October 14, 2016

The west did not lose the world; it unwittingly gave up the world, in a process that began in London, 2 September 1986

Sir, Philip Stephens puts forward the argument that “The global financial crash of 2007-08 cruelly exposed the weaknesses of liberal capitalism” is one of the causes for “How the west has lost the world” October 14.

Nonsense! Liberal capitalism, and much of the willingness of the west to dare to hang on to its position in the world, was abandoned the day bank regulators decided that the risk weight for sovereigns was 0% while that of We the People 100%; and the day they foolishly decided to base the capital requirements for banks, on ex ante perceived risks, as if these risk were not already cleared for by banks.

“On September 2, 1986, the fine cutlery was laid once again at the Bank of England governor’s official residence at New Change… The occasion was an impromptu visit from Paul Volcker… When the Fed chairman sat down with Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton and three senior BoE officials, the topic he raised was bank capital… the momentum it galvanized… produced an unanticipated breakthrough of a fully articulated, common bank capital adequacy regime for the United States and United Kingdom. This in turn catalyzed one of the 1980’s most remarkable achievements – the first worldwide protocol on the definitions, framework, and minimum standards for the capital adequacy of international active banks… They literally wiped the blackboard clean, then explored designing a new risk-weighted capital adequacy for both countries…”

The Basel Committee’s risk weighting introduced a regulatory risk aversion that, had it been in place before, would never ever have allowed the west to become the leading west. To top it up, it distorted the allocation of bank credit to the real economy, for nothing, since what never ever causes major bank crises, is what is perceived as risky. These always result from unexpected events or excessive exposures to something that was erroneously perceived ex ante as very safe, or if really safe, made risky by receiving too much credit. The global financial crash of 2007-08 was a direct result of these capital requirements.

Sir, our grandchildren are going to look back with a lot of sadness to that day and ask themselves, how could our grandfathers have done this to us? Didn’t they know they themselves did well only because their parents had dared to take the risks the future needs? Why did they only settle for having their banks refinance the safer past and present?

And Sir, if you are still around, they are going to ask you: why did not papers like the Financial Times speak about this for many decades?

@PerKurowski ©