August 10, 2004

Towards a counter cyclical Basel?

Sir, the financial system is there to safeguard savings, to generate economic growth by channeling investments, and to promote equality by providing full and free access to capital and opportunities.

Currently, our bank regulators headquartered in Basel are primarily concerned with the first goal, that of avoiding bank collapses, and how could it be otherwise, if you have only firemen on the board that regulates building permits.

Now, one of these days, the financial system, neatly combed and dressed in a tuxedo, but lying more than seven feet under in the coffin of financial de-intermediation, is going to wake up to the fact that it needs the presence of others in Basel. At that moment, perhaps we might start hearing about flexible capital requirements, moving up to 8.2 % or down to 7.8% by region, in response to countercyclical needs.

Meanwhile it’s a shame that even their first goal might turn out to be elusive, since although the individual risks have fallen with Basel regulations, the stakes have increased, as those same regulations accelerate the tendency towards fewer and fewer banks. 

PS. This letter that, while being an Executive Director of the World Bank I sent to the Financial Times. It was not published. But, because of its importance, I included it in my book Voice and Noise of February 2006