Just as the U.S. was busted down from AAA (S&P's highest rating) to AA+, so, too will France see its "credit score" fall.
A downgrade by S&P signals that the latest pledges by European leaders to clamp down on deficits and step up cooperation won’t be enough to end the region’s debt crisis and curtail the rise in France’s borrowing costs. The country’s benchmark 10-year bonds now yield 130 basis points more than debt of AAA rated Germany.
A downgrade of France may further complicate Europe’s efforts to stem the crisis by threatening the rating of the region’s bailout fund. The European Financial Stability Facility, which is funding rescue packages for Greece, Ireland and Portugal partially with bond sales, owes its AAA rating to guarantees from the euro region top-rated nations. A French downgrade may prompt investors to demand higher rates on the fund’s debt.
My continuing effort to track the eurozone crisis via Storify continues. And the outlook for the single currency just gets worse and worse. Greece, Italy, and Spain have joined Ireland and Portugal in the basket-case category. France is under threat as its borrowing costs rise, and now even Germany is having trouble getting investors to buy its bonds.
On the plus side, I think we're running out of countries in Europe to see infected by this.
Just to stay current, a little Storify action on the continuing eurozone crisis. Suddenly former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi threw in the towel over the weekend. But without decisive German action, will the single currency be saved? Or is France the next domino to fall?
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Did little Slovakia just exercise its muscle and kill the Euro bailout package?
The Slovaks have spoken! A nation with a population roughly the size the San Francisco area and a GDP of $86 billion has failed to ratify the eurozone's plan for it to contribute $10 billion — about 12 percent of that GDP — to the currency union's bailout plans. This is the latest chapter in a debt-crisis melodrama that's forcing Greece into default and threatening Italy, Spain, and the banks of German, France, and possibly the United States.
Slovakia was the only eurozone country that voted nay. This is from the New York Times:
If nothing else, the unwieldy process underscored how the entire $590 billion euro stability fund, approved by the 16 other members of the euro currency zone, could be held hostage to the domestic politics of one tiny country, in this case Slovakia. It showed as well how a measure intended to increase confidence in the euro zone could instead emerge as a telling example of the shortcomings of a system that relies on an unwieldy group of nations to make and execute difficult decisions.