Monday, February 4, 2013

My comments for IMF's revision of its "Code of Good Practices on Fiscal Transparency"

Washington, February 4, 2013

International Monetary Fund

Dear Sirs,

You hold that “Fiscal transparency – defined as the clarity, reliability, timeliness, and relevance of public fiscal reporting and the openness to the public of government’s fiscal policy-making process - is a critical element of effective fiscal policymaking and risk management. Without comprehensive, reliable and timely fiscal information, governments cannot understand the fiscal risks they face or make good budget decisions. If citizens don’t have access to this information, they cannot hold governments accountable for those decisions.”

“Does the Code adequately address all of the most important aspects of fiscal transparency? What practices should be dropped? What practices should be added? Which practices should be updated to reflect recent developments in fiscal reporting standards and practices or the lessons learned from the crisis?”

In this respect I would submit that any “Good Practice on Fiscal Transparency” should also look to identify the presence of any hidden subsidies and or taxes that might affect government’s fiscal affairs, and, if possible, provide estimates as to their significance.

Specifically I refer to the fact that current bank regulations require banks to hold much more capital against assets perceived as risky, like loans to small businesses and entrepreneurs, than for assets perceived as “absolutely safe”, like loans to “infallible sovereigns”.

This translates into that a bank can leverage its equity man y time more the dollars paid by “the infallible sovereign” in risk-adjusted interests, than the same risk-adjusted dollars paid by “the risky”.

That translates directly into a regulatory subsidy of the government’s bank borrowings, paid by “the risky bank borrowers” by means of higher interest rates, and paid by the society at large by means of the opportunity cost that might be present in allowing the public sector to borrow much easier and much cheaper than the “risky” private sector, than what would have been the case in the absence of this regulations.

That translates into giving banks incentives to dangerously overpopulated safe-havens, and equally dangerous for the real economy, under explore some more risky but perhaps more productive bays; something which of course introduces a distortion that makes it impossible for banks to perform their utterly important function of allocating economic resources efficiently.

That also translates into that one of the most important theoretical rates there is in finance, the risk-free rate, usually approximated by the rate to the “most infallible sovereign” is a subsidized rate and which of course makes it impossible for the government and the markets, to know where the real risk free rate is. In other words one of the fundamental instruments needed to navigate the economy gives wrong readings.

Since there are also sovereigns who are deemed not so infallible and so against their borrowings banks are required to hold more capital, this also translates into an effective global capital control that helps to channel funds away from what is ex-ante perceived as risky into what is ex ante perceived as infallible. In other words these capital controls only help to increase the existing gaps between “the risky developing” and the “infallible developed”.

In conclusion I ask of the IMF to try to estimate all the fiscal effects of what is described above, or to respond publicly why in IMF’s opinion my arguments might be wrong, or plain irrelevant.


Per Kurowski

A former Executive Director at the World Bank (2002-2004)