February 17, 2014

Bank regulators, Basel Committee, Financial Stability Board, listen to Violet Crawley “Don’t be defeatist, it’s so middle class.”

Sir, Lawrence Summers writes “Sooner or later inequality will have to be addressed. Much better that it be done by letting free markets operate and then working to improve results. Policies that aim instead to thwart market forces rarely work, and usually fall victim to the law of unintended consequences”, “America risks becoming a Downton Abbey” February 17.

He is right. One reason for growing inequality is that notwithstanding banks already lend less, at higher interest rates and in tougher terms, to those perceived as risky, regulators decided to intervene by requiring banks to also hold much more capital when lending to “risky” medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups, than when lending to an “infallible sovereign”, or to the AAAristocracy.

And regulators did that because they were too scared of risk as such and because they never got down to understand: first, that for the banking system, what is truly dangerous is what is perceived as absolutely safe and can therefore generate too big exposures; and second, for the real economy, what is most dangerous long terms is not taking the necessary risks.

And so, if I was to bring Downton Abbey into this issue, that would be by quoting Violet Crawley with her straight to the point “Don’t be defeatist, it’s so middle class.”