February 16, 2018

A Universal Basic Income must be a hateful concept for those who profit politically or economically, or both, on conditioned redistribution

When FT at long last allows for a strong defense of a Universal Basic Income Dr. Guy Standing writes: “Most believe the BI should be clawed back from the rich in tax. This is administratively easier, more equitable and efficient than targeting by means-testing. The latter has high exclusion and inclusion errors, low take-up and poverty traps, inducing bureaucrats to use intrusive behaviour tests.” “Universal basic income would enhance freedom and cut poverty

That is a very delicate way to express it, because, as the title of this comment states, there are also some very darkly motivated objections to a Universal Basic Income.


February 14, 2018

A Universal Basic Income would be a societal dividend. No one should have the power to decide which shareholders get it and which not.

Sir, in response to Ian Goldin’s “Five reasons why universal basic income is a red herring”, February 12, you today publish 3 letters that are all against the idea of Universal Basic Income. Is that really “Without Favour”?

Lesley Spencer in his “The huge cost to society of every job replaced” correctly describes some of the problems with increased automation, like humans competing disadvantageously with robots and less fiscal revenues. That clearly calls for new sources of fiscal revenues, like taxing robots or, as he writes, “the company picking up the tax shortfall when it replaces a person with a machine.”

But why that should also signify that UBI does not have an important role to play in the adjustments our society must do in order to face these chaplinesque neo modern times beats me.

And Carol Wilcox, in “Some tasks simply can’t be handed to a machine”, states that “Ian Goldin is right to call out universal basic income as snake oil”, but then supports that solely by arguing that Goldin “is wrong to believe that automation is a threat to workers”

And finally Jonathan Berry with “Why are we drawn to the most difficult solutions?”, argues for the much more complicated route of handing out stock-market participation, to some, than a societal dividend to all.

Sir, be aware that the major enemies of the UBI are the redistribution profiteers, scared to death that would diminish the value of their franchise.

But of course even between the UBI defenders there are many disagreements. I for one firmly believe that a UBI should be set at a level in which it helps you to get out of bed, but never ever, as some do, to be set on a level that allows you to stay in bed.


To base bank regulations on that ex ante perceived risks reflects the ex post possible dangers, is pure an unabridged naïve over-optimism

Sir, Martin Wolf writes “Over-optimism is the natural precursor of excessive risk-taking, asset price bubbles and then financial and economic crises.” “A bit of fear is exactly what markets need” February 14.

Indeed, and what is more a naïve “Over-optimism” than bank regulator’s risk weighted capital requirements for banks, based on ex ante perceived risks reflect the ex post possibilities?

Wolf writes of “the hope that those who manage systemically significant financial institutions remain scarred by the crisis and are managing risks more prudently than before”. Why should they? The incentives provided by the risk weighted capital requirements for banks still distort the allocation of credit. In this context “prudently” means more banks assets going to perceived, decreed or concocted safe-havens, some of which, as a consequence, are doomed to be dangerously overpopulated. 

Wolf admonishes, “If a policy [quantitative easing] designed to stabilise our economies destabilises finance, the answer has to be even more radical reform of the latter.”

I would argue that the “quantitative easing” was not correctly designed to help the economy, precisely because it ignored the regulatory distortions that impeded the economy to, by way of bank credit, use that liquidity efficiently.

Wolf correctly states “It is immoral and ultimately impossible to sacrifice the welfare of the bulk of the people in order to placate the gods of the financial markets”. But I ask, is that not what is being done by allowing banks to obtain higher expected risk adjusted returns on equity when financing the safer present, than when financing the “riskier” future our grandchildren need to be financed?

Again, I dare Martin Wolf to explain why he believes regulators are correct in wanting banks to hold more capital against what, by being perceived as risky, has been made innocous to the bank system, than against what, precisely because it is perceived as safe, is so much more dangerous?

Bank regulators have the right to be fearful, but they should fear more what is perceived safe than what is perceived risky.

PS. Here a brief aide memoire on the major mistakes with the risk weighted capital requirements


February 12, 2018

In year 2018 important issues could be dividing Poles, but Auschwitz and Poland’s treatment of Jews during World War II, around 75 years ago, should not be one of these.

Sir, I am the son of a Polish citizen who was one of the 728 prisoners that in June 1940 arrived on the first train to Auschwitz (#245 on his arm). Though I proudly carry a Polish passport, I have shamefully little knowledge of Poland. That said I am absolutely sure that if my father had heard someone defining “Auschwitz-Birkenau as a “Polish death camps”, he would have punched him. And had he heard of some few Poles not having been complicit in the pursuit of Jews, he would also have asked: “What are you smoking?”

Therefore I was very appreciative off Professor Jan Gross’ comment “Poland’s death camp law distorts history” February 6, and so I wrote to him.

But now Arkady Rzegocki’s “Poland in no way agreed to collaboration” on February 12, confuses me.

Many things could be dividing Poles in 2018, but Auschwitz and Poland’s treatment of Jews during World War II, about 75 years ago, should most definitely be one of those.

Please, for the sanity of Poland (and mine) have them both sit down and urgently resolve their differences… perhaps at an FT Lunch J


Universal Basic Income is to help you get out of bed, not to allow you stay in bed

Sir, Ian Goldin first introduces many valid reasons for why we need a Universal Basic Income. But then he writes: “As shown by the OECD, by reallocating welfare payments from targeted transfers (such as unemployment, disability or housing benefits) to a generalised transfer to everyone, the amount that goes to the most deserving is lower. Billionaires get a little more.” “Five reasons why universal basic income is a red herring” February12.

No way! I come from Venezuela. The poor their, got only a fraction, perhaps less than 15%, of what they should have gotten had only the oil revenues been shared out equally to all. Who got the most? The redistribution profiteers and their friends.

And clearly since it would reduce the value of their franchise, these profiteers are the ones who most set out to attack Universal Basic Income.

