March 24, 2017
Sir, Richard Waters writes: “a new layer of technology is being added to turn [big data] into the learning that makes applications more intelligent. It represents an emerging tech infrastructure that makes AI (artificial intelligence) not just a new application but a new approach to computing.” “Crowdsourced algorithms promise to be next big thing” March 24.
I register again, for the umpteenth time, the following comment:
Bank regulators, when they defined their risk weighted capital requirements for banks, which so much influences the allocation of bank credit to the real economy, looked at the risk of the assets, and not at the risk those assets posed to the bank system.
As a result they came up with that loony theory that what is perceived as very safe, is safer for the banking system that what is perceived as risky. That’s why they assigned only a 20% risk weight to what can be so dangerous as what is rated AAA to AA, and 150% to the so totally innocuous below BB-rated.
That caused a crisis because of excessive exposures to what was rated AAA; and low growth because of lack of exposures to what is perceived as risky, like to the 100% risk weighted SMEs and entreprenuers.
Sir, that is why all algorithms being developed should be required to carry a warning signed saying “Applying this to the wrong data, can be truly disastrous”
March 23, 2017
Why would today’s journalist be more capable than others of teaching our children to spot and root out fake news?
Everyone who know something about banking, and bankers, would know that what is perceived as risky never poses the same dangers to the banking system as what is ex ante believed as very safe but the ex post turns out to be risky. Even 17th century’s Voltaire, with his “May God defend me from my friends, I can defend myself from my enemies”, would understand that.
But the pillar of something as important as bank regulation, the risk weighted capital requirements for banks, is currently based on some fake news, fake input, namely on the fake theory that what is perceived as safe is safe for the banks, while what is perceived as risky, and which is therefore in reality quite innocuous, is what poses the real dangers to the banking system.
Sir, on this monstrous regulatory mistake; one with disastrous implications for the so vital allocation of credit to the real economy, I have written you and your journalists about 2.5 k letters over the last decade… but you have decided to ignore these.
That is why I do not feel too optimistic about it all when Roula Khalaf reports that “journalists from Le Monde, the French daily that has developed a readers’ tool to weed out fake news [have] started volunteering at schools, teaching teenagers how to distinguish between responsible journalism and fabricated news” “Journalists enter the classroom to root out fake news in France” March 23.
Khalaf also writes that Tom Boll, an instructor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse school of journalism “argues that a literacy effort that warns against falling for fake news should become part of a civics course and every citizen should take it.”
Sir, FT’s lack of response could be a very valuable case study in those civic courses. That because failing to denounce fake news, is just as bad as propagating these.
How can you not doubt bank regulators who believe that what’s perceived as safe is safe to the banking system?
Or the title could alternatively be: “How can you not doubt bank regulators who believe that what’s perceived as risky is what is really risky to the banking system?
Sir, Claire Jones and Jim Brunsden report that “doubt still surrounds whether the new Frankfurt-based body, the Single Supervisory Mechanism, has done enough to tackle persistent failings in parts of the region’s banking sector” “Doubts grow over Eurozone banking supervisor’s performance” March 23.
I ask how can a “Single Supervisory Mechanism” be expected to perform its duties when they have to face the reality of banks being ruled by absolutely in-operant regulations, which they presumably cannot or dare not criticize openly?
March 22, 2017
Whether Norway Fund should be free to invest without government intrusion is not really the most important question
Sir, I refer to Richard Milne’s discussion of how imposed investment limitations caused the Sovereign investor to miss out on billions of dollars over past decade, “Ethical stance crimps Norway oil fund” March 22.
The real question is: if Norwegians had been allowed to decide on their own per capita share of the net oil revenues, like for instance spending it now or picking their own investment advisors, would they have been better off or not? Long term, I believe they would.
What now exist are some millions of Norwegian expecting to be recipients of whatever the central managed oil revenues can provide them, without having had to take any responsibilities for it. By allowing a Fund to manage it all, Norwegian have missed a great learning opportunity, and have less idea about where all oil revenue came from, and where all oil revenues went.
If something goes wrong with the Fund, something that can always happen, they will show little understanding. Also, the sole existence of a huge amount of centralized savings is something that can attract the attention of dangerous redistribution profiteers/populists.
I recently sent a similar letter, also commenting on the Norwegian Fund. Seemingly that Fund is a fund that shall not be questioned, too much, at least not by FT.
God, help my descendants live out of reach of high priests of complacency, like Basel Committee’s bank regulators
Sir, Martin Wolf writes: “China can help give Mr Trump what he wants. The US president wants greenfield industrial investments in parts of his country damaged by deindustrialisation. This can never be reversed. But Mr Xi can surely find Chinese businesses happy to invest in the US. Mr Trump likes such announcements. Mr Xi should help him.” “An odd couple doomed to co-operation” March 22.
What? Is the future wellbeing of America now beholden to China? Would Wolf really like this opinion of his to be quoted during a Trump rally?
If I were to give a recommendation of how to promote any type of greenfield investments in America, I would start with, of course, by telling America to get rid of those disastrous risk weighted capital requirements for banks that orders complacency with what we have, and de facto blocks bank lending to whatever smells as risky unknown future.
That regulatory risk aversion, which so odiously discriminates access to bank credit in favor of “the safe”, like the sovereign, the AAArisktocracy and residential housing; and so disfavoring the lending to risky SMEs and entrepreneurs… has no place in any country that wants to build future… much less in one that prides itself of being the Home of the Brave.
But there is much more to it.
On March 10, in “British business is starting to look more Italian” Martin Wolf drowned us in growth projections statistics that most probably are not based on an acceleration of any of those profound economic changes the world is going through. Sir, I wrote you a letter commenting on that.
On March 14, Wolf discussed the horrors of bilateralism and the blessings of multilateralism, trade agreements and globalization, reminding us of oldies like the Marshall Plan, “The folly of bilateralism in global trade”.
Today it is China and America, with Wolf referencing the “reform and opening up” proposed in 1978 by Mao Zedong’s successor, Deng Xiaoping.
