Wednesday, June 24, 2009

At the UN 192 countries got it wrong

192 countries got together for the United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development and, in their final communiqué, among the causes of the crisis they say “major failures in financial regulation, supervision, and monitoring of the financial sector, and inadequate surveillance and early warning… compounded by over-reliance on market self-regulation, overall lack of transparency, financial integrity and irresponsible behavior, have led to excessive risk-taking, unsustainably high asset prices, irresponsible leveraging, and high levels of consumption fuelled by easy credit and inflated asset prices.”

How can 192 countries get it so wrong? Yes it is true that assets reached unsustainably high prices and yes it is true there were high levels of consumption fuelled by easy credit and inflated asset prices but it is absolutely false that there was excessive risk-taking or autonomously created irresponsible leverage.

The markets, over just a couple of years channeled two trillions of dollars (perhaps more than what has been lent by the Word Bank and the IMF ever since their creation) to finance houses in the US through securities rated AAA and this would much better classify more as misguided excessive risk-aversion.

And the high real leverage of the banks was foremost a direct the consequences of the regulatory innovation of the minimum capital requirements for the banks based on risks that emanated from the Basel Committee. For instance the regulations authorized an outrageous 62.5 to 1 leverage for when banks lent to corporations rated AAA to AA-.

Nor did the conference say a word about how these minimum capital requirements by which the regulators arbitrarily intervened in the market mechanism of allocating risks, created a de-facto subsidy for what can dress itself up as low risk and a de-facto tax on whatever contains more risk, such as the risks normally present in development.