Opinion

Hugo Dixon

It’s 20.12.2012; and it’s the end of a magical era

Hugo Dixon
Dec 20, 2012 01:48 UTC

One doesn’t have to be a Mayan to believe that tomorrow represents a numerological end of an era. Apocalyptic visions stem from reading the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar. But even using the widely used Gregorian Calendar, there’s something special about today: 20.12.2012.

It’s one of those dates where digits create interesting patterns. It also comes at the end of 13 years which have been astonishingly fertile for such numerologically “magic” dates. The rest of the century is going to be a desert by comparison.

Dates can be aesthetically attractive because they repeat a number several times (eg last week’s 12.12.12) or contain a string of successive numbers (eg last month’s 10.11.12) or because they are palindromes (eg 01.1.10), where you get the same date if you run the numbers backwards.

The beauty of these numbers is in the eye of the beholder. There can be no consensus over what constitutes a date that has numerological significance. But one way of shedding light on the situation is to look at different formats.

First up is the series that runs from 1.1.1 to 2.2.2 and all the way up to 12.12.12. There are only 12 members of this series because there are only 12 months in the year. It is this feature of the Gregorian Calendar, indeed, which is the main reason why the magic number boom is about to end. The last member of this series was earlier this month. We will have to wait 88 years until 1 January 2101 before we get the next one.

Why Mario Draghi scores AAA on PPP

Hugo Dixon
Dec 17, 2012 10:07 UTC

Who is Europe’s most powerful man? If one phrased the question as who is Europe’s most powerful person, the answer might well be Angela Merkel. But the deliberate use of the masculine excludes Germany’s chancellor, leaving the field open to Mario Draghi.

This answer can, of course, be disputed. How can one compare power in economics with power in, say, religion? Is it possible to rank the technocratic European Central Bank boss on the same scale, for example, as the Pope?

The best place to start is with an attempt to understand what power is. Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher, said it was the production of intended effects. By contrast, Steven Lukes, one of the top contemporary power theorists, said in an interview last week that power is the capacity to make a difference in a manner that is significant.

Dos and Don’ts of EU banking union

Hugo Dixon
Dec 10, 2012 10:44 UTC

Conventional wisdom has it that the euro zone needs a banking union to solve its crisis. This is wrong. Not only are there alternatives to an integrated regulatory structure for the zone’s 6,000 banks; centralisation will undermine national sovereignty.

“Create a banking union” became a rallying cry earlier in the year when it looked like the euro was going to explode. Advocates of a single banking authority said it would break the “doom loop” which tied troubled banks to troubled governments. European Union governments will this week continue their attempt to agree on a single supervisor, the first stage of a banking union.

There are two parts to the doom loop: when banks go bust, their governments bail them out, adding to their own debts; and when governments become over-indebted, the nation’s banks are usually big lenders, so the banks get sucked into the sovereign debt vortex.

Bersani may not be bad for Italy

Hugo Dixon
Dec 3, 2012 10:22 UTC

The last Italian prime minister whose surname began with a “B” – Silvio Berlusconi – was a disaster. The country’s next leader’s name is also likely to start with a “B”.

Investors want Mario Monti, the technocrat who took over from Berlusconi last year, to stay as prime minister after the election, which will probably be in March. But they are more likely to get Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the left-wing Democratic Party (PD). While there are risks, such an outcome may not be as bad as it looks – not least because Bersani has promised to continue with Monti’s policies and was one of the few reformers when Romano Prodi was prime minister in the last decade.

Trade union-backed Bersani will be the standard-bearer for the left in the coming elections after winning a decisive primary at the weekend against Matteo Renzi, the modernising mayor of Florence. His first comments were promising: he said the PD would have to tell Italians the “truth, not fairy-tales” about the country’s grave economic situation.