Goldin bombs UBI with:

“If UBI was set at a level to provide a modest but decent standard of living it would be unaffordable and lead to ballooning deficits”

“Delinking income and work, while rewarding people for staying at home, is what lies behind social decay.”

“UBI undermines incentives to participate”

But he also writes: “There must be more part-time work, shorter weeks, and rewards for home work, creative industries and social and individual care. Forget about UBI; to reverse rising inequality and social dislocation we need to radically change the way we think about income and work.”

And that is when I understand Goldin might not have understood where many of us want the UBI level to be. We want it set at a level that helps you to get out of bed, to reach up to the gig economy, but absolutely not at a level so high that it does allow you to stay in the bed.


February 10, 2018

Tim Harford, as an Undercover Statistician, why do you agree with the Basel Committee?

Sir, I refer to Tim Harford’s “Everything you need to know about statistics — on a postcard” February 10.

After reading it, I have one question for the Undercover Economist/Statistician, namely:

Why do you agree with the regulators’ statistics who, with their risk weighted capital requirements, opine that what is perceived as risky is more dangerous to the bank system than what is perceived as safe? Is that not crazy?


Like algorithms humans can also produce peculiar and unjust decisions, and be almost just as faceless.

Sir, Gillian Tett writes: “as institutions increasingly rely on predictive algorithms to make decisions, peculiar — and often unjust — outcomes are being produced.” “The tragic failings of faceless algorithms

Indeed, but humans are also capable of producing peculiar and unjust decisions.

What could be more peculiar than regulators wanting banks to hold more capital against what by being perceived as risky has been made innocous to the bank system, than against what, because it is perceived as safe, is so much more dangerous?

And what is more unjust than because of these regulation allowing easier financing to those who want to buy houses, than to those entrepreneurs who are looking for a possibly life changing opportunity of a credit. 

Ms Tett quotes mathematician Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction with: “Ill-conceived mathematical models now micromanage the economy, from advertising to prisons,” she writes. “They’re opaque, unquestioned and unaccountable and they ‘sort’, target or optimise millions of people . . . exacerbating inequality.”

Well “opaque, unquestioned and unaccountable” that applies equally to the bank regulators who do all seem to follow late Robert McNamara’s advice of “Never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you”

And on “exacerbating inequality”, the regulators de facto decreed inequality


Loss aversion has bank regulators looking too much at the cost of the crisis, while ignoring the benefits of the whole boom-bust cycle.

Sir, Tim Harford writes: The concept of “loss aversion” developed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky…showed that we tend to find a modest loss roughly twice as painful as an equivalent gain… Those who were forced to evaluate and decide at a slow pace were… not intimidated by short-term fluctuations… less likely to witness losses.”, “The languid pleasures of slow investing” February 10.

That is precisely what happens when bank regulators go into action during a crisis; they just look at the losses, and completely ignore what good might have been achieved during the whole boom-bust credit cycle.

And that is why our regulators in the Basel Committee, panicking, imposed risk weighted capital requirements for banks, which pushes debt that relies more on existing servicing capacity, like financing “safe” houses, than debt that hopes to generate new revenue streams, like loans to “risky” entrepreneurs.

And we all know there’s little future in that!

Harford ends with: writes: “Perhaps we slow investors should adopt a mascot. I suggest the sloth” Indeed, and let us send a stuffed one to Basel.


February 09, 2018

What if all finance help provided house buyers in Canada, which increases demand, reflects 30% of current house prices?

Sir, with respect to Ben McLannahan’s extensive report on the Canadian house market February 9, “Canada’s home loans crisis”, I would just want to ask:

What if regulatory and all other support developed in order to provide house buyers in Canada easier financing, something that obviously increases the demand for houses, translates into being, let us say, 30% of the current house prices in Canada?

Who has that then benefitted, buyers or vendors?

Does this mean Canada must now help with new financing to house buyers only in order to pay for old financing help?

How could something like that not end in a disaster?


Why does the “Without Fear and Without Favour” FT, not ask bank regulators questions I have suggested for a decade?

Sir, Gillian Tett writes: “The financial world faces at least three key issues, with echoes of the past: cheap money has fuelled a rise in leverage; low rates have also fostered financial engineering; and regulators are finding it hard to keep track of the risks, partly because they are so fragmented. “The corporate debt problem refuses to recede” January 9

Sorry, it is much worse than “regulators finding it hard to keep track of the risks”. It is that regulators have no understanding of how they, with their risk weighted capital requirements for banks, have in so many ways distorted the reactions to risks.

And much more than cheap money fueling a rise in leverage, it is the bank regulators who, like with Basel II in 2004, allowed banks to leverage a mind-blowing 62.5 times with assets only because they possessed an AAA to AA rating, started it all. . 

And when it comes to financial engineering, it is the regulators who caused banks to send into early retirement many savvy loan officers, in order to replace these with skilled equity minimizer modelers, who allowed for the highest expected risk adjusted returns on equity (and the biggest bonuses). 

The regulators, by favoring what is “safe” on top of what is perceived as “safe” is usually favored, only guarantee that safe-havens will become dangerously overpopulated, against especially little capital. Great job chaps!

Why has Ms. Tett, or many other in FT, not asked regulators, for instance what I believe I the quite interesting question of: Why do you want banks to hold more capital against what, by being perceived as risky, has been made innocous to the bank system, than against what, precisely because it is perceived as safe, is so much more dangerous?

One explanation that comes to my mind is John Kenneth Galbraith’s “If one is pretending to knowledge one does not have, one cannot ask for explanations to support possible objections”, “Money: Whence it came, where it went” (1975)

Sir, the Basel Committees’ “With the risk-weighted capital requirements we will make banks safer”… is cheap and dangerous populism hidden away in technocratic sophistications. Sadly it would seem the Financial Times has fallen for it, lock, stock and barrel.

Oops! I guess I will never be invited to a "Lunch With FT" 

February 08, 2018

What does “stored wealth” mean? Is it really redistributable, just like that, without any consequences?

Sir, Edward Luce writes: “America’s elites have stored more wealth than they can consume. This creates three problems for everyone else” “The discreet terror of the American bourgeoisie”. February 8.