Sir, about a month ago I had the chance to visit a wonderful small regional museum in Sweden, the Blekinge Museum. It lies very close to my recently deceased mother’s family house, in which I spent a lot of time in my youth. It was a shocking and a humbling experience. It was not a museum of very old times gone by; it was a museum of so much of my (1950), (and Wolfs) times gone by.
Images of heavy horses pulling carriages full of hay, Olivetti accounting machines, telephone exchanges with hundred of cables, old bicycles, wrinkled by rough seas rowing boats, and hundred similar items that I have lived with, but that mostly no longer exists, and are much less used, shouted out… “Per, what on earth do you know about tomorrow… what does anyone know?”
Coming out of the museum, more than ever, I felt like praying “God make us daring”; or at least God make my children, grandchildren and their descendants daring, so that they are not among the so many to be left behind… doomed (by automation and robots) to end up like the heavy horses of my time. God let them live free of that complacency Tyler Cowen writes about in “The Complacent Class”… faraway from the high priests of complacency.
And as for me, and as for Martin Wolf, as economists, as citizens, as parents and grandparents, if we only look back, and do not do our utmost to imagine what lies around the corners of tomorrow then, like old soldiers (and heavy horses) we might perhaps better fade away.
Does all what we older have lived not mean anything for the young? Of course it should signify a lot… but much more in terms of wisdom, than in terms of knowledge.
March 20, 2017
Sir, Rana Foroohar writes: “America has a healthcare market that … has almost no price transparency… is controlled by vested interests (doctors, pharmaceutical and insurance companies) who exert monopoly power against the businesses and consumers they are supposed to service, and is highly fragmented and inefficient.” That results in “that healthcare in the US is the most expensive in the world by about 5 percentage points of gross domestic product” “Employers can help fix American health” March 20.
Foroohar quotes James C Capretta with: “The system would work a lot better if all of us could put pressure on doctors and insurance companies to provide more transparency.”
Absolutely. But I have argued that legislators could also provide much help by simply decreeing that, even though health sector suppliers are to be totally free to fix the prices for their services and products, they should not be allowed to use prices that discriminate excessively.
About a decade go I remember thinking: “If when needing medical services I could be sure being charged the same as my insurance company is, I could almost do without an insurance. What I really cannot do is to expose myself to being billed as an unprotected uninsured Per Kurowski.”
So it could be of great help the Health Transformation Alliance to which Foroohar refers, would, to their 4m employees, manage to add the representation of all the uninsured. That could signify much more for the American health sector than any of all other health and insurance plans being discussed in Congress.
About a decade go I remember thinking: “If when needing medical services I could be sure being charged the same as my insurance company is, I could almost do without an insurance. What I really cannot do is to expose myself to being billed as an unprotected uninsured Per Kurowski.”
Sir, in the health sector insurance companies is like the insured’s lawyers. But just like those who cannot afford lawyers are given legal assistance, the uninsured also need someone to defend them.
PS. Here is what I wrote on this to FT back in 2009, when Obama-care was being discussed.
PS. Sir, think of it, if Health Transformation Alliance negotiate only on behalf of its 4 million employees then those that are outside of it all, will find prices even higher.
March 18, 2017
Let us not allow group-thinking unaccountable technocrats operating in mutual admiration clubs decide for us voters
Sir, Tim Harford explains many reasons why a normal voter cannot be duly informed about all matters. Though that weakens democracy, it is a fact of life, and so he opines: “The workaround for voter ignorance is to delegate the details to expert technocrats.” “The man in Whitehall sometimes does know best” March 18.
I agree, except that I would have to add the caveat: As long as those technocrats operate transparently and can be openly questioned by any normal voter who happens to be interested in the subject.
And I say that out of experience. I consider the risk weighted capital requirements for banks that have come out of the Basel Committee to be about the most damaging and useless regulations ever; and I have a long list of questions that I have never been able to get a response to. Like for instance:
Why did the regulators not look at all empirical evidence that exists on what has caused all major bank crises? In that case they would not have assigned a risk weight of only 20% to what is so dangerous for the banking system as what is AAA rated, and one of 150% to the totally innocuous below BB- rated.
Why did the regulators not define the purpose of the banks before regulating these? In that case they would not have ignored the distortions in the allocation of bank credit this regulation causes?
Of course journalists, like those in the Financial Times, could play a vital role going between technocrats and voters… but what when they don’t want to do that for their own particular reasons?
PS. Harford writes “Better a flawed expert than a flawed amateur” Yes, but let us keep a watchful eye on the experts; let us never forget George Orwell’s comment, in “Notes on Nationalism”, “one has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool” or references to Patrick Moynihan opining “There are some mistakes it takes a Ph.D. to make”.
Current “pre-existing conditions” would mean nothing when complete genomic sequences enter the health insurance world
Sir, Gillian Tett writes “most consumers have not fully considered the consequences of genetic profiling: is it a good idea, say, to discover through a genetic profile a vulnerability to Alzheimer’s? What will that mean for life insurance policies and data privacy?”, “The importance of socks in the genomic revolution” March 17.
Indeed, imagine if a full genomic sequence is obtainable at a really low price, what stops then insurance companies from offering two plans, one for those who want to present their full DNA result, and one for those who prefer to keep these confidential? What would the differences in premiums be?
In 2000, in the now extinct Daily Journal of Caracas, I wrote an Op-Ed titled “Human genetics made inhuman”. In it I tackled some of the problems to which Ms. Tett refers.
I ended that article with: “suggesting that all insurance companies design a plan which obligates them to issue policies for all of those who undertake a genetic examination. This policy should cover the negative impact and consequence that could arise from anyone getting access to such information.”
Would that suffice? Clearly not, but just the existence of such an insurance, and seeing the premiums charged, could be a smart way for us to allow the market indicate us what kind of social troubles we are getting into. This because clearly what we currently refer to the problems in health insurance with “pre-existing conditions”, would all be baby talk when compared to the societal impacts of genomic sequencing.
