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March 16, 2018

Pellegrini to succeed Fico

Peter Pellegrini, currently minister for investment, will succeed Robert Fico as Slovak PM. President Andrej Kiska really had no choice but to nominate Peter Pellegrini, as Fico presented him with the signatures of a majority of MPs in support of Pellegrini: 79 MPs from the three parties of the governing coalition, Fico's Smer (social democrat), SNS (nationalist), and Most-Híd (liberal, Hungarian minority), out of 150 MPs in the national parliament. The opposition worries that Fico will continue to run the country behind the scenes. Pellegrini is a loyal lieutenant whom Fico described as a personal friend. Comparisons to Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski or the Putin/Medvedev duo abound.

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March 16, 2018

Slovenia may go to early elections in late May

After meeting with PM Miro Cerar to discuss his resignation, Slovenian President Borut Pahor said early elections are appropriate so he won't nominate a new PM. However, a group of ten MPs has the right to nominate a PM candidate, and so Pahor will still run consultations with the parties in the Slovenian parliament next week. If no candidate is nominated in the end, early elections could take place as early as the second half of May. The country must go to elections by July in any case, as the four-year term of the parliament expires.

Cerar's resignation was triggered by the supreme court overturning a referendum held in September on a railway project. But Janez Jansa, leader of the social democratic party SDS in opposition, suggested that Cerar may have other reasons for resigning. Slovenia is in the middle of a teachers' strike and other public sector groups are threatening strikes as well. In addition, the European Commission recently opened a state-aid investigation into the Slovenian government's failure to sell Nova Ljubljanska Banka at the end of 2017, as it had committed to doing after taking it over in the banking crisis the country experienced in 2013. Whether one of those or the accumulation of all of those pressure points motivated Cerar to resign or not, the political race is open. Expect the resignation itself to become part of the campaigning.

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March 16, 2018

The case for crypto-currencies

We have recently been reporting on comments from economists like Agustin Carstens who are deeply hostile about crypto-currencies and the underlying blockchain technology. We think the deep reason for the profession's hostility is that there are no jobs for economists in this. Bitcoin was invented by computer geeks. For many bitcoin supporter, the lack of mainstream support from the economics profession is a feature, not a bug. 

So we note with interest a report by two economists Ousmène Jacques Mandeng and Piroska Nagy-Mohacsi who make an important point. Many of the criticism of bitcoin are indeed valid, they say. Bitcoins clearly do not fulfil all the functions of money. And there are valid security concerns. But from an historic perspective there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the idea of private money. Many existing currencies have started out that way.

"Bank notes issued by private banks were the cryptocurrencies of the past... 19th century Germany recognised the important advantages that bank notes offered to facilitate payments while confronting the risks of over issuance. In 1876, Germany adopted a mixed central banking model... The reason for the mixed model was the lack of trust in one monopolistic entity and the desire to support, under the joint framework, money emission in a decentralised way. Monetary innovation was thus met with inclusion, not exclusion."

The authors say that central banks have come a long way to establish their credibility as the provider of money, but it is wrong to grant them legal monopoly status.

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