December 18, 2015

Dare ask bank regulators: Why do you think that what is perceived as risky is riskier than what is perceived as safe?

Sir, Philip Stephen writes: “The crash and the subsequent depression broke the confidence of a generation of political leaders. All the guff they had learnt about a new financial capitalism, self-equilibrating markets and the end of boom and bust was shown to be, well, guff… bankers by and large got off scot free. Not so politicians who believed their own propaganda and embraced the laissez faire Washington Consensus as the end of history. Capitalism survived the crash, but at the expense of a collapse of trust in ruling elites” “Politicians are paying the bill for the crash” December 18.

What “laissez faire Washington Consensus”? That which with the Basel Accord prescribed a risk weight of zero percent for sovereigns and 100% for the private sector? That which with the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks completely distorted the allocation of bank credit?

The problem is that the trust of politicians in the ruling regulating technocrats did not collapse. As I have said many times, neither Hollywood nor Bollywood would have been so dumb as to allow the producers of a box office flop like Basel II to proceed, with the same scriptwriters, to produce Basel III.

I have a feeling politicians, Fed’s policy makers and perhaps even some FT journalists start to suspect that something is making the Fed and the ECB stimulus fail; and would therefore want to ask regulators: Why do you think that what is perceived as risky is riskier for the banking system than what is perceived as safe?

Why don’t they ask? Perhaps the explanation is one that John Kenneth Galbraith gave in “Money: Whence it came where it went” 1975, namely that “If one is pretending to knowledge one does not have, one cannot ask for explanations to support possible objections.”

PS. Sir, now when the credit quality of EM markets is deteriorating, banks holding such debt are required to put up more capital against positions taken up during sunnier days, putting a squeeze on bank lending, and so everything will become darker yet. Vive la procyclicité!

@PerKurowski ©