March 18, 2017

Let us not allow group-thinking unaccountable technocrats operating in mutual admiration clubs decide for us voters

Sir, Tim Harford explains many reasons why a normal voter cannot be duly informed about all matters. Though that weakens democracy, it is a fact of life, and so he opines: “The workaround for voter ignorance is to delegate the details to expert technocrats.” “The man in Whitehall sometimes does know best” March 18.

I agree, except that I would have to add the caveat: As long as those technocrats operate transparently and can be openly questioned by any normal voter who happens to be interested in the subject.

And I say that out of experience. I consider the risk weighted capital requirements for banks that have come out of the Basel Committee to be about the most damaging and useless regulations ever; and I have a long list of questions that I have never been able to get a response to. Like for instance:

Why did the regulators not look at all empirical evidence that exists on what has caused all major bank crises? In that case they would not have assigned a risk weight of only 20% to what is so dangerous for the banking system as what is AAA rated, and one of 150% to the totally innocuous below BB- rated.

Why did the regulators not define the purpose of the banks before regulating these? In that case they would not have ignored the distortions in the allocation of bank credit this regulation causes?

Of course journalists, like those in the Financial Times, could play a vital role going between technocrats and voters… but what when they don’t want to do that for their own particular reasons?

PS. Harford writes “Better a flawed expert than a flawed amateur” Yes, but let us keep a watchful eye on the experts; let us never forget George Orwell’s comment, in “Notes on Nationalism”, “one has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool” or references to Patrick Moynihan opining “There are some mistakes it takes a Ph.D. to make”.