Thursday, January 23, 2014

The deforestation of the economy leads to flooding and to its dangerous desertification

Through “Learning with dogs” I was recently made aware of an article by George Monbiot, titled “Drowning in Money”, written on the subject of “The hidden and remarkable story of why devastating floods keep happening”, published in The Guardian, 14th January 2014. 

It refers to “a major research programme, which produced the following astonishing results: water sinks into the soil under the trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under the grass. The roots of the trees provide channels down which the water flows, deep into the ground. The soil there becomes a sponge, a reservoir which sucks up water then releases it slowly. In the pastures, by contrast, the small sharp hooves of the sheep puddle the ground, making it almost impermeable: a hard pan off which the rain gushes.

And, writes Monbiot: “here we start to approach the nub of the problem – there is an unbreakable rule laid down by the Common Agricultural Policy. If you want to receive your single farm payment – by the far biggest component of farm subsidies – that land has to be free from what it calls ‘unwanted vegetation’ Land covered by trees is not eligible. The subsidy rules have enforced the mass clearance of vegetation from the hills.” And, consequently, there is much dangerous flooding.

I immediately identified with the problem. For more than 15 years I have argued that medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start ups, constitute the most important root system that allows the economy to grow muscular, and not just obese. 

But, the regulators in the Basel Committee, with their utterly senseless risk-weighted capital requirements for banks, denied fair access to bank credit to these vital trees of the economy, only because these are perceived as risky. The consequence is that the economy turns into a paved parking lot where most rain just flows out to the sea without nurturing the economy. And it also guarantees that, when any AAA-rated levee breaks, true disaster will ensue.

Banks are there to fulfill an extremely important function of efficiently allocating credit in the real economy, and not simply to survive. But that was of no importance for regulators who, so fixated on keeping banks from failing, are not even considered the need for pruning.

In UK the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) is responsible for the supervision of banks, and its role is defined in terms promoting the safety and soundness of these. There is not one single reference to promoting the safety and soundness of the real economy, though nothing can be so dangerous for the long term prospects of an economy than an excess of prudence

If the UK, like most other economies, wants to avoid being dragged down in the death spiral of excessive risk aversion, it better starts thinking more in terms of an authority that understands the need for trees, perhaps about a Reasoned Audacity Regulation Authority.