March 31, 2018

The “midlife crisis” of Generation X or the Millennials, could be piece of cake when compared to what seems to await for them down the years.

Tim Harford, making reference to a new research paper from Angus Deaton, Nobel laureate in economics, argues that “people who would have their wellbeing most improved by a cash injection are the middle-aged, people between their forties and their sixties.” “A monetary remedy for the midlife crisis” March 31.

It is a fun argument for Harford to use when “I will have a word with my father and my children”.

But what would Harford say if the answer he got from his children was: “Daddy, in terms of where you find yourself in your lifecycle, you are the one living most over your means… so no cash for you… spend less… save more (so that you might leave some to us as your father left to you)… and for God’s sake get rid of those risk weighted capital requirements for banks that hurt us so much.”

That mentioned piece of regulation, by favoring banks to finance the present safer consumption over the “riskier” future production, has already placed a reverse mortgage on the current economy, which is jeopardizing everyone’s future.

And also, since it amounts to a gross violation of Edmund Burke’s holy intergenerational contract, I would suggest Harford and his generation begin to prepare a very good defense speech for when they will have to respond to their children why they allowed that to happen.

And Harford, as a retiree, or at least his generation of retirees, will also suffer because, as I have argued so many times, there is no better pension plan than having children who love you and are able to work in a reasonable healthy economy.

Sir, my grandchildren will at least know how much their grandfather, obsessively, fought against that crazy risk aversion. Will yours?

PS. If you dare to see how the elderly could so unexpectedly for them be suffering horrors, have a look at what is happening in Venezuela.

March 25, 2018

Our need to concern ourselves about the use of our personal data goes much beyond what’s in the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica entanglement

Sir, I refer to Hannah Kuchler’s “The anti-social network” March 24 and all other reports that will pop up on the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica entanglement.

For a starter, why should we be so concerned with Facebook losing control of data to third-party developers, when Facebook has all that data and even more on us, and on which we have handed over the control to Facebook?

Then, if there is something that should be of the greatest concern to us citizens, that is the possibility of Facebook and similar teaming up with governments in “Big Brother is watching you, and makes profits on you all” joint ventures.

I pray there are no secret negotiations going on between Venezuela’s Maduro and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. I mean if Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein could finance such an odious human rights violating regime, without any important social sanctioning of him, why should not Zuckerberg thinks about selling data to it too?

Sir, it is clear that we have need for independent entities such as central banks, then an ironclad independency of an Agency Supervising Our Personal Data Usage, seems to me to be the mother of the needs for independency.

Down with all "Big Brothers are watching you". And it does not matter whether these are Public, Private or PPPs (Public Private Partnerships)!

Of course the usage of our data supervisory agency must be managed by wise and common sense possessing individuals and not by dummies like those of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision who are so not only convinced that what is perceived as risky is more dangerous to our bank system than what is perceived as safe, but also so easily manipulated by the banks.

PS. I forgot the first tweet I made on this, namely: How do we know this is not all fake news created in order to provide some polarization profiteers with new marketing material?

PS. Sir, I could be adding new comments to this post… so you might want to come back now and again to have a look at what’s in it.

PS. We must keep the ambulance chasers and the redistribution profiteers out of the business of fining the social media. All fines should go to fund a citizen’s Universal Basic Income


March 21, 2018

Preferential access to bank credit for those buying houses have also turned houses in attractive investments, and so a house is no longer just a house

Sir, I refer to Sarah O’Connor’s “Cities only work if they accommodate rich and poor” March 21.

She is correct although it would be more precise saying that cities only work if they accommodate all those workers required to make a city work.

Here is my take on this issue.

By politicians and regulators giving so much preference to the purchase of houses, the prices of houses have been inflated beyond reflecting the need of houses, and so have also turned houses into attractive investments. That has created a financial disequilibrium because most workers who would anyhow struggle to pay for just houses, will find it impossible to service mortgages that also reflect the value of investment assets.

