I read this morning's news of a deal -- we'll see how long it lasts -- with interest. Here's a video exchange with Rick Santelli on the subject on CNBC (I can't seem to get the embed to work, so you have to click the link.)
My main thought: what about the banks? The minute Greece reopens its banks, it's a fair bet that every person in Greece will immediately head to the bank and get every cent out. The banks' assets are largely Greek loans, which many aren't paying -- why pay a mortgage to a bank that's already closed and will probably be out of business soon anyway -- and Greek government debt; mostly Treasury bills that only roll over because banks hold them. They can't sell either, so the banks will instantly be out of cash.
The deal reported in today's papers really barely mentions that problem. But that is the problem of the hour.
Greece is basically off the euro now. Being in the euro does not mean that restaurants take euros. Being in the eurozone means that banks use euros, that you can take euros out and arrange international transfers using euros.
The economy is paralyzed. The main thing a deal needs is a way to reopen banks in a matter of days. Privatization and labor laws are fine, but that generates growth a year from now at best. And raising taxes? They must be kidding.
I've read with interest some proposals that the EU take over the banks. The EU takes on the bad assets, gives or sells the rest to large international banks, and these operate under EU rules -- not Greek regulators; they can't buy any Greek debt, and Greece can't tax them. It's expensive, yes, but it's basically as shoot-the-hostage approach. A functioning economy would help Greek finances. And then the EU can let the Greek government default if it wishes. Saving the banks might be a lot cheaper than saving the Greek government and the banks.
There are two original sins in the euro, neither having to do with fiscal union. The first is that each country has its own banks, and each government uses its banks as piggybanks to stuff with government debt. European bank regulators and Basel regulations treat sovereign debt as risk free. Then, if the government defaults, the whole banking system is dragged down with it. The second is the endlessly repeated fallacy that government default means the country must change the units of its currency. If Chicago defaults on its debts, nobody thinks it must introduce a new currency, or that Chicago's banks will fail.
A currency union needs a banking union, or at least banks that are not stuffed with government debt. A currency union needs to let sovereigns default without changing currencies or paralyzing the banking and payments system. A currency union needs a banking union.