December 09, 2013

Does FT´s capital markets editor really believe that in free markets banks could leverage equity 50 times or more?

Sir, I refer to Ralph Atkins´ review of Costas Lapavitsas´ “Profiting without producing”, “A Marxist take on economic meltdown” December 9.

In it Atkins writes “The resulting financial turmoil and global economic slump cast doubt on the ability of free markets to provide sustainable growth and employment in advanced economies”. I truly marvel at how one can call the current financial turmoil a result of “free markets” when for instance there can be no doubt that in really free markets banks could never ever have leveraged their equity 50 times or more. That was only made possible by extremely intrusive bank regulations that were based on such nonsense as risk-weighted capital requirements for banks.

It also argues that “financialisation”, which can indeed be corrosive, “has forced the retreat of labor and exacerbated income equality”. But again that is not the consequence of free markets but of regulations that so much favor the access to bank credit of “The Infallible” over that of “The Risky”.

Atkins correctly holds that “when it works, finance discipline governments and companies” but then he blithely ignores the fact that for instance, with Basel II, banks were authorized to lend to “infallible governments holding no capital at all. What a disciplining!

And as to "a Marxists take on economic meltdown", that is precisely what I would first ask the author… what is not Marxist about requiring the banks to hold substantial capital when lending to the private citizen and zero capital when lending to a central government?