June 30, 2018

Those who sell us a universal basic income as a total solution, could just be wanting for it to fail

Sir, I refer to Tim Harford’s “Basic income or basic jobs?” June 29. The theme has become more fashionable because of robots and artificial intelligence, but the lack of jobs is not a new concern.

In 2003 in an Op-ed I wrote: “There’s a hint of all coming to a standstill in the theory about how globalization will optimize the world economy, by ensuring that merchandise will always be produced at the lowest marginal cost. What good does it do us to have products where the cost of the labor component gets smaller by the minute, if workers can’t buy the very products they produce?”

I ended that in jest with “Friends, let’s give one another jobs, scratching each other’s backs—paying each other good salaries of course.”

In 2012, while I was still not censored in Venezuela, in another Op-Ed titled “We need decent and worthy unemployments” I began it with: “What politician does not speak up for the need to create decent and well paid jobs for young people? But, if that's not possible, and the economy is not able to deliver that on its own ... What on earth do we do?”

In search of the answer I there asked: “Which is better: educating for a source of employment likely to be absent and therefore only create frustration, or educate for unemployment, and suddenly perhaps reaching, when on that route, the pleasant surprise of some jobs?”

Therefore Sir, in the choice between a basic income and a basic job, I clearly go for the first. The waste that could result, especially in uncertain times like these to develop guaranteed jobs, would surely be too big.

But that does not mean I consider that a Universal Basic Income either can or should be designed to satisfy all needs. For the time being it should just be a tool to help people get out of bed and reach up to whatever job opportunities might be around.

How much? Start with little. For instance, if there are pressures to increase the minimum wage $3 per hour then, for a fulltime 160 hour per month that signify $480. So why not start a UBI at that level and let time tell us where it can go? The additional demand that could be generated will, at existing salary levels, generate many jobs too.

What I most fret though are the redistribution profiteers. Concerned with seeing the value of their franchise erode, they might sell UBI’s promises excessively, both in amounts and purpose, so as to make the whole idea of a social dividend collapse, in order for them to get back in the saddle again. It behooves us all to stop them.


The financial crisis can was just kicked forward. At any moment it will roll back on us, with vengeance.

Sir, Raghuram Rajan, though indicating problems, writes: “The world economy has finally managed to recover from the financial crisis” “Bond markets send signals of a looming recession” June 29.

Sir, on the surface the signs of a recovery are there but, under the surface there are huge build-ups of asset values, shares and house prices, and of personal, public and corporate debt, that herald difficult times.

In August 2006, when trouble was already in the air, you published my letter titled “The long term benefits of a hard landing”. Clearly nothing of what I there argued was considered.

With QEs, Tarps, Asset Purchase programs, fiscal deficits, low interest rates and the keeping of much of the insane low capital requirements for banks, the crisis can was just pushed forward. 

Add to that Eurozone, China, Brexit, robots grabbing jobs, trade wars, migrant issues and so many unresolved problems, and one can perhaps begin to understand a not to be named reason for how so many want to legalize the use of marihuana.

Sir, again, much of the current mess is directly produced by the frantic efforts of regulators and central bankers to hide their responsibility in causing the 2007-08 crisis and ensuing hardships.

For God’s sake! In Greece they are hauling in front of courts a statistician for telling the truth, while those that with their absurd and irresponsible 0% risk weighing of that nation doomed it to excessive public debt, are free to roam and lecture us about good economics. 


June 28, 2018

If regulators, or even FT, do not questions the 0% risk weight of sovereigns, why should ordinary citizens care about public sector deficits?

Sir, Janan Ganesh writes“Americans no longer care about deficits, or at least no longer care enough. Their concern about them has waned since the mid-nineties” "How America learnt to love the budget deficit” June 28.

In 1988, with the Basel Accord, regulators introduced risk weighted capital requirements for banks and for that purpose assign risk weights to sovereigns of 0%. And European central banks assigned such 0% even to Greece, and Greece drowned in public debt, and yet no one, not even FT questions that 0% risk weight.

So Sir, why should ordinary Americans care about fiscal deficits when supposedly these can be financed with a 0% risk… because the government controls the money-printing machine?

