So if we didn’t know it before, we know it now: the financial system has become too important for the health of our society.
Without so much as a by-your-leave, without warning, in the face of repeated assurances to the contrary, and in conflict with the EU’s own market rules, money is being taken from all sorts of people. All you need is to have money in a bank in Cyprus, and the Cypriot government will help itself to some. Not the slightest regard is being given to what is fair, or to whether the victims can afford to lose their money. Money for which they may have worked hard, with which they might have been about to buy a house, which might be their total life savings, and on which in many cases they will already have paid tax.
For one, brief, naive moment one might dream that the banks themselves would say, “Hey, that’s our customers’ money, you can’t just take it.” But that would require believing that banks have the interests of their retail customers at heart. My imagination doesn’t stretch that far.
If I may quote from the Guardian:
Sharon Bowles MEP, chair of the European parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee, said she was appalled by the savings levy, saying it “robs smaller investors of the protection they were promised”.
Bowles added: “If this were a bank, they would be in court for mis-selling.”
“The lesson here is that the EU’s single market rules will be flouted when the eurozone, ECB and IMF say so. At a time when many are greatly concerned that the creation of the ‘banking union’, giving the ECB unprecedented power, will demote the priorities of the single market, we see it here in action.”
And if the precedent is set, how many more governments will decide that the way out of a tight corner is simply to raid the bank accounts of their citizens?
So perhaps it is time to dust off that old cake tin, fill it with your spare cash and put it back under the floorboards. The risk of fire or of (conventional) robbery may not be so much greater than the risk that your government will one day simply decide to help itself.
At the time of writing, debates are still going on, and it is possible that the Cypriot government will in the end reject this deal and go some other way. That makes damn all difference: the fact is that they thought of it.
It may even turn out that the proposal comes to be regarded as unbelievably stupid and insensitive but again: they did think of it. Those in charge at the EC, IMF and the ECB looked at bank accounts, the small bank accounts of the young, the old and the poor, and all they saw were a few numbers. They never saw the people who worked, who saved and who trusted the banks to at least keep the money safe. It turns out that it really is safer under your mattress.
Those of us who have options to keep even small amounts of money in different countries will need to consider where we put it. Germany? Sure. The UK? I think so. Italy, Portugal, Spain? Better not. There are thieves about.