January 27, 2019

The Blue Monday fiction is nothing when compared to Basel Committee’s risk weighted capital requirements fiction.

Sir, Tim Harford writes, “Given that it is pure fiction, the “Blue Monday” meme is showing surprising longevity”, and he asks “Why do such ideas endure? What do they tell us about our attitude to science, evidence or the truth itself?” “The pseudoscience of Blue Monday hits trust” January 26.

But really, what’s the significance of some falling for an innocous Blue Monday fiction, when compared to that fiction that what's perceived as risky is more dangerous to our bank systems than what's perceived as safe? 

The first one might cause some to travel on not a really adequate date for them, the latter, when translated into risk weighted bank capital requirements for banks, distorts the allocation of credit to the real economy; only guaranteeing especially large crises, because of especially large bank exposures to something perceived as especially safe that turns out to be especially risky, held against especially little bank capital.

Harford refers to Onora O’Neill in that “we should be aiming for a better ability to trust what is trustworthy and to mistrust what is not”. In the case of journalists he says that “the non-experts among us could do more to keep ourselves well-informed.”

Since the information on bank regulations is out there readily available for anyone who cares to look at it, that should suffice to answer his question on whether “we should be more trusting, or more sceptical?”

Sir, Skepticism 101 courses are much needed. May I humbly suggest you and Harford could benefit from taking one of these?


If you finance “safe” consumption more than “risky” production, growth will come to a standstill.

John Dizard writes: “What if global income growth, or even national income growth, cannot cover the cost of servicing capital? Then the capital market machinery would have to shift into generating losses rather than returns.” “Bondholders face greater likelihood of haircuts as system goes into reverse” January 26.

Absolutely! When regulators decided that banks could hold less capital against the “safer” present than against the “riskier future”; meaning they could leverage more with the safer present than with the riskier future; meaning they would be able to earn higher expected risk adjusted returns on equity when financing the safer present than the riskier future, they ordained that to happen.

Basel II assigned a risk weight of 35% to residential mortgages, which on an 8% base capital signified a capital requirement of 2.8%, which signified an allowed leverage of 35.7 times.

Basel II assigned a risk weight of 100% to unrated entrepreneurs, which on an 8% base capital signified a capital requirement of 2.8%, which signified an allowed leverage of 12.5 times.

That allows banks to earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity financing residential mortgages than giving loans to entrepreneurs.

The consequence? Many will sit in their houses without the jobs needed to service the mortgages or pay the utilities.


January 16, 2019

What good is it to celebrate the euro’s first 20 years if, as is, it won’t make the next 20?

Sir I refer to Martin Wolf’s “Marking the euro at 20: the eurozone is doomed to succeed” January 16.

November 1998 in an Op-Ed titled “Burning the Bridges in Europe” I wrote: 

“As participants in a globalized world in which Europe has an important role, we must naturally wish all members luck, no matter what worries we might secretly harbor.

The Euro has one characteristic that differentiates it from the Dollar. This characteristic makes me feel less optimistic as to its chances of success. The Dollar is backed by a solidly unified political entity, the United States of America. The Euro, on the other hand, seems to be aimed at creating unity and cohesion. It is not the result of these.

The possibility that the European countries will subordinate their political desires to the whims of a common Central Bank that may be theirs but really isn’t, is not a certainty. 

Exchange rates, while not perfect, are escape valves. By eliminating this valve, European countries must make their economic adjustments in real terms. This makes these adjustments much more explosive. High unemployment will not be confronted with a devaluation of the currency which reduces the real value of salaries in an indirect manner, but rather with a direct and open reduction of salaries or with an increase of emigration to areas offering better possibilities.”

Sir, twenty years later those observations are still valid, and way too little has been done to solve the challenges.

Now add to that the fact that even though Eurozone sovereigns take on debt in a currency not denominated in their own domestic printable one, EU authorities have assigned a risk weight of 0% to all of them. That all points to that it will end badly.

So Sir, though Martin Wolf raises many more or less valid alerts and gives some recommendations worth heeding, he should also be thinking about how to get the euro out from that “0% risk” death-trap corner into which it has been painted.


January 11, 2019

What I as a former Executive Director, pray that any new President of the World Bank understands

A letter to the Financial Times

Sir, I was an ED at WB from November 2002 until October 2004. During that time Basel II was being discussed. It was approved in June 2004. 

I was against the basic principles of these regulations that had begun with the Basel Accord of 1988, Basel I. That should be clear from Op-Eds I had published earlier, transcripts of my statements at the WB Board, and in the letters that I wrote and FT published during that time. Here is a brief summary of all that 

Since then I haven't changed my mind... that package of bank regulations is almost unimaginable bad.

I pray the next president of the world’s premier development bank, whoever he is, and wherever he comes from, at least, as a minimum minimorum, understands:

First, that risk-taking is the oxygen of any development, and therefore the regulators’ risk adverse risk weighted capital requirements, will distort against banks taking the risks that help to push our economies forward. “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.”, John A Shedd.

Second, that what’s perceived as risky is much less dangerous to our bank systems than what’s perceived as safe, and so that these regulations doom us to especially large bank crises, because of especially large exposures to what is especially perceived (or decreed) as safe, against especially little capital.