What does “stored wealth” really mean? You do not hide your main-street purchase capacity in cash under a mattress; you hand it over to someone else in exchange for an asset or a service.

When some very wealthy recently bought Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi”, he froze, with a sort of voluntary tax, US$450 million on a wall or in a storage room. Those US$450 millions were received and used by some other wealthy or not that wealthy. Should that not have happened? Should he have used his money better? What if those who now have his money know how to put it to much better use?

The war against wealth is raging. Whenever wealth has been obtain by criminal, or by unjustified means, like monopolies or excessive intellectual property rights exploitation, that war makes sense. But, those who preach that all will be well and dandy, if only wealth is redistributed, like from the 1% to the 99%, never explain how one now converts a Salvator Mundi, into fresh main-street purchase power, and the consequences of doing so.

We could assume that much of that lack of explanation is because many of the wealth redistribution fighters are in fact redistribution profiteers interested in increasing the value of their franchise.

PS. Not long ago, visiting the Museum of Louvre, it dawned on me that most of what was exhibited there would not have come into being, were it not for the existence of the filthy rich. Can we really afford, do we really want, to live without them?


Should a sanctioned bank like Wells Fargo be allowed to immediately advertise itself as a do-gooder?

Sir, with respect to the recently sanctioned Wells Fargo we can observe that, in order to clean its name, it has now launched, as is typical in similar circumstances, advertising campaigns highlighting its social responsibilities. Should it really be allowed to do so?

Even though Wells Fargo should of course try to do its utmost to compensate their recent bad behavior, I believe it should not be able to advertise itself out of a bad image, for at least two years. A prohibition of that sort would also serve as a great deterrent to others.

And, while being on the subject of modernizing sentences, as a Venezuelan I ask, could the sanctions of those that commit crimes against humanity but have not yet been captured include blocking their presence in social media forever, and perhaps also that of all their immediate families for at least some years?

Of course those criminals could use false names, but who would like to take a (face-recognizable) selfie doing so?


February 07, 2018

We humans search for risk-adjusted yields. So did banks, but they now search for risk-adjusted yields adjusted to allowed leverage

Sir, let me comment on three paragraphs in John Plender’s “The global economy looks solid but there are worrying signs” February 7.

First: “there are grounds for concern about a credit cycle in which risk is clearly being mispriced. This is partly a product of the enduring search for yield. When almost every asset class looks expensive, investors tend to respond by taking on more risk”

Ever since risk weighted capital requirements were introduced, banks do not more search for yield, but instead search for yield adjusted by allowed leverage, and so risk has been mispriced.

Second: “A further hint of a return to normality is the reappearance of volatility after a long period in which it has been conspicuously absent — helpful if you worry that low volatility encourages complacency and makes the financial system more vulnerable to crises.”

And why should we not there worry, in precisely the same way, that what is perceived as safe encourages complacency and makes the financial system more vulnerable to crises?

Third: “Applying a higher discount rate to the liabilities while enjoying an uplift in the value of the assets is the answer in today’s low interest world to the pension fund manager’s prayer.”

The so many times repeated opinion that all pension funds should be able to obtain a real return of 5 to 7% annually, is one of the most harmful financial misinformation ever.


What if prejudices in India had caused banks having to hold more capital when lending to women than when lending to men?

Sir, Martin Wolf, discussing India’s prospects mentions the “striking structural feature of India, whose significance goes far beyond economics, is social preference for sons.”, “Modi’s India is on course for rapid growth” February 7.

But the western world, by means of their bank regulators, also imposed on India that nutty preference for what is perceived as safe over what is perceived as risky. And that, for a developing country, given as risk taking is the oxygen of any development, is bloody murderous; as I have insisted on during the last two decades, in statements at the World Bank, in statements at the UN republished by an Indian university, in hundreds of Op-Ed and articles, and in innumerable letters to FT and to Martin Wolf.

Before these distorting regulations, banks invested in assets based on their risk adjusted yields; after, they now also adjust for the allowed leverages in order to maximize their returns on equity. That means overpopulating “safe”-havens and under exploring those “risky” bays, like entrepreneurs and SMEs, which all countries need to be explored if they are going to develop, or keep their development from regressing.

To think that what is perceived as safe (cars) is more dangerous to our bank systems than what is perceived as risky (motorcycles), only reminds me of that mutual admiration club of besserwisser experts that defended geocentricity… and of Martin Wolf as one of the inquisitors.


We would all benefit from algorithms tempering our bank regulators’ human judgments.

Sir, Sarah O’Connor, discussing the use of algorithms when for instance evaluating personnel writes: “The call centre worker told me the software gives lower scores to workers with strong accents because it doesn’t always understand them.”, “Management by numbers from algorithmic overlords” February 7.

What, should we assume that the capacity of someone in a call center being understood would not be one of the most important factors considered by a human evaluator?

And when O’Connor refers to “the subtle flexibility of human judgment; decisions tempered by empathy or common sense; the simple ability to sort a problem out by sitting down across a table and talking about it.”, I must state that is absolutely not what happens all the time.

Any reasonable algorithm, with access to good historical data, would never ever have concluded, as the human Basel Committee did, that what is perceived as risky is more dangerous to our bank systems than what is ex ante perceived as safe.

PS. Could we envision a world in which more predictable algorithms managed our wives reactions… and, if so, would we then not miss their lovable unpredictability?


February 06, 2018

Risk weighted capital requirements for banks guarantee banks will have the least capital when the worst crises occur

Sir, Jim Brunsden and Cat Rutter Pooley write that Mario Draghi “said that speedy work was needed to conclude talks on an overhaul of bank rules that had been under discussion for more than a year. The reforms would introduce the latest international standards aimed at making the financial system more resilient to crises”, “Draghi warns banks of Brexit ‘frictions’” February 6.