Ganesh should not worry solely about America, with these statist bank regulators we are all being set up for a horrible crash. 


June 27, 2018

Odiously inept bank regulators consider ex ante that the entrepreneurs are less worthy of credit than house buyers

Sir, Daniel Davies discussing the work-outs of small business failures seemingly based on what some bad apples did, writes that “unpleasant realities [are swept] into grubby corners so that the banking system can look clean and efficient” “The finance industry’s Achilles heel”, June 27.

Sincerely, as one who has been proudly involved as a consultant in many workouts of all types for more than two decades in Venezuela, before the failure of that nation, I must say that I do not identify much with what Davies writes. For instance what’s wrong with that when real estate loans are renegotiated there is often a “change of valuation basis”? It would surely be more of an Achilles heel for the finance industry, if its valuation of assets did not change with changing circumstances.

Davies wants us to “Consider what happens when an entrepreneur is classified as a “distressed borrower” rather than a “start-up founder”… at that point, the person has been put into a category in which their word is not as good as other people’s.” 

But classifying an entrepreneur ex post, quite naturally, as a distressed borrower, cannot be remotely as bad as when regulators, ex ante, by allowing banks to leverage more when financing “safe” houses than when financing “risky” entrepreneurs are, de facto, saying that the word of an entrepreneur is worth less than that of house buyers. 

If there has been any sweeping of unpleasant realities into grubby corners, that is the role the regulators, with their foolishly risk adverse risk weighted capital requirements, have played in putting bank crisis and economic stagnation on steroids. Had for instance any credit rating agency assigned a 0% risk to Greece and with that doomed that country to a tragic over indebtedness, it would probably be hauled in front of judge… but there are the regulators still regulating as if they had done nothing.

And Sir, you know I think FT has quite shamefully helped the regulators with much of that sweeping.


We need worthy and decent unemployments

Sir, I refer to Martin Wolf’s “Work in the age of intelligent machines” June 27.

In 2012 (while I was still not censored in Venezuela) I wrote an Op-Ed titled “We need worthy and decent unemployments”. In it I held “The power of a nation, and the productivity of its economy, which so far has depended primarily on the quality of its employees may, in the future, also depend on the quality of its unemployed, as a minimum in the sense of these not interrupting those working.”

That is the reason why I am absolutely sure our societies have to start urgently, even if from a very low level, to implement an unconditional universal basic income (UBI).

And referring also to Sarah O’Connor’s “Minimum wage laws still fall short for those on the bottom” June 27, let me point out that while minimum wages raises the bar for the creation of jobs, UBI is a stepping stool that allows you to reach up to the mostly low paying jobs of the gig economy. 

PS. You want to increase the minimum wage $2 per hour? Better pay $2x40x4 $320 in universal basic income to all.


June 26, 2018

Flags need also to be raised, when influential multilateral financial institutions help to blow up bubbles

Agustín Carstens, the general manager of the Bank for International Settlements writes: “A decade of unusually low interest rates and large-scale central bank asset purchases may have left many market participants unprepared, and contributed to a legacy of overblown balance sheets” “It is precisely when pressure starts to build that flags need to be raised” June 26.

Indeed, but to that we should add the presence of extraordinary low capital requirements for banks when lending to what’s perceived as safe, like to house buyers and sovereigns. These have helped to explode the exposure to this type of loans, as well as distort the signals sent to the markets, something that of course has also helped to inject a lot of liquidity. 

Carstens also opines: “At the BIS, we have come to appreciate how unrewarding it can be to flag risks when markets are running hot. Yet that is precisely when risks tend to be highest.” 

Indeed, that is the same difficulty all influential institutions like the IMF face since, whenever they flag a risk, they could be accused for helping to set off a crisis. But now they all have themselves to blame for making the flagging problem so much worse. By assigning risk-many sovereigns a risk weight of 0% they painted themselves into a corner. When you know that risk weight is absolutely wrong, how do you go about to change it without scaring the shit out of the markets?


June 25, 2018

Citigroup’s Chuck Prince said: “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance”, but bank regulators insist on playing the same 30 years old song.

