A Dance With Draghi

Paul Krugman – New York Times Blog
FEBRUARY 5, 2015 7:03 AM February 5, 2015 7:03 am

Family stuff, which leaves me with almost no time for posting just as stuff goes semi-crazy in the Greek drama. But a quick note.

What happened was that the ECB declared that it will no longer accept Greek government bonds as collateral when lending to Greek banks. The initial reaction of some observers was that this was the end, that the ECB was pulling the plug arbitrarily and abruptly.

But even before I had a chance to look at the details, I assumed that must be wrong. You can say many things about Mario Draghi; it’s quite possible that he will fail to save the euro, and quite possible that he is making big mistakes; but stupid and crude is not his style. Sure enough, this is a much subtler action that the first headlines suggested. This funding channel is one that Greek banks no longer use very much, and it’s not necessarily to keep them afloat; they can continue to borrow indirectly via the Greek central bank. So this is not a crisis-provoking event.

What’s the point, then? Well, it’s posturing and signaling. But to whom, and to what end?

Maybe it’s an effort to push the Greeks into reaching a deal, but my guess — and it’s only that — is that it’s actually aimed more at the Germans than at the Greeks. On one side, it’s the ECB making tough noises, which might keep Germany off their backs for a little while. On the other, it’s a wake-up call: dear Chancellor Merkel, we are *this* close to watching a Greek banking collapse and euro exit, and are you really sure you want to go down this route? Really, really?

So this wasn’t brinksmanship; it was sort of pre-brinksmanship, a warning shot to all sides about what will happen next.

Does Draghi know what he’s doing? Of course not — nobody in this situation knows what he or she is doing, because it’s structurally a mess. But don’t panic — yet.

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