May 27, 2011

Too much longing for stability creates the perfect storm conditions for instability

Sir Samuel Brittan refers to “artificial suppression of volatilities in the name of stability” “The follies and fallacies of our forecasters” May 27. That is precisely what as an Executive Director of the World Bank I was referring to when, in May 2003, in pre-Basel II days, I told a large group of regulators gathered for a risk-management workshop at the World Bank, the following: 

“There is a thesis that holds that the old agricultural traditions of burning a little each year, thereby getting rid of some of the combustible materials, was much wiser than today’s no burning at all, that only allows for the buildup of more incendiary materials, thereby guaranteeing disaster and scorched earth, when fire finally breaks out, as it does, sooner or later. 

Therefore a regulation that regulates less, but is more active and trigger-happy, and treats a bank failure as something normal, as it should be, could be a much more effective regulation. The avoidance of a crisis, by any means, might strangely lead us to the one and only bank, therefore setting us up for the mother of all moral hazards—just to proceed later to the mother of all bank crises.”

The regulators did not understand what I was talking about… mostly because they wanted so much to believe in forever stable banks.