September 22, 2017

The interest rates on public debt are distorted by QEs and bank regulations. Seemingly no one dares to research that

Sir, Baroness Ros Altmann, when commenting on Martin Wolf’s (“Capitalism and democracy are the odd couple” of September 20, writes:

“Global central banks have artificially distorted capital markets for several years, by creating vast amounts of new money to buy sovereign debt. The supposedly “risk-free” interest rate, on which much of the system depends, has been undermined (and she concludes)… it is important to consider the democratic dangers to capitalism which prolonged QE may pose. ” “Disguised fiscal measures play role in democratic recession” September 22.

She is absolutely correct, and I have over the years written for instance Martin Wolf numerous letters on it.

But there is also the regulatory distortions provoked by the risk weighted capital requirements for banks introduced in 1988 with Basel I, and which assigned a 0% risk weight to sovereigns.

That meant at that time, and well into current Basel III times, that banks needed to hold little or no capital when lending to sovereigns; meaning banks were authorized to leverage immensely when lending to sovereigns; meaning banks could earn fabulous risk adjusted returns on equity when lending to sovereigns; meaning banks would lend too much and at too low rates to sovereigns.

So, when to QEs we add this through-the-back-door regulatory subsidies to government borrowings from banks (and now with Solvency II extended to insurance companies) it is absolutely clear we have no idea what the real cost of public debt is; and so we are all flying blind… and government bureaucrats having much easier access to bank credit than SMEs or entrepreneurs.

Last November, during IMF’s Annual Research Conference, I got at long last one of the major experts, in this case Olivier Blanchard, to agree with me in that “lets make sure that we have removed all the distortions which we can, which affect r (rates), so we have the right r”.

Sir, as of this moment that was the last time I have heard about it.

Why is there no response? Perhaps the answer is found in Upton Sinclair’s “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”