Sunday, 15 April 2012

Why we have a problem

Read this statement, from one of the NEDs at Barclays:

“Many, many people were at fault in terms of what caused this crisis – partly politicians, partly regulators who loosened capital requirements – and there are many reforms still to be done,” he said. “But it is time to stop talking about revenge and to reflect calmly on how to move ahead.”

I wouldn't disagree that politicians were partly to blame, or regulators. But what about, you know, the banks? Do not under-estimate how prevalent this idea is - that if it wasn't for those meddling politicians and bureaucrats none of this would have happened. It's a way of maintaining the belief that markets will inevitably right themselves, and it's only the actions of meddlers that pushed them so far from equilibrium. (Read Hyman Minsky for some solid thinking about why the financial sector inevitably tends to instability, regardless of the actions of politicians, regulators etc).

Unfortunately this idea infects thinking about the crisis. It's a version of the law of unintended consequences that is never knowingly undersold in the policy bit of the investment world. Whilst people continue to use this sort of cop out to avoid facing up to the fact that banks are quite able to get themselves in serious trouble we will continue to make little progress.

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