I worried about this in 2000, as others must have been worrying earlier, and here Gillian Tett brings it up in 2017. What has happened in this respect during that interval? Has someone somewhere been thinking on how to tackle this formidable societal challenge? Probably not! If so, why? Or is this just another question of those that should not be asked?
PS. In 2015, in a letter to FT, I asked: “What would Gillian Tett say if one of her health record entrepreneurs, by means of an innocent mistake, entered a data that for instance hindered one of her children to enter a university that had decided that the expected longevity of students was good for its funding drives?
March 17, 2017
To understand risk-weighted capital requirements for banks distort, is not geeky, just thinking outside The Group.
Sir, Gillian Tett mentions that Hyun Song Shin, and economic adviser at the Bank for International Settlements, “believes that modern economists have a crucial blind spot: they tend to ignore how the financial system really works, since they operate with idealised models of money and investor incentives.” “A blind spot masks the crisis danger signs” March 17.
Of course! As I had written to FT, in thousands of letters, the risk weighted capital requirements for banks has completely distorted the allocation of credit.
That distortion has similarity to those found in a “BIS study of German life insurance companies, which have recently accounted for 40 per cent of government bond purchases, concluded these were gobbling bonds not due to deflation forecasts, or an enhanced appetite for risk… but because “accounting rules and solvency regulation” forced insurers to match assets to liabilities.”
But then Ms. Tett goes into writing of the “kinks in how these rules work (too complex to spell out here)… The result was a bizarre, self-reinforcing feedback loop that traders describe as “negative convexity” (and George Soros, the hedge fund manager, calls “reflexivity”). This sounds geeky.”
No Ms. Tett, it’s not geeky at all! It just requires simple 101 economics to understand that if banks are allowed to leverage more with some assets than with others, that is going to produce a complete different set of expected risk adjusted return on assets than those that would be present in the absence of such regulatory distortion... and of course willingness to think outside The Group.
For instance, if the sovereign has a zero percent risk weight, and an SME a 100% one, this means banks need to hold much less capital when lending to a sovereign than when lending to a bank. Ms. Tett, honestly, is it really geeky or should it not be quite simple to then understand that the sovereign is going to be favored more than he would ordinarily been favored, and that the SME will find it more difficult than usual to access bank credit?
Sir, day by day we are getting closer to some real fundamental problems, like:
Who sold the regulators that fake idea that what is perceived as safe is more dangerous to the bank system than what is perceived as risky.
Who were the regulators who believed such crap and did not even care about defining the purpose of banks before regulating these?
Where were all the economists (and journalists) that should have raised the question that needed to be raised?
Sir, with an insistence for which I am not ashamed to be called an obsessive, I have and still do my part. Are you doing yours?
March 14, 2017
Patrick Jenkins, in banking, its current regulators lie out of their teeth’s, or are just incredibly dumb and inept.
Sir, Patrick Jenkins writes: “No sector, though, can compete with banking for the scale, depth, longevity or variety of lying that has infected a whole way of doing business.” “Bank bosses have to ensure that honesty is the best policy” March 14.
Perhaps but if so that lying is shared with its regulators.
Not a week goes by without at least one major financial media referring to Basel ratios that indicate banks are well capitalized. A responsible regulator should be out there answering such affirmations by reminding everyone that these ratios are; first not at all comparable with historic capital ratios based on non-weighted assets; and that they mean nothing if the risk weights are wrong. But the regulators don’t! They just play along.
And to state that those rated AAA, those who regulators assign a risk weight of 20%, are more dangerous to the bank system than those rated below BB-, those who regulators assigns a 150% risk weight to, is a mindboggling blatant lie, or a stupidity out of this world… have a pick!
Jenkins concludes among other with “More important still is that bank bosses themselves prioritise long-termist decency over short-termist profit-chasing”
Few things are more short-termist, or less long termist, than allowing banks to leverage more their equity, which means earning higher risk adjusted returns, with what is “safe”, usually the past and present, than with what is “risky”, usually the future.
Just think of it, a 35% risk weight on residential mortgages, and one of 100% for SMEs. That would seem to doom our young to have to live without jobs, forever in their parents’ basements… or, if there is a reverse mortgage on it, until the house is repossessed by the bank.
And Sir, if not directly lying, is not keeping mum on it at least sort of withholding the truth?
March 13, 2017
What a shame Lucy Kellaway missed teaching her finance expert colleagues in FT, to spot bullshit at 50 paces.
Sir, Lucy Kellaway no matter how she has educated her daughters in other aspects, something which I father of three might discuss, has all the right in the world to be very proud to have helped them “to spot bullshit at 50 paces” “How I help my children navigate their life journeys” March 13.
If she had taught the same to her finance expert colleagues in FT then they, upon seeing a risk weight of only 20% for what is so dangerous to the banking system as what is AAA rated, and one of 150% for the so innocuous below BB- rated, would have stated “What a BS!” and then the world could have looked quite less messier than now.
In an age of “pervasive uncertainty”, how can bank regulators trusts ex ante perceived risks so much?
Sir I refer to Oliver Ralph’s “Age of uncertainty takes its toll” March 13, in order to make just one question… that in the title.
Sir, I dare you to explain to me, or to anyone, why the capital requirements for banks should be based on the risks perceived, and not on those risk that might not be perceived?
Regulatory easing, if done right, could make risk managers of banks care about real risks, not just about capital reductions.
Sir, Laura Noonan reports that risk models have more uses than assessing capital levels “Regulatory easing will not kill off the model makers” March 13.
What kinds of easing? Because of the risk weighted capital requirements for banks, risk managers have lately been operating with one single mandate… namely that of reducing the capital needed, so as to help maximize the allowed leverage, so as to be able to produce truly large risk adjusted returns on equity.
In essence that has signified that banks, if compared to Volkswagen, have been able to control their own emissions, with the emission managers having been instructed to maximize these. Crazy? Yes!
So if the easing signifies the elimination of different capital requirements for banks, then risk managers could begin to serve a real purpose instead of a regulatory one.
