September 16, 2016

Governments best take big decisions, when there’s no conflict of interest, no stupid groupthink, and contestability.

Sir, I come from an country, Venezuela, where privatizations of public owned utilities were based not on who would provide us citizens the best services, but on who would provide the state with the highest upfront payment… an anticipated tax revenue for the government, to be paid later by us citizens by means of higher than needed tariffs, for decades to come. And, to top it up, that was accused of being odious neo-liberalism product of the Washington Consensus. 

That’s why when I read Martin Wolf’s “Big energy decisions are best taken by government, not the market” of September 16… I immediately reacted… “Hold it there, take it very easy!”

If government is going to take big decisions, as it should, we must make sure all its possible conflicts of interest are removed, and that the decision process is transparent and guarantees contestability, and not just the result of a small mutual admiration club of technocrats/bureaucrats.

For instance, allowing bank regulators to impose their statism of a 0% risk weight for the Sovereign and a 100% risk weight for “We the People”, was wrong.

And allowing bank regulators to impose risk weighted capital requirements for banks based on the ex ante perceived risks of bank assets, and not on the ex post risks conditioned on the ex ante perceived risks, was utterly stupid. What’s the chance of something really bad happening from something perceived as “safe”, and what is it for something “risky”?

Wolf lectures us: “Rational risk-taking by individual financial businesses will create substantial threats for others. This, too, is a spillover, or “externality”. Financial regulation has to internalise such externalities, thereby reducing the likelihood of crises and making them more manageable when they arrive. One way to do so is to raise capital requirements far above what profit-seekers would wish”

I argue that much more important than that, is to get rid of the credit-risk weighting of the capital requirements that only distorts the allocation of bank credit to the real economy while serving no bank safeness purpose, much the contrary. Wolf, in spite of hundreds of letters I have sent him over a decade on this issue, has yet to understand that.

And Wolf ends “The government must have the courage to make… difficult decisions and the wisdom to make them well.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, but what if the decision makers are dumb and we are not allowed to correct them… because so many want to suck up to them nevertheless (like in Davos)… or because some are interested in exploiting that dumbness? 

@PerKurowski ©