Sir, Andrew Hill worries about how many of today’s banker class remember it, let alone worry, about the complacency expressed in Chuck Prince’s “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. “James Gorman, chief executive of Morgan Stanley “Amnesia dooms bankers to repeat their mistakes” June 24.

Hill hopes Gorman “is experienced enough to have detected the echoes of 2007 in the current soundtrack of rising share prices and lowering regulatory burdens… and that he teaches “more of his younger, fresher-faced staff to recognize the tune and know when to bow politely and leave the dance floor.

As for me I would much rather prefer the regulators stopped playing that very same old song of the “risk weighted capital requirements for banks”, composed in 1988 by the Basel Accord, and otherwise known as “You earn higher returns on the safe than on the risky”. That song drove bankers into an intense maniac polka, in pursuit of the very high expected risk adjusted returns offered on what was perceived (houses), decreed (Greece 0% risk), or concocted (AAA rated securities) as safe.

PS. Hill refers to John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash 1929 account of the willful errors and self-interested speculation of the great investment banks. But Galbraith also wrote “Banks opened and closed doors and bankruptcies were frequent, but as a consequence of agile and flexible credit policies, even the banks that failed left a wake of development in their passing.” Money: Whence it came, where it went” (1975)


June 23, 2018

Regulators gave banks great incentives to smoke around drum barrels marked “empty”, and to stay away from drums marked “full”.

Gillian Tett writes “before 2008 the big banks spent a great deal of time fretting about issues that seemed obviously risky — hedge funds or highly leveraged companies — but tended to ignore anything that seemed safe or boring, such as AAArated mortgage-backed securities” “What the Hopi culture teaches us about risk” June 23.

Sir, if you go to my TeaWithFT blog and click on Gillian Tett, you will find that over the years I must have written her at least 100 letters explaining that what is perceived as risky, drums marked “full”, is never as dangerous than what’s perceived as safe, drums named “empty”. 

But, if a 70 year old paper by US fire-safety inspector Benjamin Lee Whorf, based a lot on Hopi Native American culture, is more convincing to Ms. Tett than my arguments, so be it.

My real complaint though is that Ms. Tett only refers to what bankers did, and does not mention the fact that bank regulators, on top of it all, with their risk weighted capital requirements, allowed banks to smoke (leverage) much more around drums named “empty”, than around drums named “full”. 

So when Ms. Tett writes: “In theory, this danger has now receded: banks have been trained to take a more holistic view of risk and to question whether even AAA ratings are always safe”, let us not forget that with Basel II, regulators allowed bank to leverage a mindboggling 62.5 times if only an AAA to AA rating was present. Since that besserwisser regulatory mentality still prevails, and risk weighting derived incentives still exists, unfortunately I do not share the hope that dangers have receded. New dangerous “absolutely safe” always lurk around the corners.

And Sir, come on, we have European central bankers who told banks “You can smoke as much as you like around that 0% risk weighted drum named Greece”; and they have still not been made accountable for that… and, between you and I, you FT is not entirely without blame for that.

PS. The sad complement to this analysis is that what regulators decreed as drums marked “full”, and made banks stay away from, includes entrepreneurs and SMEs, something which must erode the dynamism of the economy. 


June 22, 2018

How can banks price risks correctly when regulators interfere and alter the payouts?

Sir, Gillian Tett writes: “If you peer into the weeds of global finance, you will see peculiarities sprouting all over the place… there is [a] pessimistic explanation: years of ultra-loose monetary policy have made investors so complacent that they are mis-pricing risk.” “Markets appear calm but are behaving abnormally” June 22.

Years of ultra-loose monetary policy, QEs or asset purchase program have indeed distorted the markets so there has to be much mis-pricing going on. But that’s not all.

The expected winnings (the dividends or payouts times the odds of winning) is exactly the same for all possible bets in a game of roulette. This is why roulette functions as a game. The credit markets with all the signals read and emitted, by all its many participants, givers and takers, continuously work towards equal payouts. And achieving these is what an efficient credit allocation is all about. 

But what if someone altered the payouts in roulette, like the regulators, with their risk-weighted capital requirements for banks did in the market of bank credit, how long would roulette survive as game?