Most politicians would naturally want to be seen as helping people buy affordable houses, but they do wrong in that. What they should do is to help people to be able to afford housing, something which is absolutely not the same thing.

Before we clear out this distortion, our cities will suffer from what O’Connor’s describes. Alternatively, current house asset owners, might be required to start building houses where they allow the indispensable workers to live at a reduced rate… something that could affect the value of their houses.

In many places that are too distant for the firefighters to arrive in time, we have already heard of building houses in order to provide homes close by to these.

PS. For the purpose of the capital requirements for banks regulators have risk weighted  residential mortgages with 35% and loans to entrepreneurs with 100%, which means bank can leverage much more with residential mortgages than with loans to entrepreneurs, which means banks earn much higher expected risk adjusted return on equity with residential mortgages than with loans to entrepreneurs, which mean we will end up sitting in houses without the jobs that could provide the income to service mortgages or utilities.

PS. How much of current house prices is the direct result of easy financing? I ask because it would be interesting to know how much we are financing with easy financing of houses the easy financing of houses.

PS. One of the biggest pension crisis will be when we see all those who trusted houses to be safe investments, trying to cash out in order to convert these back into main-street purchase capacity to use in older days L

PS. Too much preferential finance for the purchase of houses, which increases demand for houses, which increases houses prices, and turns safe homes into risky investment assets, also promotes inequality as those without a house are further left behind… until L


Bank regulators violated both the efficient markets hypothesis and the rational expectations assumptions.

Wolf writes: “David Vines and Samuel Wills explain… the core macroeconomic model rested on two critical assumptions: the efficient markets hypothesis and rational expectations”

Bank regulators, those who should rationally be more weary of the unexpected, by basing their capital requirements on what was perceived risky, that which bankers were assumed to manage efficiently and rationally, made efficient allocation of bank credit impossible, and so both those critical assumptions were violated.

Wolf writes: “We need also to understand the risks of crises and what to do about them. This is partly because crises are, as the Nobel-laureate Joseph Stiglitz notes, the most costly events”. 

I disagree entirely with this limited Monday morning quarterback view. To measure the real cost we have to measure the full boom and bust cycle. Having, like now, bank regulations that favor banks financing the “safer” present consumption (houses), over the “riskier” future production (entrepreneurs), is a certain way to minimize the returns from our current circle of life.

Wolf writes: “Doctors’ first response to a heart attack is, after all, not to tell the patient to go on a diet. That happens only after they have dealt with the attack itself.” 

True, but even more important then that, is to correctly diagnostic the illness. In this case, the doctors, the bank regulators, do not want the diagnosis of missregulation to occur, so they are perfectly happy with most of the world blaming bankers or arguing deregulation.

Wolf writes: “We may never understand how such complex systems as our economies— animated, as they are, by human desires and misunderstandings — actually function. This does not mean that attempting to improve understanding is a foolish exercise.”

This is precisely what I have been trying to do with thousands of letters to the Financial Times and Martin Wolf, looking to explain how incredibly faulty the current risk weighted capital requirements for banks are, only to be silenced by FT and classified as obsessive by Martin Wolf.

Yes Sir, I admit being obsessive about this all, especially since I know the future of my children and grandchildren are affected by bad regulations. But, in his keeping mum on all this, Wolf is just as obsessive, I believe though because of much less worthy motives.


March 20, 2018

A Universal Basic Income has much more to do with being able to say, “Yes, here I come!” than with a freedom to say, “No, I prefer to stay in bed”.

I refer to Tim Harford’s conversation with Rutger Bregman on the subject of a basic income, while bouldering. “Rutger Bregman: ‘Basic income is all about the freedom to say no’” March 20.

Sir, look at Venezuela. Believe me when I say that 40% of the poorest of my homeland received less than 15% of what they should have received the last fifteen years, had our net oil revenues just been shared out equally among all Venezuelans. And then you might beguine to understand my deep resentment with any redistribution profiteers. To bypass this kind of profiteers, in abundance all over the world, is in itself a reason more than enough to justify a Universal Basic Income.

