Can we trust the banks with our money? Fifty years ago, anyone raising such a question was considered a paranoid lunatic. One hundred years ago, the question had some legitimacy behind it, as lots of folks did not yet trust banks. Many people who lived through the great depression in the 1930’s in the U.S. understandably became mattress stuffers, having seen bank failures actually happen. Here we are in the year 2013, living in the digital money age where cash is a rapidly vanishing entity, and we once again must wonder about our money being safe in the bank. It appears we have come full circle.
The situation in Cyprus seems far enough removed to not cause many Americans to have sleepless nights. Of course, it really isn’t as far removed as it seems. Repercussions in Italy and Greece are likely. From there, who knows what could happen. We all know this, but we don’t let it upset us too much. In this day and age, we are just thankful our own highly questionable financial system is still somehow holding together. Better there than here.
Can’t you just picture Jimmy Stewart behind the counter of the Cyprus banks telling the people, “You’re thinking about this place all wrong! Your money isn’t here, it’s in Dimitris’ house and Christos’ house and Giorgos’ house!” Only, that’s not the way it works in modern banks. These days, home mortgages are sold to specific mortgage holding companies who service them. Your deposited money should be in the bank.
…just not in cash. Banks don’t have that much cash on hand. It’s not in gold, either. The money is all just digits in a computer database. You can get some cash, of course, but it’s best if you just keep using your cards and adjusting the balance of those numbers. Hey, you can always close your account and transfer it all to another bank and look at those same numbers on different letterhead - assuming, of course, you even bother to receive paper statements anymore.
So, when the mobs hoard the Cyprus banks upon their reopening, nobody can get more than 300 bucks per day. They cannot transfer more than five grand out of the country. They can, however, close their accounts and transfer it all to a different bank within the country of Cyprus - which will seem like an exercise in futility. All of this is to prevent a run on the banks. A bank run is a mob mentality that has the very real potential for igniting an unnecessary financial crisis.
Here is my take on the entire situation:
As usual, the problem does not lie in the mechanics of how things are operating, but in the reaction of the human mind. Our resistance to change and tendency to overreact to negative-seeming developments is what causes most of our problems. The Cyprus banks came up with a very reasonable solution to thwart off a massive financial crisis. They were going to take 10% of all deposited funds in the banks. Everybody kicks in 10% of whatever they have. Problem solved, and everyone gets to keep living their wonderful little life on a Mediterranean island. (This is especially reasonable considering that your 10% would be paid for in less than three years at the 5% interest rate Cyprus banks currently pay depositors. You are still better off there, after paying the bailout assessment, than you are having your money is USA banks.)
But noooooooooooo. They had to go get all up in arms about it. Now the banks are being forced to do something different, something much more conspicuous. They will be shamefully robbing the wealthy and upper-middle class instead. Instead of everyone paying their fair share, large depositors will now lose up to 40% of their balances to pay for the bailout. This is a much worse solution for many reasons, but the main one is the large depositors will be pulling all the rest of their funds out of that country just as soon as they are able. Count on it. This sets up a condition which could very well result in real bank failures in the near future. The bulk of the wealth will be removed.
Folks, if the choice is to pay 10% of your money or risk complete financial ruin, the correct answer is to pay the 10% and go back to your happy life where the currency is still good and a loaf of bread doesn’t cost a wheelbarrow full of cash. Whining and complaining your way to making those richer than you pay for it, and driving them all out of your economy as a result, leaves you on an island of only poor and destitute whiners and complainers.