December 17, 2014

No! We can’t accept markets know more than we the experts do, can we?

Sir, I refer to John Kay’s “Crowd-pleasing theories are no substitute for wise regulations” December 17.

In it he writes “The wisdom of crowds becomes a pathology when the estimates of the crowd cease to be independent of each other, and this is likely when the crowd is large, ill-informed or both. It is in the nature of a crowd to turn on anyone who dissents from what is already an average opinion”.

I fully agree with that but, when the crowd is too small, then the groupthink risks really sets in, and it is in the rules of a mutual admiration group not to dissent in such a way that it could reflect badly on a member of it.

And so that is why “wise” regulators are certainly no perfect substitute for crowds either.

Just look at what our current bank regulators did:

They automatically decided that risky is risky, safe is safe, and therefore banks should be required to hold more capital against risky assets based on perceived risks.

And they ignored any deliberations on that what is risky might not be risky if it is perceived as risky, while what is perceived as safe might be really dangerous if it turns out to be risky, and therefore perhaps banks should be required to hold more capital against what is perceived as safe, than against what is perceived as risky.

Why? Because that would mean that there in their club of great experts regulators they would have to admit that they really do not know much about risks, and that the market could be better at determining it, and of course “We can’t have that… can we?