Monday, February 2, 2015

Are credit-risk weighted equity requirements for banks just regulators’ soothing blankets and teddy bears?

Bruce Hood, in “Essentialism” in “Thinking” edited by John Brockman, 2013, writes: “The reduction in funding in this country has impacted upon my field quite dramatically (behavioral sciences)… Now we have to justify with a view to application”.

Great! And do I have an application to suggest!

Bank regulators succumbed entirely to the intuition of if-more-risky-then-more-equity and if-less-risky-then-less-equity completely ignoring that for the banking system as such, what is ex ante perceived as risky poses little risks. It is what is perceived as “absolutely safe” but that later can pop up as very risky that which contains the true dangers.

And so regulators decided banks needed to hold much more equity against what is perceived as risky than against what is perceived as risky; and that resulted in that banks are now making much higher risk-adjusted returns on equity on what is perceived as safe than on what is perceived as risky.

And that leveraged the natural risk adverseness of banks into the skies; that one to which Mark Twain refers to as “they lend you the umbrella when the sun shines and what it back as soon it looks like it is going to rain”.

And, since our economies move forward thanks to for instance the risk-taking of banks on small businesses and entrepreneurs, the Western world is now stalling and falling.

Hood refers to among other to work he’s done with Paul Bloom about “bizarre behavior you find in children of the West [with their] emotional attachments to blankets and teddy bears [when] they need to self-soothe.” 

And it hit me that it could be an extraordinarily application if Hood and Bloom researched whether these bank regulations are the equivalent self-soothing instruments to regulators. Because if so then we would have some arguments in hands to go and tell the members of the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision and the Financial Stability Board that it is their role to regulate banks as society needs banks and not so to help them be calm when they suck their thumbs.

PS. The Western world was built upon a lot of risk-taking, among others by its banks... but in 1988 it got hit by the Basel Accord asteroid.