April 07, 2015

Since it can always pay back through inflation, I bank regulator, decree sovereign debt to have a zero risk-weight.

Sir, Diane Coyle begins “A history of inflation – and a future of deflation” April 7 with describing high inflation as “socially and economically corrosive, redistributing purchasing power away from small savers and those on low wages that do not keep up, and also degrading trust in long-term bargains”. In other words a truly public bad.

But then, because of “the effect deflation would have on real debt burdens” and how this would be “inhibiting a return to growth”, she ends arguing that “A quick and political painless way to reduce debt burdens, private and public, is a bout of high inflation.” Clearly a case of the damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

But, if what is really needed is a 30 percent inflation to cut all debts back to something livable, why not an Emergency Act that decrees a 30 percent haircut applicable to all debts in the society, including that of banks to its depositors. Would that not be a more transparent, less distortive and, hopefully, a politically more painful solution, so that we can get a little bit more accountability into the system?

I mention this because clearly the concept of inflation not being a haircut, although intellectually very repulsive, must be a prerequisite for allowing bank regulators to argue something so loony as a zero percent risk-weight for sovereign debt.