That said, in 2012, before I was censored in Venezuela, and based on the lack of jobs I had begun visualizing in 2003, I also wrote an Op-Ed titled “We need decent and worthy unemployments”. That de facto calls out for a UBI, before it is too late and our social structures break down in favor of the many aspiring Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro of this world.

But Bregman argues: “OK, so basic income is all about the freedom to say no. That’s a privilege for the rich right now. With a basic income, you can say no to a job you don’t want to do. You can say no to a city in which you no longer want to live. You can say no to an employer who harasses you at work . . . that’s what real freedom looks like.”

And there I have to say no! That sounds to me like a spoiled brat’s view about what a basic income should mean. Such a Universal Basic Income becomes, almost by definition, financially unsustainable. I argue instead for a UBI that provides you with an assistance to get out of bed in order to reach up to whatever the spreading Gig economy has to offer you; but not so large so as to allow you to stay in bed, because that will sure make others refuse to pay for what the UBI might take.

Sir, every time I hear someone offering more than what a UBI can sustainably offer, I feel I we could be in the presence of a redistribution profiteer out to sabotage it, all in order to defend the value of his franchise.

PS. The article has that “A basic income [could be handed out] through the tax system as a negative income tax.” Not so. A tax credit that you start losing the minute you step out of bed to work, is not an unconditional Universal Basic Income.

PS. When Rutger Bregman opines “What’s the biggest injustice in the world right now? It’s pretty easy to see. It’s borders: apartheid on a global scale.” I would have asked. If there are no borders, how much in UBI do you think your homeland would accept to pay to any immigrant?


March 17, 2018

In not listening sufficiently to the European people, which includes the British, resides great risks for the two technocrats negotiating Brexit

Sir I refer to George Parker and Alex Barker discussing Michel Barnier and David Davis, “Meet the Brexit negotiators” March 17.

For me the best of the Winter Olympics 2018 was seeing Sofia Goggia singing her Italian national anthem with such an enthusiasm. I am sure Europe has not been able to remotely capture the hearts of Europeans in such a way; and the reason for that must foremost be the technocratic haughtiness of Brussels.

I have not the faintest idea if it rests on some real event, it most probably doesn’t, but the most powerful moment depicted in “The darkest hour”, was when Churchill journeyed the London Underground to hear the voice of regular people in the subway.

And that is what I have a feeling neither Davis nor Barnett have done enough of. Whatever the result of Brexit, they might be in for a great surprise, because, much more than arteries and veins are at stake for Europe, including Britain, it is the heart that has to be nurtured and cared for.

What if for instance to Sofia Goggia the relation Italy-Britain is much more important than the relation Italy-EU-Britain?

I have no doubt those who voted for Brexit really wanted more out of Brussels than out of Europe... because that I can understand.

Sir, you don’t have to go underground and travel subways to know what people might want. Some well designed, not biased, public opinion research on the wished and not wished for outcomes of Brexit, in all countries involved, would be the minimum I would have required before any first Brexit meeting.

PS. Just in case you are curious, the worst for me of the Winter Olympics 2018, was having to suffer with Egvenia Medvedeva when not winning her gold.


March 16, 2018

So now Brussels wants to join forces with Facebook, Google and alike, in order to also extract value from our personal preferences.

Sir, Mehreen Khan, Alex Barker and Rochelle Toplensky report that “Brussels is thinking about a “levy, which is likely to be set at a rate of 3 per cent… raised against advertising revenues generated by digital companies such as Google…fees raised from users and subscribers to services such as Apple or Spotify, and income made from selling personal data to third parties… it will raise about €5bn a year.” “Brussels proposes levy on Big Tech digital revenues” March 16.

