December 13, 2016

Italy would have been far from as troubled as it is, if regulators had not distorted bank credit.

Sir, Mariana Mazzucato writes: “Increasing investment is essential to Italy’s future, as is fundamentally changing public-private relationships to make them less focused on favours and subsidies, and more on transformational opportunities”, “Italy’s future growth hinges on new ways of doing business” December 13.

Let us be clear. Most true “transformational opportunities” arrive by means of the market, and many “transformational opportunities” is just a code word for crony-statism profiteering.

There is one major fact that is being constantly evaded in the debate about Italy’s and most other economies. That is the distortion the risk weighted capital requirements for banks cause in the allotment of credit to the real economy.

Italy would never have accumulated so much public debt, had it not been for the false market signals that resulted when the Basel Committee decided to assign a zero risk weight to the sovereign and one of 100% to We the People, that which includes SMEs and entrepreneurs.

De facto those risk weights translate into a belief by regulators that government bureaucrats know better what to do with bank credit than the private sector… something that unless you are a runaway statist, make no sense at all.

Even at this point, according to Basel II’s standardized risk weights that are still being applied, the weight given to the Italian public sector debt is lower than that of most participants in that real economy that represents Italy’s best chance for the future. Especially when bank capital is very scarce, like now, any little difference in capital requirements means a lot.

Italy and all other have no chance of regaining some rationality in the allocation of bank credit, unless this lugubrious piece of regulations is eliminated.

Obviously, you cannot make the changes all at once, without severely affecting bank credit. But grandfathering previous capital requirements for existing assets, on the margin, for all new bank assets that regulatory discrimination must stop.

PS. Let’s stop talking about crony capitalism when obviously, what is happening, is crony statism.