Sir, just remember the 0% risk weight assigned by European central bankers to Greece. Those allowed banks immense leveraging and see such ROE payout possibilities that it went overboard lending to Greece; just in the same way Greece went overboard borrowing too much. 

And what about mispricing the risk of securities with a 20% risk weight in Basel II, which allowed banks to leverage 62.5 times only because some human fallible rating agencies had assigned these an AAA to AA rating? Frankly, is not the current bunch of bank regulators the mother of all mispricers ever?

So, to blame the investors, markets, banks for mispricing risks while blithely ignoring the regulatory (and other) distortions that exists is irresponsible; and could only be understood in terms of wanting to favour bank regulators… something which you hold in your motto you do not. 

Sir, let’s get rid of as many distortions as possible, so as to let investors, markets, and our banks stand a decent chance to do a good job allocating credit. The future of our grandchildren depends on it.

For a starter, and though the road there is full of difficulties, we must get back to one single capital requirement (8-15%) for banks, so that these can leverage the same against absolutely all assets.


June 21, 2018

Is the Eurozone intent on once again give Greece's government a much lower risk weight than that assigned to a Greek entreprenuer?

Sir, Jim Brunsden writes: “Eurozone finance ministers are poised to give Greece debt relief —The plan is to help convince investors that Greece is ready to return to markets when its bailout programme expires in August.” “Creditors set to reach agreement over Athens debt deal” June 21.

That sure does sounds scary if the “convincing of the investors” once again includes giving the Greek government, for the purpose of the capital requirements of banks, a lower risk weight than it merits. That would be sheer cruelty.

Let us never forget (though the statists have classified it as something that should not be named) that it was the insane 0% risk weight assigned to Greece by European central bankers that got that country into its so tragic difficulties.

In my opinion the Greeks (or at least Yanis Varoufakis) should have taken those central bankers to the European Court of Justice long time ago. Imagine what would have happened to a credit-rating agency had it assigned such 0% risk weight to Greece?


June 20, 2018

Do we not need a Martin Act to crack down on regulators who dare regulate banks without having a clear idea about what they are doing?

Sir, Brooke Masters writes “global banks and other big financial services groups have lived in fear of an old New York state anti-fraud law. The Martin Act has been used to crack down on biased Wall Street research, insurance bid-rigging and “dark pools” said to mislead traders, among many things” “Loosening the law that haunts bankers puts us at risk” June 20.

Great! But why is there not anything similar when for instance European regulators and central bankers assign a 0% risk weight to Greece. Of course they must have known Greece was not worth it, no sovereign is, and yet they went ahead. And the final consequence of that have been horrible sufferings resulting from excessive public debt, but without the slightest indication of holding those responsible for it accountable.

Yes “The US system relies on fears of prosecution and giant fines to help keep banks and insurers honest”, but what do we have to keep technocrats from regulating when they obviously have no idea about what they are doing… like for instance when they think that what is ex ante perceived as risky poses ex post more dangers to our bank system than what is ex ante perceived as risky.


Way too little has been done in 20 years to counter the Eurozone losing its foreign exchange adjustment tool.

Sir, Martin Wolf writes: “Andreas Kluth wrote in Handelsblatt Global this month: ‘A common currency was supposed to unite Europeans. Instead, it increasingly divides them.’ He is right” “The Italian challenge to the eurozone” June 20. 

Of course he is!In 1998, on the eve of the Euro, in an Op-ed titled “Burning the bridges in Europe” I wrote: 

“The Dollar is backed by a solidly unified political entity, i.e. the United States of America. The Euro, on the other hand, seems to be aimed at creating unity and cohesion. It is not the result of these.

The possibility that the European countries will subordinate their political desires to the whims of a common Central Bank that may be theirs but really isn’t, is not a certainty. Exchange rates, while not perfect, are escape valves. By eliminating this valve, European countries must make their economic adjustments in real terms. This makes these adjustments much more explosive. High unemployment will not be confronted with a devaluation of the currency which reduces the real value of salaries in an indirect manner, but rather with a direct and open reduction of salaries or with an increase of emigration to areas offering better possibilities.”

