July 31, 2019

If ECB’s original QEs stimuli had not been distorted by credit risk weighted bank capital requirements, there would be much less need for additional QEs.

Sir, Claire Jones writes: “EU treaties prevent the ECB from financing member governments by buying their debt, a tactic known as monetary financing. This rule aims to protect the central bank from political pressure and avoid stoking inflation. QE involves the central banks of eurozone states buying huge amounts of government bonds, financed by the ECB”… [Is QE legal?] “ECB argues that QE does not amount to monetary financing as it is only buying the bonds in secondary markets from other investors, rather than purchasing the debt directly from governments”, “Easing German constitutional court to rule on ECB bond buying” July 31.

Sir, as clearly the intent of ECB is to help financing member governments, and “stoking inflation” a publicized goal, I must say that sounds like a real weak defense.

But be that as it may, the question is also whether QE really helps the recovery in a sustainable way? ECB’s still so large outstanding ECB holdings of European sovereign debt suggest it does not. 

The main explanation for that is to be found in the many dangerous distortions in the allocation of bank credit that the risk weighted bank capital requirements produce.

Just an example, currently all Eurozone sovereigns, courtesy of EU authorities, have been assigned a Sovereign Debt Privilege of a 0% risk weight, and this even though not of them take on debt denominated in a currency that is their own printable one.

The sum of QEs, plus that regulatory favoring, basically premised upon the notion that European government bureaucrats know better what to do with money they are not personally responsible for than for instance European entrepreneurs is drowning Europe in way too much statism.

For the European Union to be saved financial power has to be taken away from its sovereigns (and Brussels) and devolved to its citizens.


July 18, 2019

What keeps IMF and World Bank so silent on bank regulations that go against their respective mission?

Sir, you argue, “If the IMF and the World Bank were to disappear, the absence of their combination of expertise, credibility and cash would soon be painfully obvious.” “Bretton Woods twins need to keep adapting” July 18.

Absolutely but they would also be sorely missed as the right places for having serious discussions on many serious issues that can affect our economies. 

But in that respect both have also been somewhat amiss of their responsibilities. The Basel Committee’s credit risk weighted bank capital requirements, which so dangerously distort the allocation of bank credit, have not been sufficiently discussed.

The World Bank, as the world’s premier development bank, knows that risk taking is the oxygen of any development. With this in mind it should loudly oppose regulations that so much favors the safer present’s access to bank credit over that of the riskier future. Doing so dooms our economies to a more obese less muscular growth. 

And IMF should know that all that piece of regulation really guarantees, is especially large bank crises, caused by especially large exposures to something perceived or decreed as especially safe, and that turn out to be especially risky, while being held against especially little bank capital. 

Why the twins’ silence? Perhaps too much group think, perhaps too close relations with regulators, something that could make this topic uncomfortable to discuss. 

July 17, 2019

With bank regulations biased against risk taking, the oxygen of development, emerging has been made so much more difficult for nations

Sir, I refer to Jonathan Wheatley’s report on emerging markets “Falling further behind” July 17. 

Banks used to apportion their credit between those perceived as risky, and those perceived as safe, based on their own portfolio considerations and risk adjusted interest rates. But that was before the Basel Committee’s risk weighted capital requirements.

Now banks apportion credit between those perceived as risky, and those perceived as safe, based on their own portfolio considerations, the risk adjusted interest rates, and the times bank equity can be leveraged with those risk adjusted interest rates, so as to be able to earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity.

That has leveraged whatever natural discrimination in access to bank credit there is in favor of the “safer present” against that of the riskier future. Since risk taking is the oxygen of any development, what might this have done to the emerging markets?


July 16, 2019

The case against insane globalism also remains strong.

The purpose of the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision BCBS, established in 1974 is to encourage convergence toward common approaches and standards. That sure reads as it could qualify as that global cooperation Martin Wolf asks for in his “The case for sane globalism remains strong” July 16.

But what if it is not sane?

BCBS has basically imposed on the world the use of credit risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

Since perceived credit risks are already considered by bankers when deciding on the interest rate and the size of exposures they are willing to hold, basing the capital requirements on the same perceived credit risks, means doubling up on perceived credit risks. 