Then SMEs and entrepreneurs would be able to compete on level ground for access to bank credit with sovereigns, AAA rated or residential mortgages, as they have been able to do during around 600 years, before the Basel Committee messed it all up for them.
But Sir, I am not sure that is the kind of regulatory easing banks are after.
March 12, 2017
When facts do not make those who should be the most curious curious, like FT journalists, what are we to do?
Sir, Tim Harford discusses “agnotology”, a term coined by Robert Proctor, a historian at Stanford University, which refers to the study of how ignorance is deliberately produced. “The problem with FACTS”, March 10.
Harford writes: “Facts rarely stand up for themselves – they need someone to make us care about them, to make us curious… Mainstream journalists, too, are starting to embrace the idea that lies or errors should be prominently identified… [but] We journalists and policy wonks can’t force anyone to pay attention to the facts... Curiosity is the seed from which sensible democratic decisions can grow.”
Indeed but here follows two facts about which I have written to the Financial Times more than 2.500 letters over the last decade but that has not been able to raise its curiosity or perhaps belong to the group of the facts that shall not be checked.
First fact: Regulators, with their Basel II of 2004, for the purpose of setting capital requirements for banks, assigned a risk weight of 20% to what was rated AAA to AA and one of 150% to what carried a below BB-rating.
A below BB-rating ex ante indicates a very high risk, something which precisely make clients so rated to signify no risk at all for the banking system.
What is rated AAA to AA ex ante indicates a very low risk, something that precisely induces banks to generate those excessive exposures capable of causing a major crisis, if ex post it turns out to really be very risky.
Second fact: By allowing for different capital requirements, the regulators allow banks to leverage differently their capital with different assets. That produces expected risk adjusted returns on equity that are quite different from what would have been the case in the absence of such regulations; something which clearly must distort the allocation of bank credit to the real economy.
Harford mentions the presence of “motivated reasoning” distraction, and lies can help to cloud or even make impossible the understanding of truths. In the case of bank regulations and the 2007-08 crisis, two that stand out.
Motivated reasoning: we do not want banks to fail. Just the phrase “risk weighted capital requirements for banks”, if compared to “not risk weighted capital requirements for banks”, indicates something so much more prudent… and therefore likable. It is hard for most to understand that risk weighing can in essence mean nothing if the risk weights are wrong, as they sometimes are; and also that since the clearing for risks already occurs by means of sizes of exposures and risk premiums, the doubling down on the same perceptions, now in the capital, makes it impossible to adjust for risks… even if the risks are ex ante perfectly perceived.
Distraction: derivatives. Does it not sound so delightfully sophisticated when we speak of the dangers of derivatives? How can anyone dare questioning the expertise of someone capable of that?
A qualified lie: deregulation of banks. Banks were effectively somewhat deregulated with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1998. But that “deregulation” was really insignificant when compared to the imposition of such intrusive and distortive regulation as the risk weighted capital requirements for banks. Never ever have banks been so miss-regulated as now.
Harford writes: “Agnotology has never been more important” “We live in a golden age of ignorance,” says Proctor today. “And Trump and Brexit are part of that.”. To this I would have to add, Bank Regulations!
So Mr Undercover Economist, and you too Sir, why not begin by some fact checking on your own fact avoidance.
PS: Harford quotes Molière “A learned fool is more foolish than an ignorant one.” George Orwell also wrote in “Notes on Nationalism”: “one has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”
And according to Edward Dolnick, Francis Fukuyama has heard Daniel Moynihan opining: “There are some mistakes it takes a Ph.D. to make”
March 11, 2017
Moving is most often aversion to the risk of staying. More important, is the willingness to take risks upon arrival.
Sir, Gillian Tett, referring to “Little House on the Prairie” and Tyler Cowen’s “The Complacent Class”, discusses that decline in the “mobility [which] was considered synonymous with the American dream”, “How America’s pioneering spirit disappeared” March 17.
Tett quotes Cowen with “What I find striking about contemporary America is how much we are slowing things down . . . and how much we are investing in stability”; and she concludes recommending: “the next time the Trump team talks about making America great again, maybe somebody should ask how to make America mobile again”
But are those who fled famine, religious or political persecutions, or simply the lack of jobs, all risk-takers? No! What was really important for making America great was that fresh opportunities, like land and bank credit, awaited those who, upon their arrival, were willing to put in the job and take the risks needed.
Sir, let me, for the umpteenth time, quote from John Kenneth Galbraith’s “Money: Whence it came where it went” 1975. “For the new parts of the country [USA’s West]… there was the right to create banks at will and therewith the notes and deposits that resulted from their loans…[if] the bank failed…someone was left holding the worthless notes… but some borrowers from this bank were now in business...[jobs created]”
So, if we are to talk about some diminishing risk-taking affecting the economy, and that blocks the pioneering spirit, then what most clearly stands out is the risk-weighted capital requirement for banks imposed by bank regulators.
Ms. Tett, can you imagine families arriving to a land governed by such like a Financial Stability Board, whose function is to keep banks from failing and do not care one iota about petty little things like banks allocating credit efficiently to the real economy? Would the Ingalls have thrived in such a land?
But Sir, I know, you don’t want to talk about this.
March 10, 2017
If a citizen of an oil-cursed nation, like Nigeria, would you like a FT lending support to its central besserwissers?
Sir, you write “If the government were to reduce its stakes in the oil joint ventures to a minority it would not only raise some $20bn towards achieving other objectives. It would liberate the oil companies to invest, providing the country with a more realistic chance of raising production” “Nigeria’s recovery plan gives grounds for hope: A burst of reform will help Africa’s most populous nation to fly again” March 9.
Is that really so? Could it not be that its government would then just waste the $20bn obtained now against the loss of future oil revenues; and that a future populist could easier come to power exploiting a re-nationalization platform? By the way, for how long is the extraction of a non-renewable natural resource be described as “production”
Sir, you know that Nigeria, like Venezuela, are oil cursed nations in which oil exports represent 90% or more of all the exports, and the revenues governments receive from oil 70% or more of all fiscal revenues. And yet you seem to indicate that with a correct recovery plan, which means centralized government bureaucrats still calling the shots, perhaps with somewhat less ammunition, there is “grounds for hope”.
