Should Europe's top banker be comparing the euro to an Australian bird?

You'd think he would have learned from the Great Bumblebee Dustup of July 2012.

In a speech in Milan on Thursday, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi employed a rather odd metaphor in arguing that Europe's monetary union will outlast the sovereign debt crisis. Invoking euro architect Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, he likened the euro to the emu, an ostrich-like bird native to Australia: 

As you know, in recent months I have repeatedly stressed the irreversibility of the euro. This was precisely the sentiment of one of Tommaso's most noted quips. Speaking in 2004 about the "EMU," an abbreviation for Economic and Monetary Union, he remarked that it was also the name of an Australian bird rather like an ostrich. And he added: "Neither of them can go backwards."

It's particularly surprising that Draghi would go down this path considering that back in July, he took a fair amount of heat for comparing the euro to a bumblebee (admittedly, his pledge in the same speech to do "whatever it takes" to save the euro got a bit more attention):

The euro is like a bumblebee. This is a mystery of nature because it shouldn't fly but instead it does. So the euro was a bumblebee that flew very well for several years. And now -- and I think people ask "how come?" -- probably there was something in the atmosphere, in the air, that made the bumblebee fly. Now something must have changed in the air, and we know what after the financial crisis. The bumblebee would have to graduate to a real bee. And that's what it's doing.

The remarks quickly spawned headlines like "Crash of the Bumblebee" and "Draghi and his magic bee." Worse still, Jonathan Neal, an insect expert at Purdue University, demystified bumblebee flight, noting that the insects fly because of their rapidly beating wings. And he argued that Draghi was unintentionally making a pretty pessimistic prediction about the debt crisis by awaiting the euro's transformation into a "real bee."

Honey bees and bumblebees are different species. Species don't magically transform. A better metaphor would be, "If we wait for a bumblebee to magically transform into a honey bee, we will wait a long time. Applying this metaphor to the Euro, "It will be a long run before the Euro magically transforms from a Bumblebee Euro to a "real bee" Euro." As economist John Maynard Keynes quipped, "In the long run we are all dead."

So did Draghi get the comparison right this time? The Australian government does note that the emu and kangaroo are included in the country's coat of arms because of a "common belief that neither animal can move backwards easily." But even if the science checks out, emus can't fly, which introduces a whole new element of confusion into the bumblebee metaphor. 

Plus, we learned today that the eurozone has moved backwards -- into recession.



Four things you should know about China's next leaders

On Thursday, the seven men who will rule China for the next five to ten years filed onto a stage at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Here are four of the most important things to know about the men shaping China's future.

They're not engineers any more.

In 2006, each of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee had trained as an engineer; then-President Hu Jintao studied hydropower while his Premier Wen Jiabao was an expert in geology. That started to shift with the ascension in 2007 of China's new leader Xi Jinping (he studied law along with chemical engineering) and his deputy Li Keqiang (who studied law and received a PhD in economics). The latest lineup features a far more diverse band of former economists, research fellows, and even a journalist. Without reading too much into how career background affects leadership styles -- a 2006 article comparing U.S. and Chinese leaders in Bloomberg said that "engineers strive for 'better,' while lawyers prepare for the worst -- it does mean that they bring a more varied set of experiences to the job.

China's new leader is far more personable than the last chairman.

By smiling and seeming relaxed, Xi already proved himself a far more natural presence than Hu Jintao, the faceless, stiflingly boring bureaucrat who stepped down yesterday. Hu and his interregnum of boringness was the exception rather than the rule. The despotic Mao Zedong astounded people with his charisma; the 4'11 Deng Xiaoping, who ran China in the 1980s and 1990s, charmed with his smile. Even though nature bestowed Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao's predecessor as president of China, with less of an ability to appear at ease, he at least tried to be likeable. If we're lucky, Xi will end the last decade's tradition of devastatingly boring speeches.

The party forgives, even if it does not forget.  

Yu Zhengsheng, named the fourth-ranking member of the Standing Committee, was a rising star in the 1980s. But in 1985 his brother, formerly the director of the Beijing National Security Bureau, defected to the United States. As I wrote in an article in May, the defection not only brought down a Chinese spy in the CIA but also nearly torpedoed Yu's career. He spent the next dozen years working his way up through relatively low-level positions in the coastal province of Shandong, joining the Politburo in 2002 and replacing Xi as party secretary of Shanghai in 2007. The whereabouts of his brother are unknown; as are details about how Yu proved his loyalty after his brother "fled and betrayed the country."

We know so little about them.

In a 2009 speech in Mexico, Xi Jinping said that "some foreigners with full bellies and nothing better to do engage in finger-pointing at us." He then added, "First, China does not export revolution; second, it does not export famine and poverty; and third, it does not mess around with you. So what else is there to say?" That quote has shown up dozens of times in media outlets around the world, in part because it's by far the most interesting thing he's said since he started appearing on the national scene in 2007.

In a 2010 interview, Bo Zhiyue of the National University of Singapore told me that the seventh-ranking man on the Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli, was low profile, even for a Chinese leader. "In China they say if you try to stick your head out you might be a target," Bo said. It's advice that Chinese leaders -- from Xi Jinping down -- know very well, and that's one of the reasons they remain such a mystery.