Sir, again, for the umpteenth time, the price of being “More resilient to crises” in the way current regulators propose, is only to be more exposed when crises happen? This is because the risk weighted capital requirements for banks that still, quite surrealistically, form part of regulations, by giving banks incentives to stay away from what is perceived as risky, might reduce the number of crisis, but that at the price of banks having especially little capital, right when the worst crises happen, namely those that result from something ex ante perceived, decreed or concocter as very safe turn out ex post to be very risky.

Sir, again, for the umpteenth time, your banking systems are in hands of regulators who cannot answer: “Why do you want banks to hold more capital against what’s been made innocous when perceived as risky, than against what’s dangerous because it’s perceived as safe? Does this not set the world up for slow growth and too-big-to-manage crises?”

But, then again, “Without fear and without favour” FT does not dare ask regulators those questions either.

PS. Brunsden and Cat Rutter Pooley also write that “Michel Barnier, EU chief negotiator visiting London, that “the time has come” for Britain to make a choice about what kind of future relationship it wants.” Does Barnier, know what future relation the EU wants with Britain after Brexit, or is it that he thinks he speaks for all Europe?


In order to achieve any real economic and financial normalisation the regulatory distortion of bank credit must be eliminated.

Sir, Mohamed El-Erian holds that: “the move up in US interest rates has attracted lots of attention. It’s been blamed for a violent sell-off in stocks, and fuelled warnings not just of an end to the bull market in bonds but, perhaps, also equities. That, in turn, can engender concerns about the housing market, corporate funding, financial stability and economic growth. Yet the causes behind the rise in bond yields suggest that this is more likely to be part of a larger — and healthier — economic and financial normalisation.” “Don’t forget the good news behind higher bond yields” February 6

Let me be absolutely clear, before the credit distorting and danger enhancing risk weighted capital requirements for banks are eliminated, and the difficult and very delicate task of recapitalizing these completed, there will be no real economic and financial normalization.


February 05, 2018

Banks now invest based on the risk-adjusted yields of assets adjusted for allowed leverages; that distorts the allocation of credit to the real economy.

Sir, Lawrence Summers, when writing about the challenges Jay Powell will face as Fed chairman mentions “Even with very low interest rates, the normal level of private saving consistently and substantially exceeds the normal level of private investment in the US” “Powell’s challenge at the Fed” February 5.

Not too long ago, markets, banks included, invested based on the risk adjusted yields they perceived the assets were offering. Some more sophisticated investors also looked to maximize the risk adjusted yield of their whole portfolio.

But, then in 1988 with Basel I, and especially in 2004 with Basel II, the regulators introduced risk based capital requirements for banks. As a consequence, banks now invest based on the risk-adjusted yields adjusted for the leverage allowed that they perceive the assets offer. As banks are allowed to leverage more with safe assets, which helps to increase their expected return on equity, they now invest more than usual, and at lower rates than usual, in “safe” assets like loans to sovereigns, AAA rated and mortgages. And of course, banks also invest less than usual, and at even higher rates than usual, in loans to the “risky” like entrepreneurs and SMEs.

That has helped to push the “risk free” down, and also explains much of the lowering of the neutral rate. Since the regulators now de facto block the channel of banks to the “risky” part of the economy, there is a lot of private investment that simply is not taking place any longer.

It is sad and worrisome that neither the leaving Fed chairman, Janet Yellen, nor the arriving one, Jay Powell (nor Professor Summers for that matter) can apparently give a clear direct and coherent answer to the very straight forward questions of: “Why do regulators want banks to hold more capital against what’s been made innocous by being perceived as risky, than against what’s dangerous because it’s perceived as safe? Does that not set us up for slow growth and too-big-to-manage crises?


February 04, 2018

Jan Zielonka, yes, the ‘enlightened’ and not accountable to anyone besserwisser ‘experts’, are taking our world order down.

Martin Wolf writes that Jan Zielonka, in “Counter-Revolution”, holds that “liberal democracy and neo-liberal economics, migration and a multicultural society, historical ‘truths’ and political correctness, moderate political parties and mainstream media, cultural tolerance and religious neutrality…is under attack” and that he “is particularly critical of the EU, a “prototype of a non-majoritarian institution led by ‘enlightened’ experts”. “Project backlash”, February 3.

“Enlightened experts”? Absolutely! In 1988, without any real meaningful consultations, without thinking about the purpose of the banks, and without thinking thru its possible consequences, G10’s central bankers and regulators introduced risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

The Basel Committee then favored the sovereign with the outrageously statist risk weight of 0%; and, in 2004, the AAArisktocracy with 20% and the financing of residential houses with 35%; while disfavoring loans to unrated citizens, SMEs and entrepreneurs with a 100% risk weight.

Did those regulators ever explain why they should want to favor with lower capital requirements for banks that which is already favored by being perceived as safe, and thereby discriminate against that which is already disfavored by being perceived as risky? No. They are such besserwissers they don’t even hear the question.

These regulations seriously distorted the allocation of bank credit to the real economy by stimulating the banks to finance much more the “safer” present consumption than the future “riskier” production… something that truly constitutes a shameful intergenerational treason.

Besides a slowing economy, the only thing the risk weighting guarantees is that when banks systems really find themselves in trouble, which is when something perceived as very safe turns out to be very risky, banks will stand there with especially little capital. Brilliant eh?

Martin Wolf ends with “We can see the crisis of liberal democracy most clearly in the fact that so ardent, yet disappointed, a proponent offers not much more.”

Mr. Wolf what about your duty of “without fear and without favor” using your throne of influence to force the Basel Committee regulators to answer the questions that I have posed in thousand of letter to FT, and mostly to you?

Per Kurowski

January 31, 2018

If you want your sovereigns to have easier access to credit than your entrepreneurs, then you are not thinking on your grandchildren.

Sir, with respect to sovereign bond-backed securities you opine “bank regulation should be reformed to treat SBBS as favourably as national bonds in capital requirements — indeed, more favourably, since SBBS would make it less destabilising to have banks hold equity against concentrations of their own government’s bonds” “A rare chance to create a pan-eurozone safe asset” January 31.

