Could What Happened in Cyprus Happen in the U.S.?
Do you remember when the country of Cyprus was in need of a major bailout? The people of Cyprus, called Cypriots, have had a rough go of it. Their country is in financial turmoil, like most of the world and they wound up taking some extreme measures to alleviate their problems.
As Americans, we have become a bit desensitized to hearing about European bailouts. It seems each month we hear about another country receiving more bailout funds to keep it from going under. Normally we just roll our eyes, hope for better days to come soon and move on. But this particular bailout was different and it should be something Americans fear.
Before I get into why Americans should be fearful of this bailout, let me first explain what happened to the good people of Cyprus in 2013.
Basically, the Cypriot people (and foreigners with Cyprus bank accounts) were robbed. But instead of being fleeced by a masked man with a weapon, the country’s inhabitants were robbed by their own government. As part of a last minute $13 billion bailout deal to save the country from financial collapse, the government agreed to tax its people who have bank deposits with more than 100,000 euros at levels up to 40 percent.
100,000 euros equals approximately $128,600. In terms of U.S. dollars that means depositors would lose over $50,000 of their own money to the government. The money would just be gone from your accounts overnight. You would have no means of recourse or any hope of ever getting that money back.
That insane, heinous “haircut,” as some news outlets called it, is what happened to the unlucky people of Cyprus. The depositors went to bed with the money in their accounts and woke up to news that the government had taken it from them. Never before have we seen a bailout require such terms.
Could this be the new model going forward? If so Americans should be worried. Could the U.S. government ever seize Americans assets in a financial crisis like the Cyprus government did to its own people? The answer is a very real yes.
The speculation regarding whether or not a similar situation could happen to Americans has led to some public outcry. Economists tell us it can’t. They cite the FDIC, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation which is a nationwide guarantee that all deposits are backed by government funds up to $250,000. Cypriots didn’t have this same level of insurance. They had what equated to a state level guarantee, and the new federal bailout supersedes that insurance.
The government also assures us that what happened there won’t happen here because our banks are built on a sounder financial footing. American banks make money through stocks and bonds as well as deposits; whereas in Cyprus, banks there make money solely thru deposits.
Still the cause for concern led past Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to hold a press conference just after this happened. He assured Americans that it’s “extremely unlikely” such a similar tax on depositors could take place in the U.S.
But was he telling the truth? The truth is that in fact the U.S. government HAS done the same thing to Americans in the past. Just ask your grandmother or grandfather, they might even remember it.
The circumstances were eerily similar to our country’s current financial state, the last time this happened. In March 1933, the U.S. was in the throes of the Great Depression. Americans worried that the government would begin printing paper money, making cash virtually worthless.
Any of this sound familiar?
At that time, paper money was backed by gold and with fears of rapid inflation on their minds, Americans rushed to exchange their cash for gold. The sudden demand on American’s banks threatened an already severely strained American economy and President Roosevelt responded by issuing the Gold Confiscation Act.
The Gold Confiscation Act allowed the U.S. government the power to seize the American people’s gold money and replace it with paper Federal Reserve Notes. They went a step further and made it illegal to own gold, except in the forms of small amounts of jewelry, collectors’ coins and dental implants.
This act allowed the government to devalue the U.S. dollar by 40%. Which meant that the Federal notes the American people now held in place of gold were worth that much less than it was the day before. In effect, the government got away with levying a 40 % tax on Americans and their money.
To all the government officials and economists who say what happened in Cyprus won’t happen here. I say it has before and I don’t trust the government to not do it again if we get into another financial crisis.
So, what can we do to mitigate our risk of getting another “haircut” by the U.S. government like the one that they did in Cyprus? Firstly, you should limit how much money you put in any one account. You shouldn’t put more than $250,000 in any one account, that’s the amount the FDIC insures bank deposits up to. Instead spread your money out throughout several institutions if you can.
Another strategy is to reduce your dependency on the dollar. Now I don’t normally recommend specific products, but it just so happens that League of Power created a course on this very subject. The release of the product couldn’t have come at a more opportune time either.
Keeping Money in Your Pocket,