February 20, 2015

Few things hamper growth as much as sissy bank regulations.

Sir, Gillian Tett writes that according to BoE’s Andy Haldane, there has been “a shift in cultural attitudes towards the future” with “our hyper-connected technology [perhaps] inadvertently shortening our time horizons [making us] less ‘patient’ less able to plan and invest long term” “How impatience hampers long-tem growth”, February 20.

And Ms. Tett, as an anthropologist who knows “cultural attitudes toward time vary”, finds this interesting. And indeed it is!

But, why on earth is Ms. Tett, the anthropologist, not interested in the willingness of societies to take the risks, that which gives future a chance?

At this moment, the most significant danger to growth is the risk-aversion imposed on banks, by means of equity requirements based on perceived credit risks; those that allow banks to earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity when lending to the safe than when lending to the risky. That goes back a very short time, to the early 90’s Basel I, and then much increased in 2004, with Basel II.

Ms. Tett also refers to Daniel Kahneman’s fast and slow modes of thought. And so let me explain in those terms:

The at-first-sight “System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious” standard basic intuition of risky-is-risky and safe-is-safe, has proved too strong so as to permit opening a more reflective “System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious” analysis… which would lead to risky-is-safe and safe-is risky and most specially if that means questioning some of the other members of a mutual admiration mutual important network club.

Look for instance at Martin Wolf. In July 2012 he wrote: “As Per Kurowski, a former executive director of the World Bank, reminds me regularly, crises occur when what was thought to be low risk turns out to be very high risk." And yet Wolf is incapable to take it from there, so as to accept that perhaps current bank regulations, with respect to perceived credit risk, are 180 degrees off target.