What? Instead of a 0% risk weighting, these bonds collateralized with loans to sovereigns, should now have even a minus something risk weight percentage? So that banks can earn even higher expected returns on equity when lending to sovereigns? So that banks will lend even less to entrepreneurs. Sir, as a grandfather, let me tell you, that is a shameful proposition.

Defending the SBBS you argue: “the monetary union enjoys a well-deserved streak of growth”. Holy moly, what “well-deserved streak of growth” is that? Do you refer to that growth that has been financed by quantitative easing and by the low interest rates that makes it impossible for pension funds to live up to its offers? Come on! It is a totally undeserved growth… and one that will be very hard to repay.

You opine one should “create a truly pan-eurozone benchmark safe asset… the SBBS”

Sir, when you save, by investing in a bond, you should want the debtor invest your money well, so as to be able to repay you well. A eurozone SBBS seems here to be a bond designed so that no sovereign would have to repay it, and therefore no sovereign would be required to invest it well. Would you like your pension fund to invest in such SBBS with ultra low interest rates? 

And you also opine that “if issued in sufficient quantities, SBBS could help end the danger at the heart of the eurozone crisis: the “doom loop” between sovereign and bank debt. Banks holding senior SBBS would be safe from sovereign risk”

Sir, again, for the umpteenth time, that “doom loop” was created, in 1988, when regulators in their risk weighted capital requirements for bank assigned the sovereign a risk weight of 0% and the unrated citizens, those who form the backbone of any sovereign, a risk weight of 100%. And then I believe you said nothing about that!


January 29, 2018

On the issue of a Universal Basic Income everyone must take side. You are either with the citizens, or with the redistribution profiteers.

Sir, Richard Milne, with respect to the trial on Universal Basic income in Finland writes: “Ilkka Kaukoranta, chief economist of the SAK trade union confederation, is sceptical of the trial. Unions believe that taking away the conditionality of benefits — the requirement that their recipient has to look for work — would undermine the welfare system, leading to cuts. ‘A conditional safety net is the only way to combine a high level of benefits with a high level of employment,’ he says” “Finland puts ‘money for nothing’ policy to the test” January 29.

Let us be clear the “un-conditionality” of the Universal Basic Income threatens, directly, the franchise value of the redistribution profiteers. And, if this is not made clear, and they are immediately denounced at all time, we citizens do not stand a chance.

Is it going to be a world in which all of us are given some income that would make it easier for us to get out of bed and reach up to the new economy appearing, or is our only chance to survive to master the art of sucking up to the redistributors. 

In my saddened Venezuela, the current government offers, by means of food bags known as “CLAP”, much better chances of survival to those who bow their head and humiliate themselves by supporting it. Is that what you want? 


If you pick the wrong data stream, as bank regulators did, real tragedies can happen

Sir, Rana Foroohar writes: “The ability of a range of companies — in insurance, healthcare, retail and consumer goods — to personalise almost every kind of product and service based on data streams is not just a business model shift. It is a fundamental challenge to liberal democracy.” “Digital democracy is dangerous” January

Yesterday I received the following message from Amazon: “Based on your recent activity, we thought you might be interested in: The Complete Guide to Building with Rocks & Stone: Stonework Projects and Techniques”. Since, at least after the age of eight, I am absolutely sure I have never harbored any intention, much less a burning desire, to build with Rocks & Stone, I suppose that, in terms of using the correct data streams, they business are not really there yet. Neither are bank regulators, though that has much more serious consequences than me not clicking on that book.

Foroohar writes: “Illah Nourbakhsh, a professor at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon, [has] launched a project to educate elementary school children about the power of data, its risks and rewards, and how to use it to advocate for themselves.”

Great! I hope professor Nourbakhsh makes a case of explaining to the young that the regulators, when setting their current risk weighted capital requirements for banks, used the data about the riskiness of assets, and not the data about what risks those assets posed to the bank system. Had they picked the correct data stream, they would never ever have assigned a minimal risk-weight of 20% to what, perceived so safe as to be rated AAA, could be truly dangerous, and 150% to what, being perceived so risky so as to validate a below BB- rating, is totally innocous.

And then the professor could also, if he dares, explain to these youngsters that these perceived risk adverse regulations now have banks solely refinancing and extracting all value from the “safer” present economy; and not financing the “risky” future that they as young need to be financed, if they are going to have a reasonable future.


January 27, 2018

Good global economic governance also depends on the Financial Times of the world doing their duty by questioning diligently.

Sir, you write “The world economy is in good health. Global economic governance is not. The first remains acutely vulnerable to the second… Davos produced few ideas on compensating for US destructiveness” “The gaping hole in global economic governance” January 27.

No! The world economy is not in good health. Just look at all current world debt contracted to kick the 2007/08 crisis can forward, to finance current consumption and to inflate stock markets with excessive dividend payments and buy backs; and then compare it to how little of that debt has been used to finance future production.

And whatever US destructiveness you want to identify, it would pale when compared to the destructiveness caused by bank regulators with their risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

Sir, in a world were sleaziness abounds everywhere and for so many reasons, you find it more worthy of the Financial Times to launch a full-fledged investigation “without fear and without favor” of an all male-charity dinner; than daring for years to ask bank regulators some basic questions like:

Why do you want banks to hold more capital against what has been made innocous by being perceived as risky, than against what is dangerous because it is perceived as safe? Is that not setting us up for too big to manage crises?

What went through your mind (what did you smoke) of the Basel Committee allowing with Basel II banks to leverage a mindboggling 62.5 times their capital only because an AAA to AA rating issued by human fallible rating agencies was present?

Is being a safe mattress under which to stash away our savings a more important objective for our banks than allocating credit efficiently to the real economy? “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” John A Shedd

Why should you, as a regulator, want with lower capital requirements favor bank credit to what’s already favored by being perceived as safe, and thereby cutoff more the credit to what is already disfavored by being perceived as risky?