For years I have argued that we users should have right to charge something for our preferences disclosed on the web, not only because that could yield a partial funding of a Universal Basic Income scheme, but, even more importantly, because that would help to limit the bothering and the waste of our limited attention span.

But seemingly Brussels wants to hear nothing about that, they as self appointed redistribution profiteers, want in on that revenue stream.

It is just like if governments, instead of helping to rid ourselves of the fastidious robocalls selling us all kind of products and services, would now share the incentives to push those calls even more.

Sir, though I do not live in Britain, or in Europe for that sake, I was pretty sure I would not vote for a Brexit… but every day that passes, and I read about things like this, the less sure I am of that.


March 09, 2018

Ex post dangers are inversely correlated to ex ante perceptions of risk.

Sir, Stephen King writes: “One of the main “costs” of global economic success… is excessive risk taking. Put simply, the good times don’t tend to last because we start to do stupid things that bring them to an end. Until the equity market wobbles in early February, most investors appeared to be as complacent about potential risk as they had been ahead of the crisis.” “Global good times make the world act stupidly” March 9.

Is that really excessive risk taking, or is not more a belief that there is little risk?

It is surprising how much ex post dangers get to be confounded with ex ante perceptions of risk.

The most dramatic example of that are the bank regulators who, in Basel II, assigned a risk weight of 150% to the below BB- rated, that which everyone knows is risky, and only of 20% to the AAA rated, that which everyone can so dangerously believe is very safe?

That our banks have landed in the hands of such mentally feeble minds as those of the Basel Committee, is indeed a tragedy.

Per Kurowski

March 07, 2018

There is not too much need for banks to game regulations when regulators have already gamed these so much.

Sir, John Plender addresses correctly many current concerns with the financial system in general and with banks in particular “Beware the threat of low-quality debt and opaque shadow banks” March 7.

But when he writes: “Remember, among the many things that lay behind the financial crisis of 2008-9 was the banks’ urge to game the Basel capital adequacy regime”, then I just have to step in.

There was no need to game regulations that had already been so much gamed by the regulators. Basel II, with its standardized risk weights, risk weighted any private sector carrying AAA to AA ratings with 20%, residential mortgages with 35% and, with much solidarity; European regulators risk weighted Greece 0%.

Translation: Based on the basic capital requirement of 8% banks needed to hold 1.6% in capital against the AAA to AA rated, 2.8% against residential mortgages and 0% against loans to sovereigns, like Greece.

Translation: Banks were therefore allowed to leverage their capitals 62.5 times with assets rated AAA to AA rated, 35.7 times with residential mortgages and limitless against loans to sovereigns, like Greece.

Also had regulators required banks to hold 8 percent against all assets the wriggling room for gaming would have been much reduced.

The risk weighted capital requirements for banks are most certainly the most absurd regulation concocted ever. It only guarantees that banks will dangerously overpopulate safe havens against especially little capital; and that those risky bays where for instance entrepreneurs are usually found, and that need to be explored for our economy to thrive, will not be sufficiently funded.

This should have been absolutely clear for more than a decade but yet, this is being obsessively ignored by most.


The Basel Committee’s tariffs of 35% risk weight on residential mortgages and 100% on loans to entrepreneurs, is pure protectionism.

Sir, Martin Wolf, with respect to President Trumps’ indication that “he would sign an order this week imposing global tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum” writes “This is a purely protectionist policy aimed at saving old industries” “Trump’s follies presage more protectionism” March7.

Absolutely! I could not agree more. But what I cannot understand is why Wolf does not react in the same way against the protectionism imbedded in the bank regulators’ risk weights? For instance is not a 35% risk weight on residential mortgages and of 100% risk weight on loans to entrepreneurs represent even a worse protectionism than Trump’s?

That protectionism allows banks to leverage their capital 35.7 times with residential mortgages and only 12.5 times with loans to entrepreneurs.

That protectionism has banks avoiding financing the "riskier" future in order to refinance the older "safer present". Does that not sound extremely dangerous?

