April 26, 2013

Europe what you really need is much less risk-taking austerity

Sir, Philip Stephens refers to the “high public debt suffocates growth” vs. “it is low growth that drives up debt” controversy. It all sounds so Lilliput vs. Blefuscu to me, “The New Deal for Europe: more reform, less austerity” April 26.

What currently suffocates the growth of the real economy are those crazy capital requirements for banks that create enormous incentives for banks to shun all what is officially perceived as “risky” like small and medium businesses and entrepreneurs, and to earn all their return on equity by lending to what is perceived as “absolutely infallible”. And, since in Europe the banks have normally been more in charge of financing the risky than those in the US, where more alternative sources of funds exists, Europe suffers the most.

Stephen refers to the existence of “ossified labour markets that lock out young people and discourage investments and innovations”, and he is right of course, but, when compared to bank regulations which lock out the “risky”-risk-takers in the real economy, their effects are sort of minor.

When banks have effectively been castrated, and are singing in falsetto, even low public debt does not help growth and, since currently the lowest capital requirements for the banks apply when these lend to the public sector, higher public debt level will result. It suffices to read Martin Wolf’s almost monothematic preaching for the public sector to take advantage of low interest rates, so as to borrow and take on large infrastructure projects, without understanding that those low rates are just a mirage, caused by regulatory subsidies paid for by the many extremely onerous missed opportunities in the real economy.

Europe, please inform your overly timid and dumb bank regulators that no major bank crisis ever has resulted from excessive bank exposure to the “risky”, they have all resulted from major exposures to what was dangerously perceived as “absolutely safe”.