So clearly “All of this was predicted” Yes, but why has so little been done about it? Why have EU technocrats instead wasted their time on so many other minutiae?

What I did not foresee though, really because I had no idea of it, was that with the risk weighted capital requirements for banks, that which assigned a risk weight of 0% to sovereigns and 100% to citizens, fatal distortions in the allocation of bank credit were introduced, causing “high level of public debt” and making it all so much harder on the eurozone.


June 19, 2018

A major difficulty for EU is that what caused the last crisis, and attempts against its economic dynamism, shall not be named

Sir, Judy Dempsey writes that Merkel’s “conservative bloc would not buy into an agreement that would require Germany to spend more to bail out badly run economies” “Macron and Merkel will struggle to present a united front” June 19.

Have Merkel’s “conservative bloc” been told that their bank regulators assigned a risk weight of 0% to Greece and so that therefore Greece got way too much money?

Have Merkel’s “conservative bloc” been told that their regulators require banks to hold more capital against loans to German unrated entrepreneurs, than against loans to any EU sovereign?

Sir, I am sure that if central bankers and regulators were hauled in front of some really independent authority, and asked to comprehensibly explain so much of the crazy things their risk weighted capital requirements for banks entail, that would help clear the air and lead to much more constructive discussions in the EU about its future.

Who knows, perhaps such real discussions that would at long last hold some EU technocrats accountable, could even tempt a reversal of Brexit.


Capital requirements for banks based on how much “distressed debts” hedge funds raise money?

Sir, Joe Rennison’s and Lindsay Fortado’s “Distressed debt tempts investors in anticipation of the next downturn”, June 19, raises the following question:

Could an index that tracks how “US hedge funds specialising in distressed debt are raising money in anticipation [of] the next economic downturn” be useful to base bank capital requirements on? 

At least it should be much better than current regulations, which allow banks to build up dangerous exposures to what is perceived as safe, against especially low capital requirements, especially when a Jason Mudrick, founder of $1.9bn Mudrick Capital can state “This economy is roaring right now”


June 18, 2018

It is the run of banks to what is perceived, decreed or concocted as safe that is scary

Sir, you opine: “If there was ever a moment for bankers to take on too much risk, thereby planting the seeds of a nasty downturn, it is now”, “The unsettling return of bullish investment banks” June 18.

Given current regulation a more exact phrasing of “to take on much risk” would be “to build up risky exposures to assets that are perceived (houses), decreed (sovereigns) or concocted (AAA rated securities) as safe against the least capital possible” 

When you write: “there are other indications of a cyclical top. Assets remain expensive worldwide, and in the US business confidence is at a peak, unemployment is very low and tax cuts have delivered a big fiscal stimulus”… you are describing a world in which the regulators with their risk weighted capital requirements, more than warning the banks are spelling out a go ahead. Their countercyclical capital requirements when leaving in place the distortions of risk weighing are a joke. 

Bank crisis never result from exposures to what is ex ante perceived as risky but only from exposures to something perceived as safe. By allowing those risky sized exposures to build up against especially little capital, the regulators have set bank crises on steroids.

The regulator’s tiny countercyclical capital requirements are, when leaving in place the distortions of risk weighing, just a joke. 

If only banks went for much more of the truly “risky”, like loans to entrepreneurs or SMEs. Those exposures would of course also be hurt in a crisis but, meanwhile, they could at least help our economies to move forward in a more dynamic way. Risk-taking is the oxygen of development. God make us daring!


Optimally the utilities’ long-term views should result from their local connections.

Sir, Jonathan Ford describes in very clear terms why “private equity firms shouldn’t own regulated utilities, full stop. In very long-term businesses providing essential services, investors should have time horizons to match.” “Why private equity investors and utilities should not mix” June 17.

But there is more to this issue. In 2000, Electricidad de Caracas, EdC, the electrical utility of Caracas, Venezuela, that had been founded and managed by a local family for 105 years, was sold off to a big time international player, AES. I was in shock, and so I wrote in several Op-Eds

Not only would we lose the natural accountability of the management that exists when these are your neighbors and suffer the same service failings that you do; but it would also take that company out of the hands of electrical engineers and place it into the hands of financial engineers. 