Why did you assign a 0% risk weight to sovereigns? Is that not runaway statism? If it is because sovereigns can always print money to pay back their loans, don’t you know that is precisely one of the real and worst risks with sovereigns?

As is, don’t you know you are dooming our economies to subprime performance and our banks to end up gasping for oxygen in some overpopulated safe-havens?

And that’s just for starters:

FT is as much at fault as anyone for the absurdness of current global governance of banks. Sir, this could also be referred to as sleazy journalism.


January 26, 2018

Martin Wolf, public borrowings are being subsidized by bank regulations

Sir, Martin Wolf discussing the UK government’s private finance initiative (PFI) and costs of capital writes: “A sophisticated counter-argument is that government borrowing enjoys an implicit subsidy from taxpayers. That represents an unpriced insurance contract… This subsidy makes government funding look cheaper. But this is an illusion. “Public-private partnerships have to change to be effective” January 26.

Illusion? Does Martin Wolf really think that if banks had to hold the same capital against sovereign debt, than for instance against loans to entrepreneurs, the interest rate on public debt would remain the same?

Or, in a similar vein, does Martin Wolf really think that if banks had to hold the same capital when financing houses, than for instance when lending to entrepreneurs, the price of houses would not be negatively affected?

Mr. Wolf: Do you really think it is the risks for the banking system that are being weighted in those capital requirements? If so, I am sorry to have to break the bad news to you, again, for the umpteenth time. The risks that are being weighted for are the risks of the assets per se, which is why regulator want banks to hold more capital against what is ex ante perceived as risky than against what is perceived as safe.

Which explains how they could assign a risk weight of only 20%, to what rated AAA could pose a terrible threat to our banks, and a whopping 150%, to what rated below BB- bankers won’t touch with a ten feet pole.

John Kenneth Galbraith, in his “Money: Whence it came, where it went” (1975) wrote: “What people do not understand, they generally think important. This adds to the prestige and pleasure of the participants” … and yes, Sir, “risk weighted capital requirements” sounds indeed so delightfully sophisticated… almost as much as “derivatives”.


January 19, 2018

Will Davos 2018, again ignore the financial weapon of mass destruction concocted by the Basel Committee populists?

Sir, Gillian Tett when commenting the concerns that will be expressed at the 2018 Davos meetings writes “The biggest perceived danger of 2018, in terms of impact, is that somebody uses weapons of mass destruction”, Holy moly! and ends with: “keep a close eye on what Davos is not worrying about enough this year: that pesky matter of global finance, particularly in places such as China.” “Populist swing alarms financial titans” January 19.

My concern though is that the technocratic and hubristic populism, proclaimed by the Basel Committee will again not be denounced in Davos, perhaps because doing so might be deemed ungentlemanly or ungentlewomanly behavior in such fine surroundings.

I refer of course to their promise that distorting bank credit with risk weighted capital requirements for banks will make our banks safer.

Higher capital requirements for what’s “risky”, has caused among other that millions of entrepreneurs, those on which so much of our economic future depends, have seen their credit applications rejected or not even received by banks.

Lower capital requirements for what’s “safe”, has among other, helped to fuel house prices which has overloaded that sector with mortgages that, within a future subprime economy, seem impossible to service.

And let’s not even talk about what the 0% risk weight awarded to sovereigns has done in terms of statism and of blurring the risk free rates.

Sir, no doubt about it, the risk weighted capital requirements for banks, is a weapon of financial mass destruction.

Did we not see it explode with AAA rated securities that banks were allowed to leverage 62.5 times with?

Did we not see it explode in Greece with sovereign debt that European regulators allowed their banks to hold against no capital at all?

If a regulator is incapable to provide a clear answer to: “Why do you want banks to hold more capital against what has been made innocous by being perceived as risky, than against what is dangerous because it is perceived as safe?” should he not be fired Sir?


PS. On the same page Philip Stephens writes:” The World Economic Forum and the Davos crowd pride themselves on their globalism has set itself the fearsome task of mapping “a shared future in a fractured world”. “Trump, Davos and the special relationship”. The risk weighted capital requirements, which favor refinancing of the “safer” present over financing the “riskier” future, is fracturing the world and causing the future to produce less and less of what could be shared.


January 18, 2018

Why do FT reporters refuse to implicate regulators and their risk weighted capital requirements for banks in the 2007-08 crisis?

Sir, Patrick Jenkins writes: “As a correspondent in Frankfurt in the early 2000s, I saw first-hand how a sector that had grown fat on government-supported AAA credit ratings, turned hubristic. The situation was at its worst — and most dangerous — after the EU pressured Berlin to end the government guarantee regime in 2005. That ruling prompted the banks to raise three years’ worth of money in the bond markets within a matter of months. It gave them vast investment resources to deploy just at the time when Wall Street and the City of London were aggressively pushing complex collateralised debt obligations underpinned by sub-prime mortgages and other nominally safe, but ultimately toxic, products to anyone that would buy them”, “The role of dumb money in Carillion’s crash”, January 18.

Amazing! Jenkins does not mention the fact that in June 2004, with Basel II, the Basel Committee approved a risk weight of only 20% for all private sector debt rated AAA to AA. That, with a basic capital requirement of 8%, meant banks needed to hold only 1.6% in capital against what was so rated; which meant the banks could leverage a mind-blowing 62.5 times with such assets.

It was pure regulatory lunacy! And the same loony regulators are still at it. How FT’s journalists and experts can keep so mum on the role of dumb and irresponsible regulations escapes me.

Jenkins refers to “complex collateralised debt obligations underpinned by sub-prime mortgages and other nominally safe” What a BS. These were AAA rated securities, that was what the market and bankers saw.

In January 2003 the Financial Times published a letter I wrote and that ended with: “Everyone knows that, sooner or later, the ratings issued by the credit agencies are just a new breed of systemic error to be propagated at modern speeds. Friends, please consider that the world is tough enough as it is.”

PS. FT, Jenkins, do yourself a favor. Go to all banks that had any involvement with Carillion and carefully research how much capital they held against exposures to it, before the blow-up. And ask to have a look at their equity requirements’ minimizing sophisticated risk-models, or at any “superficial credit analysis” … and don’t just naively believe anything they tell you.


