Risk, Volcanic Ash, Regulation and the Leaders debate 2

John Redwood today makes some brilliant observations on “Bash the banks and Praise the Regulators”. His comparison with the ash cloud and the banking regulation is particularly apt. But it is not just the cost of inappropriate regulation that there is a similarity. The leaders’ debate of tonight showed crystallised the issue for me. It is how do the authorities deal with an unprecedented situation? The risk-averse say let us do nothing until there is full information. On the financial system, nothing was done to control the excesses. On the ash cloud everything was stopped until the scope of the problem could be assessed by the experts.

There is a way of going into the unknown without full information. You set general rules and assess the magnitude of any problem.

–         On the ash cloud, you compare the risk with the size of the eruption, the size of the particles and the distance from the volcano. From this, you would have found no evidence of large jet aircraft getting into emergency situations 1,000 miles from an eruption, in an ash cloud that is hardly visible.

–         From the financial system, the situation was evident that house prices and consumer borrowing was going to unsustainable levels on an unprecedented scale from 2003 onwards. The 0% interest credit cards and the large discounts for changing mortgages were evidence of this in the UK. The sub-prime boom, with mortgages deals agreed whereby in 3 years the borrowers could not meet their repayments was evidence of this in the USA. It was the very magnitude of the problem that should have merited special attention. The action should have been to raise interest rates and increase cash requirements for banks.

On the surface the action was the opposite – One to stop what was already happening, the other that immediately stopped anything from happening. But the cause is the same – by requiring detailed rules and acting on how others will perceive our actions, the authorities took wrong course of action.

 The Leader’s debate crystallised it for me. There was one leader who stood out. His reaction to any problem is not to take any risks.

–         He will not risk safety by letting planes fly.

–         He will not start cuts now to risk the recovery.

–         He will not risk banks ever getting into trouble again.

–         He will not risk a foreigner being unidentified.

–         He will not risk existing jobs.

–         He will not risk offending our European neighbours by disagreeing with them.

–         He will not risk independent MPs, by banning them from second jobs and monitoring every penny they spend.

–         He will not risk independent thought, by stipulating what religions should believe.

–         He will not risk diversity in education by allowing independent schools to be formed in the state sector.

 In so doing, after another 5 years of his leadership we will have no recovery; we will have no decision-makers in government – just be taking orders from Brussels and the IMF; we will have no risk-takers in business as most will not want to overcome the ever-higher regulatory hurdles for achievements that are taxed away and vilified.

We will also have no future.

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