Yes, the new owners proceeded to sell assets, repurchase shares, take up new loans and pay out dividends, leveraging the company up to the tilt… and many needed investments were delayed.

While EdC was being negotiated I wrote: "From my local electrical distributor, what I'm interested in seeing are good engineers with colorful helmets, accompanied by competent accountants with simple calculators, which only serve to add and subtract. I do not like to observe the presence of lawyers, financiers, brokers, publicists and other professionals little or nothing related to bring me the light home…. I get very scared when I hear terms like ‘unfriendly takeovers’ ‘poison pills’ and ‘golden parachutes’.”

To that I should have added “And I absolutely want my neighbors to hold management control and a clear majority of shares in that company.”

PS. The EdC story had an even sadder ending. In 2007, after trying to negotiate tariffs with a loony government, AES withdrew. Unfortunately, the Local that stood up to forcibly repurchase it, was Pdvsa… and you probably know what happens to anything that is in the hands of the current Pdvsa.


June 17, 2018

FT, that what is perceived risky is as dangerous to banks than what is perceived as safe, is not a “roughly right analysis”

Sir, you write: “The world may not return to what was normal before the global financial crisis… Still, consumers, investors and businesses should take some comfort that the central banks of the world’s biggest market economies have roughly the right analysis of where they are and how they might react in a downturn.” “Central banks correctly go their separate ways” June 16.

No way! With their continuous support of the risk weighted capital requirements for banks, central bankers evidence they have not understood “where they are know”. They are not “roughly right” but totally wrong. What can generate those excessive exposures that can endanger bank systems is not what is ex ante perceived as risky, but what is ex ante perceived as safe. 

Certainly central bankers the regulators did not commit this mistake on purpose, but the fact remains that they have produced much suffering; just think what their 0% risk weighting did to Greece. To hold then somewhat accountable, should we parade them down the D.C. Mall wearing dunce caps?


June 12, 2018

Europe (and the rest of the world) needs to get rid of the distortions produced by QEs and risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

Sir, Karen Ward, discussing ECB’s asset purchase programme writes: “It’s very hard to get the population to worry about government borrowing when interest rates seem impervious to how much the government wants to borrow”… “to truly put the European economy on a long-term sustainable footing it may be time for the ECB to step back and let the market do its job”… “Bond vigilantes are an essential part of the micro economy and vital for a thriving macro economy” “Investors should resist urge to run for the hills if ECB calls time on asset purchases” June 12.

Absolutely! Right on the dot! But besides suspending the distorting asset purchase program, there is also much need for to eliminate the risk weighted capital requirements for banks, that which so much and so uselessly distorts the allocation of bank credit to the economy.

PS. “Mario Draghi, ECB’s president, is under pressure to provide guidance” Forget it! Draghi is one of those regulators who decided to assign a 0% risk weights to sovereigns like Greece, and thereby helped to cause the crisis. Therefore Draghi should be prohibited to provide any further guidance.


June 08, 2018

The euro did not derive from a union but was used to build a union, and that still poses great-unresolved challenges.

Sir, I refer to Philip Stephens’“Trump, Italy and the threat to Germany” June 8.

Stephens writes: “Germany has been a “taker” — importing stability from neighbors and allies.” Indeed, but Germany has also imported the economic weaknesses from neighbors benefitting from a euro lower than what it would be if responding solely to Germany.

Yes, “The euro did not cause Italy’s economic ills, but it does close off the old escape route of devaluation”, except of course for those economies that, on the margin are the strongest, e.g. Germany.

Knowing they were benefitting unduly from the euro was perhaps the reason why the ordinarily much more disciplined Bundesbank Germans supported that insane notion of assigning, for the purpose of the capital requirements for banks, a risk weight of 0% to euro partners like Greece. For a while growing public indebtedness hid the costs of a stronger than suited for the weaker economies euro, but that lifeline has now clearly run out of steam.