Sir, would you not agree that mine is a quite reasonable wish?


January 09, 2019

The world’s banking systems are dangerously fragile, courtesy of inept and statist regulators.

Sir, Martin Wolf writes: “Should we be concerned about the state of the world economy? Yes: it always makes sense to be concerned. That does not mean something is sure to go badly wrong in the near future… It is the political and policy instability, combined with the exhaustion of safe options for credit expansion, that would make handling even a limited and natural short-term slowdown potentially so tricky.” “Why the world economy feels so fragile” January 9.

Sir, as you know because of the thousands of letter I have obsessively written to you on this subject, which you have equally obsessively ignored, I am absolutely sure something has been going very badly for a long time, and will explode… perhaps the sooner the better.

In April 2003, as an Executive Director of the World Bank, in a board meeting I said, "A mixture of thousand solutions, many of them inadequate, may lead to a flexible world that can bend with the storms. A world obsessed with Best Practices may calcify its structure and break with any small wind."

Likewise, a world obsessed with allowing banks to leverage their capital immensely only because something is perceived or decreed as safe, is doomed to overload what’s “safe” way too much with debt, while, relative to that, financing what’s “risky” way too little. That will sure exhaust, sooner or later, any "safe options for credit expansion". That makes for a hell of a fragile bank system. 

Wolf writes, “The long-term credit cycle reached its denouement in the disastrous financial crisis of 2007-08.” 

That crisis was solely caused by excessive exposures to what was perceived as safe, mortgages to residences and AAA rated securities, against which investment banks in the US and all banks in Europe had to hold little capital. Did regulators wake up and change their risk weighted capital requirements, which are so idiotically based on the idea that what’s perceive as risky is more dangerous to our banking system than what’s perceived as safe? No! No real denouement there.

And then Greece exploded in 2009, and the fact that statist EU authorities had assigned all Eurozone sovereigns a risk weight of 0%, which allowed EU banks to lend to Greece against no capital requirement at all, which clearly doomed the not so well managed Greece to excessive indebtedness, does not even appear listed among the causes for its tragedy. No denouement there either. EU sovereigns are still risk-weighted 0%.

Sir, just look at houses. Easy financing made available by very low capital requirements turned what used to be homes into investment assets. All this while entrepreneurs, those who could create the jobs so that house owners can afford to service their mortgages and pay the utilities, were denied credit or charged higher interest rates, because of higher bank capital requirements. Just you wait till that easy financing stream stops and too many house owners wish to convert their houses into main-street-purchase capacity again. It's going to be hell.


January 06, 2019

Imposing a marginal minuscule cost per web-ad-message could perhaps help level the playing field for the boring truths against the much more fun fake news.

Sir, Tim Harford expresses it clearly when he writes, “Fake news itself does not pose an existential threat either to democracy or the free press. What does pose such a threat is a draconian response from governments.” “There is no need to panic about fake news” January 5.

Indeed but Basic Skepticism 101 courses are still much needed. I have for decades objected to that draconian response from regulators that states: “We will make your banks safer with risk weighted capital requirements”, which they based on the loony idea that what’s perceived as risky is more dangerous to our bank systems than what is perceived as safe. 

Of course that is as fake as a regulation can be. Not only does it distort the allocation of credit to the real economy but it also puts bank crises on steroids. As for now, that only guarantees especially large crisis, because of especially large exposures, to what is especially perceived as safe, against especially little capital.

Hartford also worries about “that there is far too little transparency over political advertising in the digital age: we don’t know who is paying for what message to be shown to whom”. I agree but one important cause for that is that there is no marginal cost to be paid by those spreading news and ads on the web.

If every ad messaging on the web forced the messenger to pay a minuscule amount per message, then we would be more carefully targeted, meaning wasting less of our limited attention span, and it would be less easy for fake-more-fun-news messengers to compete with “real” not-as-fun-news outfits, if there now is such a thing.

PS. If those revenues help fund an unconditional universal basic income, then it would be even better. 


January 02, 2019

There's a new class war brewing, that between employed and unemployed.

Sarah O’Connor, discussing the challenges of the Gig economy writes, “Offering employment benefits to drivers might well help to snap up the best workers and hang on to them. But if customers were not to shoulder the cost, investors would have to.”“Uber and Lyft’s valuations expose the gig economy to fresh scrutiny” January 2.

Sit to that we must add that if the investors were neither willing to shoulder the cost, then the gig workers would have to do so, or risk losing their job opportunities.

That conundrum illustrates clearly the need for an unconditional universal basic income. Increasing minimum wages or offering other kind of benefits only raises the bar at which jobs can be created, while an UBI works like a step stool making it easier for anyone to reach up to whatever jobs are available.

Sarah O’Connor also mentions how a collective agreement was negotiated between a Danish gig economy company and a union. Great, but let us not forget that in the brewing class-war between employed and unemployed, the unions only represent the employed… and we do need decent and worthy unemployments too, before social order breaks down.

PS. There's another not yet sufficiently recognized neo-class-war too. That between those who have houses as investment assets and those who want houses as homes.