Sir, if you were an oil-cursed citizen, I am sure you would not like a renowned international financial paper lending such support, to those powerful local oil bureaucrats, vulgar redistribution profiteers, that insist they should manage oil revenues, since they are much more experts and therefore know much better than you what good for you and your family.
Or is it perhaps that you are too beholden to all governments that do the oil-revenues spending?
Museum of Louvre should invite French to celebrate their Monument to Inequality, and tourists to take selfies
Sir, Jo Ellison writes: In January, Jean-Luc Martinez, head of the Louvre, reported a decline of about 2m visitors to the glass pyramid on the Rue de Rivoli, and a loss in revenues of €9.7m. He blamed the attacks as being key… The hotel sector has seen a simple decline: many have reported occupancy rates plummeting by up to 40 per cent. “A night at the museum: Louis Vuitton goes to the Louvre, as Nicolas Ghesquière’s AW17 collection celebrates ‘brand Paris’” March 9.
I sat down with my daughter Alexandra, an art consultant with a M.A. from Christie's Education in Modern and Contemporary Art and the Market, to discuss Louvre’s really horrific decline in visitors. We came to the following (quite preliminary) conclusions.
First that it might be Louvre have catered too much to the tourist and in the process forgotten their nationals. There I suggested an invitation to Thomas Piketty and all his fellow countrymen to come and celebrate more often that great Monument to Inequality that The Museum of Louvre represents. (I am not entirely sure Alexandra was 100% with me on that one… perhaps only 99% J )
Also, since the drop in hotel occupancy rates might have also to do with competition from Airbnb, it could result in tourists not feeling as tourists as usual and therefore not behaving as much as tourists, meaning among other, going less to museums. In order to combat this perhaps the Louvre must launch a campaign declaring anyone who has not taken a selfie at the Louvre as not really having been in Paris.
Martin Wolf, forget for a while the usual numbers. The society needs all men on deck for much more important tasks.
Sir, when you don’t know what to do, you might spend sometime putting a drawer in order, or sharpening some pencils. That’s the impression I get from Martin Wolf’s “British business is starting to look more Italian” March 10.
There are too many new challenges building up fast and on steroids, and those numbers Wolf so insistently feeds his readers with, might also risk chaining us to no longer valid economic realities or models.
How are we to best manage (and measure) the effect of all those salaries paid to humans that are disappearing because of robots and automation?
How are we to get the decent and worthy unemployments, which a structural lack of jobs indicates we will need more and more?
If we go for something like a Universal Basic Income, do we have the tools needed to measure their adequate levels? A correct dose UBI dose could be magical, but an excessive one, extremely poisonous.
What would happen to Britain and Italy, if their robots do not measure up in capacity to for instance Germany’s?
With risk weighted capital requirements for banks our most important risk takers are told not to take risks, while, without a blinking of an eye, we allow our young to take on debt to study what we all suspect will not generate them any repayment capacity.
Regulators allow a low 20% risk weight for what is so dangerous to banks as what’s rated AAA, while imposing a 150% risk weight on the so innocuous below BB-… and tenured economist or finance professors do not even question that.
Where are the societal debates on all these issues? For instance were there any mention of robots in the recent Brexit and US president election processes?
Martin Wolf, at least for a while forget numbers which importance might have been superseded by events. We need all men (good and bad) on deck.
PS. Of course, just in case “all men” includes all women too.
March 09, 2017
Even the best sovereign wealth fund, like Norway’s, will in the long run degenerate. Sorry, but that’s life.
Richard Milne comments that the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, “has become a more active investor, trying to use its growing heft to influence company behaviour “Norway sovereign wealth fund flexes shareholder muscles” March 8.
Sir, I tell you, there will come day, you can bet on it, when a majority of Norwegians will opine “we would have been much better off managing each one of us his share of the net oil revenues, than handing these over to a sovereign wealth fund”. And they will be right.
How do I know? Well that’s how it goes when too few decide on so much wealth… it goes to their heads, and they start doing things for which they have never really been authorized, and then something happens, and then there is nothing to be done about it.
Do I mean that it was wrong of Norway to set up this fund? Not at all, I even wish Venezuela had done that… which it did… but
In 1974, as a recent young MBA, I became the diversification manager of the first Venezuelan Investment Fund set up to manage the nations fast growing oil revenues. It took me only two weeks to understand that it would not work, and so I resigned.
Norway was much further advanced than Venezuela when, in 1990, it set up its fund, and it has clearly done a lot better. Well-done Norway!
Nonetheless, the degenerative forces imbedded in such a fund are just too powerful, even for Scandinavians. The introduction of new objectives, without a clear explanation of what that could entail in reduced returns, is just one example of such forces.
Why do I make this point? Because in my Venezuela, again I hear the voices of those interested in its management, clamoring for something like the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund. And Sir, I trust a thousand times more the citizens to know what to do with their share, than some few experts with everyone’s share.
FT echoes accusations of “knowingly profiting from murder” against World Bank, but not mistakes by bank regulators?
Sir, Shawn Donnan’s “Lawsuit” of March 9, has left me dumbstruck.
In 2002-2004 I was an Executive Director at the World Bank (IFC) occupying the Chair that, among others, represents Honduras. In 2003, surely before Dinant and its late owner Miguel Facussé times, I have never heard about them, I visited some of those palm plantations in the Bajo Aguán region of Honduras.
In an Op-Ed I then wrote, I stated that I found these to be horrible, appalling; basically because to me it looked like that it “could be the mother of all poverty traps”, “ the borderline of lowest overall marginal cost, that is, where the least is paid to farmers for their labor”; and also because I always felt that “if we let globalization simply pursue the lowest marginal cost of labor, then Great Bad Deflation will inevitably come”.
