Question of the Day: Is Cyprus Unique?

| Sun Mar. 17, 2013 4:52 PM PDT

From Megan McArdle, on the supposedly unique nature of yesterday's bailout of Cyprus's banking system:

The problem is, Europe seems to be chock full of unique, one time problems with its banking system.

Roger that. Cyprus was basically an offshore banking haven for Russian plutocrats, so it grew to gargantuan proportions compared to the size of the country. If it had failed, the entire country would have imploded. That's bad. On the other hand, no one really felt like spending a trainload of EU taxpayer money to prop up a bunch of Russian oligarchs. That would be bad too. So the EU's politicos wanted to make the oligarchs pay a price for being rescued.

How about, say, a one-time tax of 10 percent of their deposits? Sold! But then the EU went further, imposing a one-time tax of 6.75 percent even on small accounts. Small insured accounts. This means that having an insured bank account no longer means bupkis in the EU.

So now the question becomes: Is Cyprus unique? Or, more precisely, can ordinary depositors and big investors be persuaded that Cyprus is unique? Because if they can't, then they're going to start pulling their money out of Spanish and Greek and Italian and Portuguese banks. And that would be very, very bad. It would turn the slow-motion bank runs of the past few years into the honest-to-God, high-speed, economy-ruining kind of bank runs.

And it all depends on whether everyone can be hypnotized into thinking that Cyprus really is unique. Tune in tomorrow to find out.

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