November 21, 2015

Tim Harford, non-transparent taxes disguised in clothes of bank regulations, is that not statist sadism?

Sir, I refer to Tim Harford’s discussion of taxes from the perspective of economists, “The pillar of tax wisdom”, November 21.

If companies could like governments print money so as to repay their debts with money worth less, or if companies, like governments do when they increase taxes, could when in need force shareholders and strangers to pay in additional equity to help repay its debts, then companies could be as “good-credits” as governments.

In 1988, the overall important G10, with the Basel Accord, sprang the risk weighted capital requirements for banks on the world. In it bank regulators amazingly decreed the risk weight of the sovereign, meaning the government, was to be zero percent, while that of the private sector was set at 100 percent.

From that moment on, banks of G10 would be able to leverage their equity more with loans to the sovereign than when lending to the private sector. And that meant banks would earn higher expected risk adjusted returns on equity when lending to the government than when lending to the “risky” private sector. Of course, implicitly it also meant that regulators believe that governments could use bank credit more efficiently than the private sector. In other words an expression of statist sadism!

That translated into a non-transparent subsidy for the government, just another different type of tax revenue, payable by all the extra interest rates or lesser access to bank credit the private sector would have as a result of it.

How much would that tax be? It is hard to say but, if we consider that the most important part of its cost is the foregone opportunities of fair access of bank credit to SMEs and entrepreneurs, then we could be talking about some truly mindboggling amounts.

Sir, would you ask Tim Harford whether he, as an economist, has any opinion about taxes disguised as regulations?

PS. That subsidy also implies that the usual proxy for risk-free rates, like US Treasury, now indicates a subsidized risk free rate

​Per Kurowski


@PerKurowski ©