June 21, 2014

Sometimes it is very hard to collect the money you win betting on where your mouth is

Sir, I refer to Tim Harford’s “Money where your mouth is” June 21. Suppose I had place money where my mouth was with the following:

“We have bank regulations that though requiring banks to hold 8 percent in capital when lending to businesses without credit ratings, allow banks to hold only 1.6 percent capital when lending to someone who has ex ante an AAA rating. And so I bet $1.000 on that, within the next decade, banks will lend much too much to some borrower ex ante rated as absolutely safe, but who ex post turns out to be very risky… and that this, aggravated by the fact that for that against that exposure banks had to hold little capital, will result in a major bank crisis.”

What would you had said about a bank regulator betting against me? And, if he had done so, would the current crisis not mean that I had won the bet, long before the decade ran out? But tell me…how would I collect my winnings?

I say this because banks regulators actually bet the whole banking system against my theoretical proposition, and I have not seen anyone paying up! On the contrary they have mostly been promoted. Like Mario Draghi, the former Chair of the Financial Stability Board, promoted to President of the European Central Bank. Like Jaime Caruana, the former chairman of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, promoted to General Manager of Bank for International Settlements.

Yes Tim Harford, “a world full of confident forecasts that nobody [including FT] never bothers to verify… is intolerable”. And so I would agree that “the world needs more wagers between pundits” but, before we start the betting, let us be sure there is a decent clearing house where these debts could be settled.