And Sir, as I have argued for years, any risk, even if perfectly perceived, causes the wrong actions, if excessively considered. 

I dislike the concept of any kind of weighted different capital requirements, because that distorts the allocation of credit with many unexpected consequences. But if we wanted to have perceived credit risk to decide bank capital, it would of course have to be based on the conditional probability of what bankers are expected to do when they perceive credit risks, and these might be wrongly perceived.

Would we in such a case assign a 20% risk weight to what is rated AAA and a whopping 150% to what is rated below BB- as in Basel II’ standards? Of course not!

And if we did not think that government bureaucrats know better what to do with bank credit they are not personally liable for, than entrepreneurs, would we then assign the “safe” sovereign a 0% risk weight and the “risky” not rated entrepreneur a risk weight of 100%, which would clearly send way too much credit to sovereigns and way too little to entrepreneurs? Of course not!

And if we thought having a job as important or even more so than owning a house, would we then allow banks to leverage so much more with residential mortgages than with loans to small and medium enterprises, meaning banks can obtain easier and higher risk adjusted returns on their equity by financing “safe” houses than by financing “risky” job creation? Of course not!

Sir, in 2003, when as an Executive Director of the World Bank I commented on its Strategic Framework I wrote: "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."

Does this mean that I do not agree with Martin Wolf when he argues in favor of multilateral co-operation? Of course not! But it sure argues for being much more careful when going global with plan and rules.

By the way in those same 2003 comments at the World Bank I also wrote: “Nowadays, when information is just too voluminous and fast to handle, market or authorities have decided to delegate the evaluation of it into the hands of much fewer players such as the credit rating agencies. This will, almost by definition, introduce systemic risks in the market”. And it did not take the world long before drowning in 2007 and 2008 in the AAA rated securities backed with mortgages to the subprime sector in the U.S.

But have those who concocted those ill suited risk weighted bank capital requirements ever admitted a serious mea culpa? No, they have blamed banks and credit rating agencies.

And in EU the authorities assigned a 0% risk weight to all Eurozone sovereigns even though they all take up debt that is not denominated in their local printable currency. And no one said anything?

Sir, in the whole world, I see plenty of huge dangers and lost opportunities that can all be traced back directly to BCBS risk weighted bank capital requirements. 

So, besides having to be very careful when going global, we also have to be very vigilant on what the global rulers propose. Of course, for that our first line of defense are the journalists daringly questioning what they do not understand or like.

Has FT helped provide sufficient questioning about what the Basel Committee has and is up to? I let you Sir answer that question.


July 13, 2019

Should the tax on robots be high or low?

Sir, John Thornhill writes that Carl Benedikt Frey’s “The Technology Trap” informs us that “the number of robots in the US increased by 50 per cent between 2008 and 2016, each of them replacing about 3.3 jobs” “The return of the Luddites” July 13, 2019.

Those who are so replaced must surely have been generating some non-wage labour costs, like social security, that robots don’t. Therefore I frequently pose a question that, with the exception of some Swedes, no one wants to give me a definite answer to. It is:

Should we tax robots low so they work for us humans, or high so that we humans remain competitive for the jobs?

In an Op-Ed from 2014 titled “We need decent and worthy unemployments” I wrote: “The power of a nation, and the productivity of its economy, which so far has depended primarily on the quality of its employees may, in the future, also depend on the quality of its unemployed, as a minimum in the sense of these not interrupting those working.”

And over the years I have become convinced that in a universal basic income, large enough to help us out of bed to reach up to what is available, and low enough to keep us from staying in bed, lies our best chances to find the basic social stability we need to avoid societal breakdown,.

The financing of that UBI could include that those who exploit data on us citizens shared with us part of their ad revenues, a high carbon tax, and perhaps taxing robots and AI (though I do not know with how much)

PS. I case you wonder why some Swedes answered the question that has primarily to do with the existence in Swedish of the magical word “lagom”, meaning something like not too much not too little but just right. J

July 12, 2019

So if the taxman/(Big Brother) is now to get a share of the revenues some Big Tech obtain exploiting our personal data… who is going to defend us citizens?

