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A Fiscal Lesson in Cyprus for Americans


Once again, the European Union is teaching Americans what lies at the end of the road of out-of-control federal spending and debt. Cyprus is the latest country that has required a bailout. But this time, the authorities have crossed the Rubicon in how they have addressed the problem.

The basic approach to overextended EU countries is to grant them immediate bailout money to enable them to make payments on their debts and other expenses, including their massive welfare doles to their citizenry. As a condition to receiving the bailout money, the EU requires the government to slash expenses, especially by reducing payments to the dole recipients, and to raise taxes. Additionally, bondholders have been required to take a loss on their investments.

With Cyprus, things have taken a different turn.  To avoid having to slash expenses and raise taxes, the president of Cyprus announced that the government would simply expropriate money that people have deposited in the country’s banks. Those who have deposits in excess of 100,000 Euros would have about 10 percent of their monies confiscated. Those with less would have about 7 percent confiscated.

So, here you have an entire group of people who have saved their money, never dreaming that they would have to bear the consequences out of control government spending and debt, especially for those on the government welfare dole.

Not surprisingly, the Cyprus plan is having consequences, namely with old-fashioned bank runs. People are trying to get their money out of the Cyprus banks before the parliament formally approves the deal. Even more ominous, depositors are now taking their money out of banks in weaker countries and moving them to stronger countries.

Perhaps that’s why thethe president of Cyprus is keeping the nation’s banks closed on an extended “holiday.” Perhaps that’s also why both he and the parliament are now balking at implementing the bank-deposit confiscation plan.

Several years ago, the Argentine government was faced with a tremendous shortfall of revenues to cover its ever-burgeoning expenses. It simply confiscated people’s retirement accounts.

Would the U.S. government ever do these sorts of things? Well, don’t forget that President Roosevelt did it during the Great Depression when he nationalized gold and made it a felony offense to own it, notwithstanding the fact that it had been the official constitutional money of the United States since the founding of the nation. FDR ordered Americans to deliver their gold to the federal government, which paid them off in cheapened, devalued, irredeemable notes. It was a confiscation of wealth no different in principle from that that was done by the Argentine government and that is now being conducted by the Cyprus government.

Today, there is an enormous debate occurring here in the United States over the issue of out-of-control federal spending and debt.

The statists are saying: “Don’t worry. Be happy. Everything’s fine. The government should just keep spending and spending and borrowing and borrowing. It’s the key to economic prosperity.”

We libertarians are saying: “Out-of-control federal spending and debt is the road to national bankruptcy. Look at Greece, Italy, Spain, and now Cyprus. Governments cannot spend people rich. They spend people into impoverishment. It’s time to get off this road before it’s too late. It’s time to dismantle, not reform, the welfare-warfare state. Otherwise, be prepared for drastic measures employed by the federal government against the American people.”

If Americans continue following the statists, they will rue the day. Only by following the sound-money fiscal policies of the libertarians can we restore fiscal sanity to our land.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.