September 22, 2014

The gran coalition of the Basel Committee is a very dangerous bank regulatory populist.

Sir, I refer to Niall Ferguson’s “Scotland’s No echoes Europe’s Yes to gran coalitions” September 22. Ferguson concludes it with a: “From now on, I no longer need to deny my allegiance to the extreme center.

Well I have not done that for years, blogging from “The radical of the middle”, or “The extremist of the center”. And so I have no problem with that, except I have never done that in pursuit of a coalition, but more in pursuit of the “truths” which have been captured by the extremes. And it is not easy to swim in the middle of the river, being thrown rocks at from both shores.

And so when Ferguson writes “Populism has been popping up all over Europe since the financial crisis” I have to stand up and explain, again, for the umpteenth time, that in the field of bank regulations, there has never ever been something so populist, as the “risk-weighted capital requirements”.

The regulators of the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision fooled the world (and probably themselves too) into believing that all would be fine and dandy, if only we distorted banks to lend to what credit wise seemed, ex ante, to be “absolutely safe”; and stopped the banks from lending to “the risky”; no matter how useless the lending to the first, and how useful the lending to the latter could be.

And the world hailed, “Now our banks are safe”. But excessive lending to what was ex ante officially perceived as absolutely safe, like to infallible Greece, real estate in Spain and investing in AAA rated securities, against little or no capital, caused a crisis, and proved the regulators wrong, in record time.

Unfortunately that populism survives, now again, with Basel III, regulators insist in that with banks will be safer with credit-risk weighing… and this even though they must be aware of that banks are not lending to the risky SMEs and entrepreneurs, those who our economies most need to get going in order not to stall and fall.

Ferguson praises, “grand coalitions, [which] have turned out to bring stability”, as a great weapon against populism. Let us beware that grand coalitions, like that of the Basel Committee, is also capable of producing some extremely de-stabilizing populism.