Sir, you deem “The ability of some of the world’s most profitable companies to escape paying fair levels of tax…unfair both to other businesses which do not trade internationally and to governments, which lose substantial revenue” “France leads the way on taxing tech more fairly”, July 12.

It might be unfair to us taxpaying citizens but “unfair to the government”, what on earth do you mean with that? That sounds like something statist redistribution profiteers could predicate but, frankly, the government has no natural right to any income.

And since Big Techs like Facebook and Google obtain most of their revenues by exploiting us citizens’ personal data, then if there were some real search for fairness, a tax on ad revenues from such exploitation should better be returned directly to us, perhaps by helping to fund a universal basic income.

But what ‘s the worst with these taxes is that now effectively governments will be partners with these companies in the exploitation of our data. With such incentives do you really believe our interest will be duly defended? We, who are afraid of what all our data could feed with information a Big Brother government, must now recoil in horror from that we will also be suffering an even richer and more powerful Big Brother.

PS. Sir, it is not the first time I have warned you about this.


July 11, 2019

Many or perhaps most of our bankers would be much better off, at least happier, if they heeded George Bank’s “Let’s go fly a kite!”

Sir, John Gapper refers to “Two academics who studied investment bankers in London were surprised by their degree of cynicism and noted the absence of ‘meaningfulness, emotions and personal investment in work values’. “Bankers have been alienated from their jobs” July 11.

Call me a romantic if you want but, I know that when bankers who felt proud of being savvy loan officers were, with the introduction of the risk weighted bank capital requirements, pushed aside by equity minimizing and leverage maximizing financial engineers, there had to be a lot of frustrations.

Imagine if you as a loan officer had analyzed in depth the plan an entrepreneur presented in his credit application; and you had gotten to know him well; and you had agreed on a risk adjusted interest rate that made sense for both of you, and then your superiors told you: “No we can only leverage our equity 12.5 times with this loan so you either get him to accept a much higher interest rate, or we’re not interested”… and you knew that higher interest rate doomed the viability of the project? Would you not then feel like our beloved George Banks, that you’d better go and fly a kite?

Sir, most of those who became bankers during the last three decades must have a very hard time understanding what “It’s a Wonderful Life” is all about.


July 10, 2019

The 0% risk weighting of sovereigns and 100% of citizens, decreed fiscal irresponsibility.

Sir, Martin Wolf, discussing Trump’s tax cuts writes that America’s longterm fiscal position [has become] fragile”, “Trump’s boom will prove to be hot air” July 10.

Fragile indeed. In 1988 when the Basel Accord assigned America’s public debt a 0% risk weight, its debt was about $2.6 trillion, now it owes around $22 trillion and still has a 0% risk weight. 

Wolf opines “it is not too soon to note where the US is heading. It is hard to imagine anybody standing up for fiscal prudence. The choice is rather between rightwing and leftwing Keynesians. In the long run, that is likely to end badly.”

I fully agree but I must add that the risk weighted bank capital requirements, which so much favors credit to the sovereign over for instance credit to entrepreneurs, created such distortions that made it impossible for markets to send out their timely warning signals.

One can argues as much as one like that the credit risk of the sovereign is much less risky than that of an entrepreneur, but, the other side of the coin of that risk weighting, is that it de facto also implies a belief in that government bureaucrats know better what to do with bank credit they’re not personally liable for, than entrepreneurs.

For instance, does Wolf believe the current fiscal sustainability outlook of for the eurozone sovereigns would be the same if there had been just one single capital requirements for all their bank assets? Would he think French and German banks would still have lent to Greece/Italy as much and at the interest rates they did?

Does Wolf not think the immense stimuli injected by central banks in response to the 2008 crisis, would have been much more productive without the distortions in the allocation of bank credit produced by the credit risk weighing?

Sir, Trump’s tax cuts might not be helpful but, in the great scheme of things Trump is, at least for the time being, a really minor player when it comes to be apportioned blame for fiscal fragility. For instance how is the US be able to get out of that 0% risk weight corner its regulators has painted it into?

Sir, In November 2004 you published a letter in which I wrote: “How many Basel propositions will it take before regulators start realizing the damage they are doing by favoring so much bank lending to the public sector. In some developing countries, access to credit for the private sector is all but gone, and the banks are up to the hilt in public credits.”