What should the eurozone do know in order to survive? The answer must be finding a sustainable solution to the immense challenge that existed from the very start, when elites decided to build a union based on the euro instead of having a euro derived from a union.

Americans dream as American. How many Europeans dream as European?

June 07, 2018

Instead of Andreas Georgiou, Greek courts should prosecute those who assigned Greece a 0% risk weight

Sir, Ulrich Baumgartner, Eduard Brau, Warren Coats and otherformer senior staff of the IMF launch a spirited defense of Mr Andreas Georgiou. They write that Georgiou, a respected authority in statistics, has been pursued relentlessly during seven years with lawsuit after lawsuit, for “bringing harm to Greece and dereliction of duty by refusing to falsify the figures.” “Greece should not hound man who refused to falsify the figures” June 7.

What “Georgiou and his Greek staff, helped by international experts” did was to produce corrections, “which showed a much bleaker picture than the earlier data, were vetted by Eurostat and accepted by the European Central Bank, the EU and the IMF as the basis for major financing.”

Amazing! If anything the courts should prosecute all those European central bankers and regulators who, for the purpose of their risk weighted capital requirements for banks, and knowing it did not merit it, assigned a 0% risk weight to Greece. Had it not been for that the governments of Greece would not have been able to build up that gargantuan level of public debt that was the primary cause of its crisis.

Since IMF, with its silence on it, has de facto endorsed that 0% risk weight, perhaps those here defending Mr Andreas Georgiou should start with a mea culpa. The world would very much appreciate that. It is way overdue.

Just imagine what would happen to a credit-rating agency if it was proven that it had knowingly assigned an undeserved an AAA rating?

What if a credit rating agency had knowingly assigned an undeserved AAA rating? European central bankers assigned an even worse 0% risk weight to Greece, which doomed Greece to excessive public debt… and they have yet not been held accountable for it in the slightest.


June 06, 2018

To make banks safer, stop allowing besserwisser regulators distort the allocation of credit.

Sir, Martin Wolf writes: “147 individual national banking crises occurred between 1970 and 2011. These crises … were colossally expensive, in terms of lost output, increased public debt and, not least, political credibility” “Why the Swiss should vote for ‘Vollgeld’” June 7.

Sir, in the years before those crises, did the economy grow in the same way? No one seems to be interested in the quality of the booms, as they are all too fixated on the damages of the busts. John Kenneth Galbraith, in his “ Money: Whence it came, where it went” (1975) wrote: “Banks opened and closed doors and bankruptcies were frequent, but as a consequence of agile and flexible credit policies, even the banks that failed left a wake of development in their passing.”

Wolf writes: “it is often easiest for banks to justify lending more just when they should lend less, because lending creates credit booms and asset-price bubbles, notably in property.” But Wolf, probably being one of those “insiders” Yanis Varoufakis refers to in his “Adults in the room”, refuses to point out how regulators, by allowing banks to leverage much more with “safe” residential mortgages, than for instance with loans to “risky” entrepreneurs, helped feed the property bubble.

The regulators, when interfering with their capital requirements for banks based on the ex ante perceived risks that would usually be cleared for solely by the market, obfuscate market signals, and thereby distort the allocation of bank credit making the economy weaker and the bank system riskier… and there is no way around that! 

PS. Does an ordinary British citizen know, for instance, that their bank regulators allows banks to hold much less capital against loans to Germany than against loans to British entrepreneurs? Sir, don’t you think they have a right to know that? Or is it a case of the risk-weights that shall not be named?


Yes, cities can be great, but these can also be dangerous bombs in the making.

Sir, Edward Luce writes about how trying to attract big companies like Amazon to the cities might make it harder on the poor in the city. “Beauty contest reveals ugly truths” June 6.

Yes, of course, the weaker, the poorer, they will always be relatively more squeezed by any development that occurs in cramp conditions where there will be a fight for space.

But it is when Luce quotes Richard Florida with, “America’s most dynamic cities have played right into the company’s hands, rushing to subsidise one of the world’s largest corporations rather than building up their own economic capacities.” where the real discussion should start.