January 17, 2018

The risk weighted capital requirements for banks close way too many development doors.

Sir, Martin Wolf referring to the World Bank’s latest Global Economic Prospects writes: “A slowdown in the potential rate of growth is affecting many developing countries. This is not only the result of demographic change, but also of a weakening in productivity growth. They need to tackle this urgently.” “Recovery is a chance for the emerging world” January 17.

Sir, during my two years as an Executive Director of the World Bank, and with respect to the Basel Committees’ bank regulations, I continuously argued for the need to maintain “an adequate equilibrium between risk-avoidance and the risk-taking needed to sustain growth.”

At the High level Dialogue on Financing for developing I presented a document titled “Are Basel bank regulations good for development?” which I answered with a clear NO!

In 2009 Martin Wolf, in his Economic Forum allowed me to publish “Free us from the imprudent risk aversion and give us some prudent risk-taking”.

And in hundreds sites more, among other with over 2600 letters to FT, I have argued about the horrible mistakes of the risk weighted capital requirements for banks present, not just for developing countries but also for developed ones.

The distortion these produce in the allocation of bank credit in favor or what is perceived or decreed as safe, sovereigns, AAA rated and mortgages, has impeded millions of “risky” entrepreneurs around the world to gain access to bank credit, thereby hindering much new productivity.

And those regulations will not bring us stability, much the contrary.

So the first thing to do to allow what Wolf wants, “greater entrepreneurial effort, more competition, higher investment and faster improvements in productivity”, is the elimination of risk weighted capital requirements for banks.” But Martin Wolf will most probably not agree, because how could he?

Sir, and as I have told you umpteenth times those regulations will not bring us stability, much the contrary.

PS. Look for instance at houses. What would the price of a house be if there was no financing available to purchase these? Of the current price of houses how much is represented by the intrinsic value of the house, and how much is a reflection of all one-way-or-another subsidized financing allocated to that sector? The sad truth is that our society has ended up financing the financing of houses. When all that low risk weighted mortgaging comes home to roost in a subprime unproductive economy, it will be hellish.


January 13, 2018

Parent regulators, not even aware they were the ones blowing the bubbles, shamelessly put all the blame on their toddler banks when these burst.

Sir, Tim Harford writes: “As any toddler can attest, it is not an easy thing to catch a bubble before it bursts” “Forever blowing bubblemania” January 13.

That is entirely true. But though we should not expect our toddlers to know it, parents are fully aware that the bubbles their dearest are chasing, were blown up by them, in the clear expectation that these would burst, or delightfully disappear in the skies.

Harford concludes in that “It’s very easy to scoff at past bubbles; it is not so easy to know how to react when one may — or may not — be surrounded by one”

Not entirely true, because that should not excuse the case of parents not even being aware they’re blowing bubbles.

In the western world, regulators, for instance, by allowing banks to leverage their equity so much when financing residential houses, are, no doubt about it, blowing up a house credit bubble that will surely blow up in our face… even though we cannot exactly know when that will happen.

When with Basel II in 2004 regulators allowed banks to leverage a mindboggling 62.5 times their capital, only because an AAA to AA rating was present, it should have been clear to them that they were blowing a bubble. Seemingly they did not. Worse, when then the AAA rated securities backed with subprime mortgages exploded in their face, they should have been able to put two and two together, but no, they put all the blame on the banks, the toddlers in this case. Even to the extent of describing the excessive bank exposures to AAA rated assets, or to sovereigns like Greece who with a 0% risk weight they had decreed infallible, as an irresponsible excessive risk-taking by bankers. They should be ashamed!

PS. Like Harford’s senior colleague I was also very skeptical about Amazon’s valuation. In April 1999 I wrote in an Op-Ed that Amazon had “joined the rank and files of ‘tulipomanias’” Yes, I admit, it is now worth much more than it ever was at that time. That said, and though Amazon is now way more than about books, I still suspect that, long term, because of: “‘shopping agents’ will permit clients to quickly compare one company’s prices to those of its competition, which would seem to presage an eventual fierce price wars, would create an environment that is not exactly the breeding ground for profits that back the market valuations we are now observing”.

But then I also assumed institutional “efforts aimed at prohibiting any monopolistic controls of the Web”, and in this perhaps I could have been way to naïve.


January 12, 2018

How would I privatize a public service? Always making sure that who owns and manages it, are neighbors I can hold accountable.

Sir, I refer to Martin Wolf’s discussion on the subject of privatized or not public services. “Nationalisation is the wrong answer to a real question” December 12.

I was a very active participant, wearing many different hats, in many of the privatizations that took place in my Venezuela, during its privatization influenza.

Like Wolf I much favour the private over the public sector managing these services but, looking back, the number one requirement I would make when privatizing, would be to require the private owners of any such privatized public services, to live within the community, and have their affiliation to the public service transparently identified all the time. Like being able to call over the fence: “Hey Bill, what happened last night when the lights went out”, “Hey Bill, can’t you find a way to stop it from being so expensive?”

I felt in the air the immediate difference between a private electrical services company held by a family living in Caracas, who wanted to make profits but also to be seen as good public servants, and that same company when it passed into the hands of absentee owners.

It was day and night! The new investors loaded up the old conservative run company with debt, took most of their skin out of the game paying themselves huge dividends and other services, and left the poor users having to serve that debt.

Of course, then came Hugo Chávez and put it all in the hands of the government, and so it went from a bit bad to plain horrible.


January 10, 2018

The financial-elite’s reluctance to ask bank regulators for clear explanations, seriously threatens the west’s liberal democracy and global order

Sir, Martin Wolf asks and answers: “What has created sharp (and usually unexpected) slowdowns? The answers have been financial crises, inflation shocks and wars” “The world economy hums as politics sour” January 10.