Does Christine Lagarde really know about the zero risk weighting of eurozone sovereigns bomb?

Sir, Anne-Sylvaine Chassany writes how Christine Lagarde was interrogated in 2016 about an incident while she was the finance minister in France, related to a vital memo she missed, and which led to herfailing in “preventing an allegedly fraudulent €403m state payout”. “Although spared prison and a fine, she was found guilty of negligence, though the court decided the conviction would not constitute a criminal record” “Lagarde’s lesson in how to deal with imposter syndrome” July 10.

That must have been a very uncomfortable experience for Ms. Lagarde. And in this respect I wonder if she has for instance read what Sharon Bowles the then European Parliament’s Chair Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee opined in 2011?

In a speech titled “Regulatory and Supervisory Reform of EU Financial Institutions – What Next?” given at the Financial Stability and Integration Conference, 2 May 2011 Bowles said: 

“I have frequently raised the effect of zero risk weighting for sovereign bonds within the Eurozone, and its contribution to removing market discipline by giving lower spreads than there should have been. It also created perverse incentives during the crisis.”

Sir, that was eight years ago… and Mario Draghi or anyone else did not defuse that bomb and so it is still ticking.

A zero risk weighting of any sovereign bond, for purposes of bank capital requirements anywhere is lunacy to me, as it de facto implies believing that government bureaucrats know better how to use bank credit they are not personally liable for, than for instance entrepreneurs. But, when it is assigned to sovereigns who take on debt denominated in a currency that is not their domestic printable one, as is the case in the eurozone, then it goes way beyond lunacy.

Anne-Sylvaine Chassany writes that againChristine Lagarde faces a chorus of doubters. Ms Lagarde is not a monetary policy specialist or an economist by training, skills which, in a perfect world, ought to be part of the job description to succeed Mario Draghi at the helm of the European Central Bank.

That is of little concern to me; there should be more than enough monetary policy specialist or economists and, seeing what many of them have been up to lately, perhaps even too many. 

But does Ms Lagarde really know what she is getting into? Does she really think she can help defuse that zero risk weighting for eurozone sovereign bonds bomb that, if it explodes, will take down the euro, and perhaps the European Union with it?

Someone should ask her that. That is many times more important than the vital memo she missed seeing. Why not the Financial Times?

But then again would anyone really be able to defuse that bomb?

PS. Perhaps the title of this should be "Does Christine Lagarde know she might be on a suicide mission?


July 04, 2019

Venezuela’s undernourished children urgently need a huge public debt into oil extraction conversion plan

Sir, Colby Smith and Robin Wigglesworth report that Venezuela’s “opposition government plans to hold all its foreign creditors to the same terms no matter the kind of debt held, which public entity issued it, and whether or not the creditor had previously gone to a courthouse and received a judgment.” But also “Claims connected to the alleged corruption of the Chávez or Maduro regimes will be excluded” as will be those presenting “pricing inconsistencies or pending arbitration claims [until] would investigated further” “Venezuela’s opposition sets out debt restructuring plans” July 4, 2019.

On that I agree, 100%. And Venezuela presents a golden opportunity for the citizens of the world, to be able to reach a clear definition on what should be considered odious credits, and to agree on their consequences.

But, what I do not see yet, is the real understanding that Venezuela’s most urgent problem is not debt restructuring, it is that its people are dying and foremost that its young are growing up undernourished.

Let’s face it; no matter how much humanitarian aid can come to Venezuela, the problems with lack of food, medicines and basic day to day needs will not be solved, until sufficient oil extraction generates sufficient oil revenues. And of course until sufficient oil extraction generates sufficient oil revenues, neither will there be enough money to pay off creditors.

So all my gut instincts, acquired by having actively and frequently participated in large debt restructurings in the private sector, but also by having promoted and completed projects of Venezuelan public debt to equity conversions into industry and tourism projects, tells me the following:

Venezuela needs to sit down with its creditors, today, and come up with a plan of how to convince qualified oil extractors to put their money into Venezuela and begin extracting oil as fast as possible. Of course for that to happen there would have to be a reasonable agreement on how to share the net oil revenues between oil extractors, creditors and the Venezuelan citizens.

