October 10, 2017

Beware, nudging, like that done by bank regulators, can have very dangerous unexpected consequences

Sir, Tim Harford writes: “Professor Richard Thaler’s catch-all advice: whether you’re a business or a government, if you want people to do something, make it easy.”, “Thaler’s Nobel is a well-deserved nudge for behavioural economics” October 10.

Yes “making it easy” is great advice, but it is only truly helpful if what is made easier is really good for you… otherwise it could be outright dangerous… like nudging someone over a cliff.

Regulators, caring little or nothing for the credit allocation function of banks, foremost wanted these to avoid risks. To that effect they allowed banks to hold less capital against what’s perceived or decreed safe than against what’s perceived risky.

With that regulators allowed banks to easily obtain higher risk-adjusted returns on equity lending to The Safe than when lending to The Risky.

With that regulators dangerously nudged our banks into too much exposure to The Safe and too little to The Risky.

The result was a bank crisis because of excessive exposure to The Safe: sovereigns, AAArisktocracy and mortgages; and economic doldrums because of insufficient credit to The Risky: SMEs and entrepreneurs.

Sir, and so here we are, without most not even knowing about the odious regulatory nudging that was as is being done.

What rules do we have to impose on nudging to make sure it is done right?