October 21, 2016
Sir, Gillian Tett writes: “The US used to be renowned for having a more flexible and mobile workforce than Europe; in previous centuries millions of people travelled in search of land, riches and jobs. But mobility has declined… [and] if mobility keeps falling, the sense of political polarisation and rage in [some] places will rise”, “The pioneering spirit America would do well to revive” October 21.
Ms Tett argues that this is all a bit counterintuitive since “the internet is supposed to have created a hyperconnected world that makes it easier to connect workers with far-flung jobs”.
Not necessarily, for instance we do not know how many can thanks to Internet be working somewhere else, without having to move. Also, much the same way internet can inform about existing job opportunities, it can make it much harder to sell those illusions of other green valleys that stimulated much mobility in the past.
As a possible countermeasure Tett advances that “The next president may also need a 21st-century version of the 1862 Homestead Act — which offered land to settlers who went west — and find new ways to encourage workers to relocate.”
Ms Tett should not forget that “land” to settlers is just a resource, just like bank credit is; and that we live in a world where mindless risk adverse regulators, with their risk weighted capital requirements, have de facto hindered credit mobility; telling the banks to stay where it seems safe, and not to go where it could be risky.
For the umpteenth time I quote from John Kenneth Galbraith’s “Money: whence it came, where it went”,1975:
“For the new parts of the country [USA’s West]… there was the right to create banks at will and therewith the notes and deposits that resulted from their loans…[if] the bank failed…someone was left holding the worthless notes… but some borrowers from this bank were now in business...[jobs created]
It was an arrangement which reputable bankers and merchants in the East viewed with extreme distaste… Men of economic wisdom, then as later expressing the views of the reputable business community, spoke of the anarchy of unstable banking… The men of wisdom missed the point. The anarchy served the frontier far better than a more orderly system that kept a tight hand on credit would have done…. what is called sound economics is very often what mirrors the needs of the respectfully affluent.”
Clearly, the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board represent Galbraith’s “men of economic wisdom… [who serve] the needs of the respectfully affluent”.
So, if Ms Tett really wants the pioneering spirit of America to revive, then she should start by wanting to also allow credit to move freely; condemning the dangerous mumbo-jumbo preaches of the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board. That would in essence mean using one single percentage capital requirement for all assets, no matter in which risk-land these assets reside.
Unfortunately Ms Tett (and you too Sir) has been steadfastly mum on the issue of the regulatory distortion of bank credit, no doubt defending (“without favor”) her choice of “wise men” with their affluent and mostly Davos settled constituency.
“Wise men”? To know that unrated SMEs are risky to banks, is of knowledgeable men; but to understand that AAA rated assets are dangerous to bank systems, is of wise men.