December 02, 2017

What cultural insight could anthropologist Gillian Tett, or any neo-Cannibal Club colleague of hers give in order for me to better understand bank regulations that seem so loony?

Sir, Gillian Tett, commenting on Marc Flandreauan economic historian’s 2016 book “Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange”, writes about the “Cannibal Club, a so-called anthropological society that, its members hoped, would explore far-flung cultures in order to uncover what made humans tick” “It is primitive to ignore what links finance and social science” December 2.

When Tett refers to that “By the middle of the 19th century, much debt was turning sour due to defaults, corruption and fraud (some perpetrated by British swindlers who misled investors about opportunities on offer). Sovereign loans in places such as Venezuela kept delivering nasty shocks.” I would then have liked very much to be able to ask those anthropologists whether if all, or any, of those failed financial assets had been ex ante considered risky. 

Today I would also like to ask any neo-Cannibals why they think current bank regulators could want banks to hold more capital against what is perceived as risky? To me that is a mystery. Is it not when something perceived ex ante as very safe turns out ex post as very risky, that one would really like banks to have the most of it?

On Venezuela’s defaults, Tett suggests “thinking about this historical link between capital markets and culture, and between finance and social sciences” I would add the fact that Venezuela’s main export revenues, oil, currently 97% of these are centralized in its government. If that’s not enough to know that things will, sooner or later, go utterly wrong, I do not know what is.