PS. And a 0% risk weight of the sovereign and 100% the citizens, is that not the mother of protection of statism?


March 06, 2018

Beware, the more you trust data, the more you have to be absolutely sure about how to interpret it, and about what to do with it.

Sir, John Thornhill writes: “In his Alan Turing Institute lecture, MIT professor Sandy Pentland outlined the massive gains that could result from trusted data… the explosion of such information would give us the capability to understand our world in far more detail than ever before”, “Trustworthy data will transform the world” March 6.

Indeed, but that also leads to other bigger dangers, not only because we might trust that trusted data too much, but also because we might not know how to interpret or what to do with that trusted data.

Like for instance the regulators with their current risk weighted capital requirements for banks. These establish that the riskier an asset is perceived the larger the capital a bank has to hold against it. Does that make sense? Absolutely not!

It is not if the perceived risk is correct, meaning the ex ante risk perceived ends up being the real ex post risk, that poses any major danger for our banking system. It is if the risk perceived is incorrect, that the real big dangers arise. And, of course, the safer an asset is perceived, and the more bankers trust that perception to be right, the longer and the faster it can travel down the dangerous lane of wrong perceived risks.

What detonated the most the 2007 crisis? The securities backed with mortgages to the subprime sector rated AAA by “trustworthy” credit rating agencies, in fact so trusted that the Basel Committee, with Basel II, allowed banks to leverage 62.5 times their equity with such “safe” assets.


March 05, 2018

In terms of a short-termism that harms the long run, few are as guilty as current bank regulators.

Sir, Jonathan Ford quote US academic Lynn Stout with “The pressure to keep share prices high drives public companies to adopt strategies that harm long-term returns: hollowing out their workforce; cutting back on product support and on research and development; taking on excessive risks and excessive leverage; selling vital assets and even engaging in wholesale fraud.” “Shareholder primacy lies at heart of modern governance problem” March 5.

Indeed, but I hold that low investments and poor productivity is also the result of regulators’ risk weighted capital requirements for banks based on ex ante perceived risks. These focuses on making the banks safe today, at the price of making it all worse off tomorrow, ex post. How? Because they dangerously push banks to overpopulate, against especially little capital, those safe havens that have always been the main threats to our banking systems; and because they keep banks from exploring those risky bays, those with entrepreneurs and SMEs, those that could give us the growth and the jobs of tomorrow.


March 03, 2018

In terms of estrogen and testosterone, are there differences between bank exposures to what is perceived risky, and risky excessive exposures to what is perceived as safe?

A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain” Mark Twain

Sir, Cordelia Fine writes: “Risk management in financial institutions is too important to be guided by scientific ideas well beyond their sell-by date. Blaming financial misadventures on a testosterone-fuelled male drive distracts us from what’s more likely to make a difference: regulation and culture. The best in-house antidote for bankers selling junk products and regulators bending to conflicts of interest isn’t women; it’s a dismissal slip”, “The Testosterone Rex delusion” March 3.

Absolutely! But with reference to the risks taken on by the banks that caused the 2007/08 crisis, that dismissal slip should foremost be given to regulators for having the ex ante perceived risks of banks assets substitute for the ex post dangers to our banking system.

And with reference to the absurd low response of the economy to the extremely high stimulates provided, the regulators should also be given that dismissal slip, for ignoring the purpose of banks, something that includes the efficient allocation of credit to the real economy.

Fine references Swedish journalist Katrine Marçal with whether “an investment bank named Lehman Sisters could handle its over-exposure to an overheated American housing market.” That is an ex post description that has little to do with the ex ante perception of the risks, and clearly less to do with bankers wanting to lend when it rained.

If some testosterone is needed to understand that risk-taking is the oxygen of development, and so the need for banks to also lend to those perceived as risky, like to entrepreneurs, then the regulators showed a fatal lack of it.