Indeed, but currently our economies are also suffering a slow but steady state slowdown as a consequence of the insane risk weighted capital requirements for banks, which were created in the name of making banks more stable. It all boils down to the following:

If a “safe” AAA rated offered a correct risk adjusted net interest margin to a bank, a loan to it could, according to the Basel Committee’s Basel II of 2002, be leveraged 62.5 times but, if that correct risk adjusted net interest margin was offered by a “risky” unrated entrepreneur or an SME, then a loan to these could only be leveraged 12.5 times.

As a direct result bank credit has been used to finance “safer” present consumption; to inflate values of mostly existing assets; and way too little to finance “riskier” future production.

In summary it amounts to having placed a reverse mortgage on our past and present economy, in order to extract all of its value now, not caring one iota about tomorrow, and much less about that holy social intergenerational contract Edmund Burke spoke about.

But Wolf could argue that this is evidently not true because: “Yet the world economy is humming, at least by the standards of the past decade. According to consensus forecasts, optimism about prospects for this year’s growth has improved substantially for the US, eurozone, Japan and Russia”

Sir, it’s all a debt financed economic growth. Like a family having a great Christmas by racking up debt on their credit cards. How much of the enormous recent growth of debt everywhere has gone to finance future builders like entrepreneurs and SMEs? The answer is surely a totally insignificant fraction.

Wolf here anew identifies threats: “The election of Donald Trump, a bellicose nationalist with limited commitment to the norms of liberal democracy, threatens to shatter the coherence of the west. Authoritarianism is resurgent and confidence in democratic institutions in decline almost everywhere.”

Sir, sincerely, what is all that compared to the fact that the world’s financial elites, either because it is not in their interests, or because lacking self confidence they are afraid they might have overlooked something, do not have the gut to firmly ask regulators: “Why do you want banks to hold more capital against what has been made innocous by being perceived risky, than against what is dangerous because it is perceived safe?”, and not accepting any flimsy nonsensical answer veiled in sophisticated voodoo technicalities.

Martin Wolf has moderated numerous important conferences on financial regulations, but not one has he dared to ask that simple question. Could it just be because he is scared he would then not be invited again as a moderator? Or is it that he just doesn’t get it.

And Sir, you have really not been living up to your motto either. Shame on you!

PS. And all that risk adverse regulations for nothing, since, as I have told Wolf and FT time after time, major bank crisis, like that of 2007/08, never ever result from excessive exposures to what is ex ante perceived as risky.


January 09, 2018

If AI was allowed to have a crack at the weights used by current risk weighted capital requirements for banks, the regulators would surely have a lot of explaining to do.

Sir, John Thornhill writes that he saw an artificial intelligence program crack in 12 minutes and 50 seconds the mindbendingly complex Enigma code used by the Germans during the second world war” “Competent computers still cannot comprehend” January 9.

I wish AI would also be asked to suggest some weights for the risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

For instance in Basel II the standardized risk weight assigned to something rated AAA, and therefore perceived as very safe, something to which banks could build up dangerous exposures, is 20%; while the risk weight for something rated below BB-, and therefore perceived to be very risky, and therefore banker won’t touch it with a ten feet pole, is 150%.

I would love to see for instance Mario Draghi’s, Mark Carney’s, and Stefan Ingves’ faces, if artificial intelligence, smilingly, came up with weights indicating a quite inverse relation between perceived risks and real dangers to a banking system.


January 08, 2018

The worst problem with the dangerously growing debt is what it has not financed

Sir, Pascal Blanque and Amin Rajan write: “for central banks, global debt is like the sword of Damocles — an ever-present danger. It stands at about 330 per cent of annual economic output, up from 225 per cent in 2008… No one knows all the cracks into which excess liquidity has seeped — or what risks are being stored up”, “Beware the butterfly: global economies are on borrowed time” January 7.

Sir, if central bankers are only now waking up to this fact, then you must agree with that we are in much bigger problems that we thought.

Central bankers, lacking in character and not wanting to live up to their own responsibilities, dared not do anything but to push the 2007/08 crisis cart down the road, with their QEs and low interest rates. For someone who argued back in 2006 the benefits of a hard landing, that is bad enough.

But it’s so much worse than that. Blanque and Rajan argue that “Debt means consumption brought forward while low rates mean the survival of zombie borrowers and companies… High debt is not intrinsically bad so long as it is used to fund investments that deliver profits or create financial assets worth more than the debt. Data on this score are hard to come by.”

And there lies the fundamental problem. Because of risk weighted capital requirements for banks, bank credit has been used to finance “safer” present consumption; to inflate values of mostly existing assets; and way too little to finance “riskier” future production. It amounts to having placed a reverse mortgage on our past and present economy, in order to extract all of its value now, not caring one iota about tomorrow, and much less about that holy social intergenerational contract Edmund Burke spoke about.

It is clear the experts Blanque and Rajan have yet not understood what happened as they write: “The origins of the current worries predate the 2008 crisis which was caused when lending standards went from responsible to reckless: the siphoning of money into dodgy ventures such as subprime mortgages, covenant-light loans or sovereign lending based on creative accounting.”

The truth is that without truly reckless regulatory standards, those which allowed banks to leverage over 62.5 time to 1 with securities rated by human fallible rating agencies AAA; and, at least in Europe, allowing banks to lend to a 0% risk weighted sovereign like Greece against no capital at all, nothing of the above would have happened.

What to do? In my mind, in order to extricate the world of this problem, we need first to rid us completely of the credit distorting risk weighted capital requirements; and second, to be able to manage the transition to for instance a 10% capital requirements against all assets, including sovereigns, without freezing the whole credit machinery, perhaps bank creditors would have to accept, in partial payment of their credits, negotiable non redeemable common fully voting shares issued by the banks. If that helps to bring back undistorted bank vitality, it might be the best shares to have ever.

PS. Blanque and Rajan reference “S&P 500 corporates… stashing cash reserves outside the US.” What cash? Treasurers have not stacked away cash under corporate mattresses. Those surpluses are all already invested in assets, of all sorts, and which could suffer losses just like any other assets.