Why would a city want to bet so much of its future on so few actors as would here be the case with Amazon? Have they not seen what happened to Motor City Detroit? If you want to use incentives to attract jobs, which is of course to start “a race to the bottom”, why bet all on a number, would you not be better off diversifying your bets? 

If I was responsible for a city, one of the first things I would be doing is to analyze how its riskiness would be rated compared to other cities? For instance, what are the chances that suddenly another city offers your city’s wealthy, the possibility of moving to a place that has not accumulated impossibly high debts that will need to be served, supposedly primarily by them?

And, if your city faces a financial crash, what would be ones’ first priorities, to help the poor, or to make sure the rich do not leave without being substituted for by other rich?

PS. Luce writes: “Big fund managers… are putting cash into global urban real estate portfolios. As a result, property prices are becoming a function of global capital movements rather than local economic conditions”

Again, for the umpteenth time, what initially feeds high property prices is the inordinate ease of access to financing it, provided among others by regulators allowing banks to leverage much more with “safe” residential mortgages than with “risky” loans to entrepreneurs. 

The fund managers are just following the results of it… when that regulation-easing plan begins to be reversed, which will happen sooner or later, they run the risk of being left holding the bag. 


June 02, 2018

If you want real profound gender diversity at company boards, think of nominating housemothers

Sir, Daniel Thomas discusses the issue of having more women on corporate boards “Shareholders can do more to bring about boardroom diversity”, June 2.

More than a decade ago, as an Executive Director at the World Bank, I told my colleagues “We all have, more or less, quite similar backgrounds. If we were by means of a lottery substitute a plumber and a nurse, for two of us directors at the board, I am sure we would have a much wiser board”. I do not remember what my colleagues replied… or if they did.

Now, hearing the currently so frequent demand for more gender diversification, I feel the same. Having women educated similarly to the men they are to substitute for, brings much less diversity into the boardroom than what could be expected. 

If you want deeper meaning gender diversification, then invite housemothers to work some hours as board directors. The challenges mothers have to confront in their daily routines are way often much harder and much different from those that their then men board colleagues face.

Also, as an economist, to guarantee more gender income equality, start by arguing for parents, most usually women, to be remunerated for their socially so important work of taking care of their children or elderly. Unfortunately housemothers, just as the unemployed, do not have unions to take care of their interests. 


To salvage the European Union, its authorities must be held responsible for the travails of Italy, Greece and other.

Sir, with respect to what’s happening in Italy you write: “The guardians of the single currency failed to mend the roof while the sun was shining… Even if disaster has been averted on this occasion, the economic and political fragility of the eurozone remain all too clear” “Italy sets a stress test for the eurozone, again” June 2.

True. From the very start, soon 20 years ago, it must have been clear for all the proponents of the Euro that adopting it, meant for all countries using it giving up the possibility of adapt to different economic circumstances through foreign exchange rates adjustments.

And a Germany would benefit with a too weak for it Euro, and others, like Italy and Greece would suffer a too strong for them Euro.

What have the Eurozone authorities done to meet that challenge? Way too little! They busied themselves with all other type of lower priority issues and outright minutia. Worse yet, they also stupidly silenced the full disequilibrium signals that the interest rates on the Euro members’ public debt level could send the markets by assigning to all a 0% risk weight. Something that made the sun seem shine brighter than what it really did!

Fabio Panetta, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Italy in a speech in London in February 2018, with respect to the possibility of raising the capital requirements on sovereign debt had the temerity to say: “The problem of high public debt should be addressed by Governments directly, with determination. It should not be improperly tackled with prudential regulation.”

If I were an Italian or a Greek, given a chance I would have told (shouted) him: 

“With your 0% risk weighing you regulators imprudently created temptations for our politicians to be able to take on much more public debt at much lower rates than would otherwise have been the case, and now you argue they should have been able to resist such temptations? Just the same way you argue that banks should have resisted the temptations to leverage over 60 times with assets that carried an AAA rating? Have you and your colleagues no shame?” 

Sir, while regulators keep on giving banks more incentives to finance the “safer” present consumption than the future “riskier” production, the chances for Europe (and America) to get out of its problems lie, at least in the case of Italy, as so many times before, in the strength of its economia sommerza.