Their risk weighted capital requirements, more ex ante perceived risk more capital – less risk less capital is as dangerously nonsensical as can be. These only guarantee that when the true risks for our banking system happens, namely the dangerous overpopulation of safe havens, banks will stand there with especially little capital.

By allowing banks to leverage much more with assets perceived, decreed or concocted as safe, like AAA rated securities, like residential mortgages, like sovereigns (Greece) they allowed banks to earn the highest expected risk adjusted returns on equity on what was perceived as safe. Mark Twain could have said that made bankers wet dreams come true; and that was, while playing, the music to which Citigroup’s Chuck Prince held bankers had to dance.

And so, since what the members of the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board and most of their colleagues have really proven, is to be suffering from an excessive risk aversion, what would then Cordelia Fine opine, in terms of testosterone and estrogens?

Here is an aide memoire on the major mistakes with the risk weighted capital requirements


March 02, 2018

“Relax” or “tighten” has little to do with better regulation of US’s banks. Revise, correct and simplify, is what it should all be about.

Sir, I refer to Hal Scott’s and Lisa Donner’s discussion “Head to head: Should the US relax regulation on its big banks?” March 2.

Hal Scott writes: “There is empirical evidence that higher bank capital requirements cut lending and economic growth. A recent Fed paper concludes that a 1 percentage point rise in capital ratios could reduce the level of long-run gross domestic product growth by 7.4 basis points.”

And Lisa Donner writes: “Increased capital requirements lower the return on equity and, by extension, the bonuses linked to it. The desire of a small number of very wealthy people to become still richer should not drive public policy.”

They both, obviously each one from to the point of view of their respective agendas are correct in recognizing that capital requirements have clear effects. But then, as is unfortunately the current norm, they both ignore the problem of the distortions in the allocation of credit that different capital requirements produce.

And, if there is any problem in current bank regulations that needs to be tackled, that is getting rid of those distortions. If there is one analysis needed that is whether the bank’s balance sheets correspond with the best interests of our economies. The answer would be “NO!”

Scott asks: “Do we really want banks to hold enough capital to survive events that have no US historical precedent? If such an extreme economic event did occur, would any amount of capital be enough to withstand the panic it could trigger?”

Ok, agree, but then why should we want our banks to keep especially little capital when such events occur? Like when 20% risk weighted AAA rated securities exploded?

Scott, mentioning stress tests that depend on secret government financial models to predict bank losses argues: “avoid ‘model monoculture’ in which every bank adapts its holdings in order to pass the tests and they all end up holding assets the government model favors. A diversity of bank strategies is preferable given that risks are hard to predict.”

Absolutely and that is why, April 2003, as an Executive Director of the World Bank I held "A mixture of thousand solutions, many of them inadequate, may lead to a flexible world that can bend with the storms. A world obsessed with Best Practices may calcify its structure and break with any small wind."

The stress tests, by focusing too much on the risk flavor of the day, as I have written to you before, are in themselves huge sources of systemic risk.

Scott informs “The living wills process requires banks with more than $50bn in assets to hold minimum amounts of “safe” assets; currently this stockpile totals more than $4tn in government debt”

Holy moly, $4tn is close to 20% of all US public debt. Is there really no interest for trying to figure out where real rates on US government debt would be if banks were not given the 0% risk-weight incentives for these debts, or, alternatively, be forced by statist regulators to hold lots of it?

Donner argues: “There is no fundamental trade-off between sound regulation of the financial system and shared prosperity. Quite the opposite. Even as tighter bank capital and liquidity requirements were phased in after the crisis, bank credit to the private sector has surged to new heights as a percentage of global output.”

But really, is that credit surge an efficient one? Are banks financing enough the “riskier” future, or are they mostly writing reverse mortgages on our “safer” present economy? 

Sir, what kind of crazy model could hold that economic growth is the result of banks being able to earn their highest risk adjusted return on equity on what is perceived, decreed or concocted as “safe”, and so avoid lending to “risky” entrepreneurs?