But, as to the World Bank or the IFC “knowingly profiting from the financing of murder”? And of these being a detonator? “Lawyers lay out a build-up of violence before and after the IFC began lending to the company” I have to say no, no and no!
Could IFC, the World Bank, be lured into lending or investing in something that has something awful going on behind the curtains? Yes, that could happen to anyone.
Could some individual from IFC and the World Bank be involved in something criminal? Of course, but from there to launch this type of accusations against the institutions as such, only damages without serving any purpose. How much seed of suspicions can you seed before you do irremediable damage?
Also could it not be that someone is knowingly exploiting some poor suffering Honduran farmers, in an ambulance chasing type of action? I do not know EarthRights, and I have absolutely no reason to suspect anything but good intentions on their part, but profiteering happens, and so one needs to always proceed with utmost care.
I am no longer an ED, and since I am no longer capable, in my profession, of making one to my conscience honest living in my Venezuela… I now belong to a Civil Society (don’t ask me to explain precisely what that means). And as a member of it I do my best to generate constructive advice to valuable institutions such as the World Bank (and, disclaimer, absolutely not only because my wife works there).
Sir, let me get back to how I have titled this letter: The Basel Committee for Banking Supervision has made some mindboggling and very dangerous mistakes. FT has not shown a willingness to clearly echo my concerns or even ask bank regulators for some very basic explanations. But, “without fear and without favour”, you now allow this against the World Bank to be published. How come the differential treatment? Could not bad regulations be a murder weapon?
PS. Nowadays I hope for robots to take care of those palm plantations; and by taxing a bit those robots, be able to provide the poor farmers of Honduras a better chance to place themselves closer to something more profitable for them, and foremost for their children and grandchildren.
March 08, 2017
Does Britain risk more with Brexit than EU? Not really. So has Britain any special wishes for if EU offers a Remain?
Sir, Martin Wolf writes: “The chances of a calamitous outcome, with poisonous long-term results, are high. Some of the more fanatical Brexiters would appear to desire this.” “Britain plays with fire over Brexit” March 8.
That’s true, but do not some fanatical Remainers seem to wish that too, so that they could later rub in all over our faces their “ See I told you so!”
Now Tony Blair argues, “If our government were conducting a negotiation which genuinely sought to advance our country’s interests, that negotiation would include the possibility of Britain staying in a reformed Europe”. Martin Wolf is also quite open to this idea, although he finds that “in practice, this option is highly implausible.
Plausible or not, I think the idea has a lot of merit, specially because at this particular junction it seems to me that EU has more to lose from Brexit than Britain.
So, if Britain I would ask EU, what would you like to offer for us to remain in EU? But, for that, Britain should know and spell out what that offer has to include, as a minimum. Does Britain know? Who knows, perhaps the Wish List would contain all that which EU also needs in order not to crumble on its own.
Besides, even if a Remain offer is not extended and the Brexit process follows its course, going this route has clear advantages. That because it would define Brexit not so much as a “We against you EU affair” but more a reaction to mutual problems; and that could only make life more amiable between partners discussing divorce terms… that is unless one partner does not want to see any difficulties divulged.
March 07, 2017
FT, is not withholding truths, for any reasons of your own, as fake, as fake news pushed for any reasons of its own?
Sir, I refer to Tim Harford’s “Hard truths about fake news”, March 4.
Given the fact that juicy/irrelevant or fake news/stories are usually so much more “interesting” for readers (like Harford and I) than many real fact based news/stories, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg clearly faces a tremendous conflict on interests. That of course because Facebook makes most (if not perhaps all of its income) when its users (like Harford and I) click on the ads attracted by these juicy/fake stories/news.
But is Harford someone to discuss this matters as an outsider? He writes in the Financial Times, and one of the greatest true financial real horror stories/news ever, must be about how bank regulators could get it so wrong so as to in Basel II assign a tiny 20% risk weight for what is so dangerous for the banking system, the AAA rated, and a huge 150% risk weight to the totally innocuous below BB- rated. But, has FT picked up on that? No!
Because of some unexplained internal reasons FT knows best of, notwithstanding my soon 2.500 letters on subprime banking regulations, notwithstanding its motto of “without fear and without favour”, FT has kept mum on that story.
Sir, is not withholding truths, for any reasons of your own, just as fake as fake news pushed for commercial, political or any other reasons of its own?
PS. Harford writes: “as a loyal FT columnist, I need hardly point out that the perfect newspaper is the one you’re reading right now”. That is an interesting point, which begs the question: Is columnists’ loyalty to their own newspaper something crucial for good journalism or good newspapers?
PS. Harford writes: “Reading the same newspaper every day is a filter bubble too.” Oops, careful there Tim, you are entering into the very delicate theme of groupthink and intellectual incest.
March 06, 2017
Are we better off with robots able to compete with berry pickers than with those able to compete with CEOs?
Sir, Lawrence Summers hits out at the possibility of taxing robots and writes: “Surely it would be better for society to instead enjoy the extra output and establish suitable taxes and transfers to protect displaced workers? It is hard to see why shrinking the pie, rather than enlarging it as much as possible and then redistributing, is the right way forward.”, “Leave robots tax-free to assemble a profitable future” March 6.
Right on... BUT! On the first: why should “less-fortunate workers” be displaced only because they are burdened with for instance payroll taxes or minimum wages, while robots are not, and so that their owner/bosses can earn more?
On the second: why should we have those robots that compete at the lower end of the labor market, be the main pie enlargers? If robots were taxed, then they would have to be much more efficient, and we would perhaps have a better chance of getting the 1st class robots we really want our grandchildren to have at their disposal.
I mean does Professor Summers really feel that the economy has been enlarged when, instead of being able to exchange some words at the supermarket with a human cashier, we have to settle with an automated cashier giving us instructions with an automated voice, and turning us into their submissive servants?
PS. Bill Gates, who is far from being the first to speak about taxing robots, wants us to use those revenues to enlarge the franchise value of the redistribution profiteers. Other of us want to use these instead to partially fund a Universal Basic Income, which could be part of the tools needed to create decent and worthy conditions, for all those unemployments robots and automation cause. But, last time I read it, Professor Summers was on the side of those considering we cannot afford a UBI plan.
