February 06, 2019

I hope David Malpass, nominated by USA, if confirmed as president of the world’s premier development bank, understands that risk-taking is the oxygen of all development.

Sir, Robert Zoellick writes: “If policymakers overlook the experience of developing countries during the crisis, they are less likely to consider emerging market dynamics, understand developing economies’ sources of resilience and appreciate vulnerabilities” “Who ever runs the World Bank needs a plan for emerging markets” February 6.

Of course no one should overlook experiences obtained during crises but, focusing excessively on these, puts a damper on the potential growth between the crises.

In his book “Money: Whence it came, where it went” (1975), John Kenneth Galbraith, referring to the accelerated growth experienced in the western and south-western parts of the United States during the 19thcentury, argued that it was the result of an aggressive banking sector working in a relatively unregulated environment. “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.”

For instance when banks are required to hold more capital when lending to their “risky” entrepreneurs, than when lending to their “safe” sovereign, as current Basel regulations mandate, that is bad enough in developed countries, but, in developing/emerging countries, it is absolute lunacy.

While an Executive Director in the World Bank 2002-2004, a time during which Basel I was discussed I did what I could to alert to the huge mistakes of its pillar, the risk weighted capital requirements for banks. Unfortunately I was not able to convey my warnings, and these were approved in June 2004.

I hope that David Malpass, now nominated by USA, if confirmed as the next president of the World Bank, fully understands the following:

First, that risk-taking is the oxygen of any development, and therefore the regulators’ risk adverse risk weighted capital requirements impede banks from taking efficiently the risks that are needed to push our economies forward. “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” John A Shedd.

Second, that what’s perceived ex ante as risky is much less dangerous to our bank systems than what’s perceived as safe, and so that these regulations doom us to especially large bank crises, because of especially large bank exposures to what is especially perceived (or decreed) as safe, against especially little bank capital.

PS. Here is a brief summary of what I had to say on this issue before and during my term as an ED. It includes two letters published by FT