I do not mention the Venezuelan government since I am convinced that the only way we Venezuelans can end up living in a nation, and not in somebody else’s business, is to have our government work exclusively with what we citizens provide it with by means of taxes. And because I have learned to utterly dislike redistribution profiteers, of all sorts.

That said of course I understand the need for some type of transition agreement, like a period in which more and more of those net oil and other natural resource revenues are turned over by the government to citizens. Like reaching 100% of it in ten years.

Sir, here's a tweet I have been sending out now and again for about two years: “So Venezuelans can eat quickly, hand over Pdvsa (and Citgo) to Venezuela’s creditors quickly, to see if they put all that junk to work quickly, to see if they collect something quickly, and pay us Venezuelans, not the bandits, our oil royalties quickly.

PS. Instead of oil production I prefer to use the term oil extraction, since I feel that to be more respectful and grateful to that hand of the providence that placed oil under Venezuelan land.

PS. “Living in somebody else’s business” was how a woman from a Uganda described to me in 2013, her and our case.


July 01, 2019

Should we tax robots low so they work for us humans, or high so that we humans remain competitive?

Rana Foroohar references “a recent report into the US labour market conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute found that… the biggest reason for the declining labour share, according to the study, is that supercycles in areas such as commodities and real estate have made those sectors, which favour capital over labour, a larger part of the overall economy”, “The silver lining for labour markets”, July 1.

“Do we have a supercycles that favour capital over labour”? At least with respect to real estate, especially houses, the “supercycle” we have is caused by bank regulators much favoring credit to what’s perceived as safe over credit to what’s perceived as risky, without one iota of importance assigned to the need of allocating credit efficiently to the real economy.

Then Foroohar refers to the problem: “shifting labour market dynamics will sharpen the political divides that already exist. Many “left behind” cities are home to more Hispanics and African Americans. Job categories that will be automated fastest are entry-level positions typically done by the young. Meanwhile, the over-50s are at the highest risk of job loss from declining skills”. As “The solution” Foroohar writes; “shift policy to support human capital investment, just as we do other types of capital investment”

Sir, unfortunately it is so much more complicated than that. Just the problems with student debts we currently hear about, evidences that we might not really know about how “to support human capital investments”.

Before social order breaks down, we need to start considering the need to generate decent and worthy unemployments, creating an unconditional universal basic income that serves somehow as a floor and decide what to do with AI and robots. Should we tax these low enough so that they do as much jobs as possible for us humans, or should we tax them high enough for us humans to remain competitive for the jobs they do?

PS. On “a mere 25 cities and regions could account for 60 per cent of US job growth by 2030”, may I venture those cities will not include those with the largest unfunded social benefit plans.


Bank capital requirements based on credit risk serves no purpose, based on fighting climate change does.

Sir, Ben Caldecott writes: “The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate change agreement will be unattainable unless banks finance solutions to these massive social and environmental challenges.” “Banks need a better climate change strategy” July 1st.

The current risk weighted capital requirements for banks are idiotic since these are based on the assumption that what is perceived as risky is more dangerous to our bank systems than what is perceived as safe. But these are also totally purposeless. I do not really favor this type of distortion but there’s no question banks would serve a better purpose if their capital requirements were based, not on credit ratings, but on Sustainable Development Goal ratings.

Obviously such capital requirements would automatically generate “loans that charge lower interest rates to borrowers who meet or outperform sustainability targets” just as the current ones generates lower interest rates to the sovereign and “the safe”, all paid by less and more expensive credit to “the risky”

Of course it would be of utmost importance in that case that the SDG rating agencies are not captured by any of the climate change fight profiteers that abound.

That said, before any climate change fight initiative, including the Paris agreement, what would be most effective is a high carbon tax, with all its revenues shared out equally to all citizens. Why has that not been implemented yet? The simple answer is that because for states that lives on cronyism that is of absolutely no interest.

Sir, if the world is to have a chance to afford successfully fighting climate change, or at least afford to mitigate some of its worst effects, we have to circle all our wagons in an effort to keep out of it all those who are just out to make monetary or political profits.