PS. When Professor Summers writes, “Why pick on robots?” I am sure he knows we are not only picking on robots but on any artificial substitute for humans efforts that has been inhumanly favored.
PS. Are American workers really competing against Chinese and Mexican workers, or against American, Chinese and Mexican robots?
Why has the world not been duly informed about the impact on jobs of robots and dumb bank regulations?
Sir, I refer to your “incisive new global business columnist” Rana Foroohar writing, from a local perspective, that “Trump’s trade policies won’t help my town” March 6.
Let me for the umpteenth time comment on two issues
Foroohar writes: “small and medium-sized businesses create about 60 per cent of jobs in America.” And it is precisely to “risky” SMEs that bank regulators have assigned among the largest risk-weights; which mean banks need to hold the most capital when lending to these; which means they have dis-incentivized bank lending the most, to what we most need to have access to credit. It is all so loony, especially considering that major bank crisis never result from excessive lending to this type of client… since these are perceived as risky.
Foroohar also writes: “Carrier recently cut a deal with the president to keep 1,000 jobs in Indiana rather than moving them to Mexico, only to come under fire from unions for outsourcing hundreds of others and replacing workers with robots… Those who might in the past have worked $25 an hour factory jobs now do $11-$13 an hour shifts at Walmart.”
That should indicate that our society has been surprised, unprepared, for a major event, namely that immense structural unemployment that might result from the use of robots and other variants of automation. How should we handle it? Do we not need decent and worthy unemployments? Should we at least not tax robots and cousins with any type of taxes we load on the employed so that these latter could at least compete fairly for jobs? There are hundreds of questions waiting to be answered but in this data world, we don’t find any data on for instance how many jobs were effectively taken over by robots and cousins during the last decade.
Of course, as Foroohar says, “when it comes to trade Mr Trump is fighting the last war”. But the main reason for that is that no one informed Trump or the rest that there was a new war going on”. Did anyone mention the insane bank regulations war on risk-taking, the oxygen of development? Did Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders talk of the robots coming? Was a Universal Basic Income possibility raised in any town-hall meeting? Who told Trump and the electorate that the building the Mexico Wall could itself represent the last decent job opportunities for many, on both sides of the wall? Sir, clearly the world has a lot of urgent catching up to do.
March 03, 2017
Why does Gillian Tett insist in that bank regulators are doing such a splendid job so that they should stay on?
Sir, Gillian Tett, horrorized at the possibility, writes “consider what might happen to credit guidelines and stress tests if the White House puts pro-finance, anti-deregulation officials into the four Fed governor positions that will come vacant in the next couple of years” “Trump’s stealthy deregulation delights business” March 3.
Yes what could happen? If Trump helps to squeeze in some regulators who know that what is perceived as safe is much more dangerous for the banking system than what is perceived as risky; and would therefore not assign those loony risk-weights of 20% to what is AAA to AA rated and 150% to what is rated below BB-, we could only be better off.
If Trump help squeeze in some regulators who do not possess such statist agenda so as to risk weigh the Sovereign at 0% and We the People at 100%, we could only be better off.
If Trump help squeeze in some regulators who, when stress-testing banks, are also interested in looking at what should have been on banks’ balance sheets and is not, like loans to SMEs and entrepreneurs, we could only be better off.
Sir, Ms. Tett, and you too, should ask yourselves whether regulators have performed adequately their fiduciary responsibilities of doing no harm? As I see it, they have caused a crisis, caused stagnation and helped to create greater inequality.
With failed regulators like these, there is nothing better than real de-regulation.
Why refer to “cash repatriation” when you know it is not cash? Are there some should-not-be-named motives for it?
Sir, Gillian Tett writes: “Mr Trump will need widespread Republican support if he wants to enact his promised tax reforms, cash repatriation or $1tn infrastructure spending plan.” “Trump’s stealthy deregulation delights business” March 3.
“Cash repatriation”? When will Ms. Tett, like most other discussants of this, understand that we really should not be talking about “cash repatriation”. All those exiled profits, or at least 99,99% of these, have already been deployed in assets different from cash under the mattress. These assets to be repatriated might indeed already have been repatriated, like if for instance they are held in bonds of the sovereign to which the repatriation takes place.
So, to refer to “cash repatriation”, can only feed the illusion that this would signify a fundamental way to correct for the world problems, like that of growing inequality. Under some circumstances, if the redistribution recipients exchange inefficiently those repatriated assets, it could in fact worsen some of our problems.
Sir, now why would some like to feed such “cash-repatriation-is-a-solution illusion? You tell me!
Does this mean that I am against the repatriation of assets booked abroad as a result of corporate profits? Of course not! If there is where these, by law or by incentives should go, that’s how it should be.
February 28, 2017
Any party named Labour has a major difficulty deciding on its future in these days of robots and automation.
Sir, I know too little about British politics to venture myself into commenting on Janan Ganesh’s lamentations in “Labour saunters into history’s mausoleum” February 27.
But, that said, just like unions now face having to make their minds up about whether to try to unionize robots or not, a party named “Labour” must think about what to do if, some couple of years down the line, the non-workers represent a significant majority among voters. Could Labour call itself “The Not Working Workers Party” or “The Idle Labourers Party”? Anyway I am sure they could and will come up with something better.
What is clear though is that the fighting for raising the minimum wages, only to give robots a better chance to grab the jobs days are over, and does not constitute a viable political option for the future.
A Universal Basic Income scheme, one which could provide all non-workers with a stepladder to better reach up to the gig-economy, could still be an alternative; although that could mean tearing the party apart, as a UBI would significantly diminish the franchise value of the party’s redistribution profiteering members.
February 27, 2017
Sir, Wolfgang Münchau, discussing a “centrist populist. Take Silvio Berlusconi”, writes that he “left a legacy of economic devastation. Italy’s economic growth is anaemic, its debt burden too high and the banking system too weak…. The euro-zone lacks a joint government and is premised on economic convergence and rules-based governance. Its survival depends on the absence of populism” "Centre-ground populists pose the real threat" February 27.
