22 July 2009

Leadership in Financial Reform - or Not

The global recession was caused by financial hubris and a nearly maniacal expansion of credit. Risk considerations were ignored and subdued until the risk exploded into all our faces.

Now, after having cleaned up the first mess, financial regulators try to appease us with timid reforms. One example is the white paper of the British governement: Darling rules out radical changes in City white paper. The US government is embarrassed by the humongous bonuses of the bank manages, while the economy and the unemployed suffer, here and here

Why kill the goose, that lays the golden eggs? But, were the eggs so golden and then for whom? And, who has to clean out the pen? In the end, financial managers found their personal profit perpetuum mobile: Leverage your equity until the hilt, if it explodes, turn the risks over to the governments and taxpayers. If it works out fine, pocket the cash and buy a big yacht.

These managers are all right and good people and fathers & mothers for the most part (besides outright fraudsters). It must be understood that their behaviour is not as much a question of values, but of reasons. Who on earth would give up risk-less money? The problem is not the individual, it is the regulations and incentives.

Why can´t we make the high-risk bankers eat their own losses? The answer is that it would destroy our economy. That is right. But why do we let our banks and financial institutions put us in such a situation? Because the central banking system provides the banks a shelter from free market forces. This is the crux of the problem.

The central bank is the "lender of last ressort" for banks and their money (credit). This creates a government sponsored monopoly. And as such, market forces break down and the situation we experience now is the sad result.

What would leadership mean in this situation? Financial regulators need to wake up to their responsibility towards not only the financial players, but to the society overall and institute a money system that does away with these artificial monopolies given to banks.

For the theoretical background on these see Rothbard. Practically, however, it is a sad state of affairs to know that our government budgets will wreck and bankrupt over the next years, while on the other hand completely reasonable changes are ignored.

It seems to me, here our political leadership is in the situation of the leading class of the U.S.S.R in mid-80´s. They know they got a problem, but reform is too hard. They would have to change the basis of their power structure, which they are unwilling to do.

As a result, our current leaders are leading us down a path that leads to more waste through government sponsered "deficit spending," which only means throwing good money (that we do not have) after bad money. Bailouts, subsidies and other nonsense destroys value on a scale not seen after the fall of Soviet-style communism.

It is ironic - if not foolish as well - to make new debts to cure the crash, which was caused by too much debt. In the end, the budget deficits will explode and suppress further growth for years to come (think: Japan).

Also, to call for less markets and more government, or even to ask leftist philosophers and other theoreticians to propose the establishment of a " better world" makes me feel scared. We do have fine market systems that made us successful, prosperous and even happy over the last 50 or 100 years. (Better than any other known to mankind.)

Now it is up to the enlightened leadership to preserve the working elements (e.g. markets) for all economic sectors: it is time now to let market rules work for the money and financial system.