Again,Münchau says not a word about that during the last decades nothing has been as destructive for the Western world of our grandchildren, than those hubris filled populist technocrats who with their risk weighted capital requirements, offer us to deliver stable and safe banks… at no cost.
A 0% risk weight for the sovereign, in this case “safe” Italian politicians and bureaucrats, and a 100 % risk weight for “risky” Italian SMEs and entrepreneurs, could never have produced anything but anaemic growth, and the dangerous overpopulation of some supposedly very safe havens.
When will FT and all its famous columnists understand that denouncing the regulatory distortion in the allocation of bank credit is vital to our future?
BoE’ Sam Woods, like all current Basel Committee bank regulators, is in serious breach of the do-no-harm fiduciary rule.
Sam Woods, deputy governor for prudential regulation at the Bank of England discusses the differences in calculating the capital requirements for banks in which “Larger firms typically use internal models” and “Smaller or younger groups typically use standardised weights” and “there can be large disparities between the two calculations” “Our financial standards benefit everyone” February 26.
Sir, did you see that Venezuelan amateur showing off his total absence of cross-country skiing skills in an international setting? One Venezuelan who confessed to similar difficulties told me that he at long last completely identified with a Venezuelan sportsman. I replied “Indeed, but with his difficulties of understanding how deep his amateurism is, he also reminds me of the current Basel Committee inspired bank regulators”.
Sir, anyone who has some capital to invest, needs to assess the individual risks of assets, from the perspective of how well it fits into his portfolio. Any adviser who would tell an investor to only look at the individual risks, like current bank regulators do with their risk weighted capital requirements, would be in serious breach of any sort of fiduciary rule.
Here are some of their “standardized” risk weights extracted from Basel II. Sovereigns 0%, AAA rated 20%, not rated (the usual SME) 100% and below BB- 150%.
As a result banks, because when doing so they are allowed to leverage more and so obtain higher risk adjusted returns on equity, are de facto being instructed to lend to what is perceived, decreed (or concocted) as safe; and to abstain from lending to what is perceived risky, without any consideration to their portfolio… and without any consideration to the credit needs of the real economy.
In case you doubt me, I invite you to read “An Explanatory Note on the Basel II IRB Risk Weight Functions”. It specifically states that the risk weights are portfolio invariant, since it otherwise “would have been a too complex task for most banks and supervisors alike.”
Sam Woods writes: “The first job of the Prudential Regulation Authority is to keep the UK banking system safe and sound.”
“Safe and sound” Hah! The regulators, with their foolish and so unwise credit risk aversion, only cause our banks to no longer financing the riskier future but only refinance the safer past; while guaranteeing that some “safe-haven” (like AAA rated securities and Greece), sooner or later will become dangerously overpopulated, and it will all crash, again and again.
Now, Woods inform us “the PRA will look at capital requirements in the round rather than assuming that a simple “sum of the parts” approach will necessarily deliver the right answer.”
Sir, should these failed regulators be given a chance to dig our banks further into a hole, by now doing what they previously told us was too complex for them? I don’t think so. They have clearly breached their do-no-harm fiduciary duty to society way too much! Better get rid of them all and take refuge in something simple, like a 10 percent capital requirement against all assets.
But, when doing so, remember that taking our banks from here to there is also fraught with great dangers, especially if guided by those who cannot understand, or do not want not to admit to where these banks come from.
February 25, 2017
Gillian Tett, a functional bank system is a much more powerful instrument of change than a violin, even if Joe’s
Sir, Gillian Tett writes beautifully about “Joe’s violin… an instrument soaked in 20th-century immigrant memories was launching a new 21st-century immigrant dream, forged with struggle, risk and hope”, “An instrument of change” February 24.
But 20th-century immigrants, when needing the opportunity of bank credit, though they of course had to confront that risk aversion described by Mark Twain with “bankers lend you the umbrella when the sun is out and want it back when it looks like it could rain”, they did not have to face risk weighted capital requirements for banks.
So Ms. Tett should reflect on the possibility that had a Joseph Feingold’s livelihood depended on receiving the chance imbedded in a bank credit, in the 21st century, he might have needed to part with the violin bartering it for something more useful, and would never have had the chance to donate it.
Our future is to be “forged with struggle, risk and hope”. Yes indeed Ms Tett, “God make us daring” and save us from loony technocrats.
February 24, 2017
The greatest educational challenge is how to fight the extremism and groupthink now put on steroids by social media
Sir, Martin Wolf writes: “The belief that a degree is the only qualification that matters has had dysfunctional effects” “Simple-minded economics distorts the education debate”
Absolutely! “Ample evidence exists of graduates doing jobs that used not to need degrees” and all this when robots and artificial intelligence are only warming up.
But, in Venezuela, the educators supposed to educate our youngsters, don’t say a word about that, in a country in which the lack of food and medicines is killing people, petrol (gas) is sold for US$0.01 a litre (4 US$ cents per gallon).
But, in the developed world, reputable finance and economy professors, supposed to educate our professionals, don’t say a word about that the risk weighted capital requirements for banks dangerously and uselessly distort the allocation of bank credit; and as a consequence a Martin Wolf can get away with not writing about these regulations having dysfunctional effects.
What made educators in Venezuela and professors in the developed world behave this way? And what are we to do when all educators are also being further groupthinked and radicalized by political agendas and social media? I really don’t know. But I do know that leaving it in the hands of governments as Wolf seems to suggest, would be a very childish and statist illusion.
(For the time being) I have two beautiful, bright and spiritual (Canadian) granddaughters. They make me spend much time trying to identify a Hogwarts School for them that could help me to keep them magic.
PS. Thinking back I must be so grateful for my parents, and grandparents, to have allowed me to go to a boarding school that, at least during that time, had something of Hogwarts, though luckily without the witchcraft. I refer to Sigtuna Humanistiska Läroverk in Sweden.