martedì 8 maggio 2012

Politically incorrect: dal gold standard al PhD standard

Jim Grant è un notissimo analista statunitense, editore del Grant's Interest Rates Observer, fortemente critico della politica espansionistica della Fed e sostenitore del ritorno al gold standard, la convertibilità in oro del dollaro. Il suo intervento ad una conferenza della banca federale di New York merita di essere letto, per i numerosi riferimenti alla storia precedente l'istituzione della Fed, lo stile inconfondibile dell'autore, e alcune osservazioni che non possono lasciare indifferenti il vostro blogger. Badate bene: non sono d'accordo con la tesi che sia necessario rentrodurre il gold standard, e non sono affatto convinto che l'azione della Fed, e della BCE - almeno da quando Draghi ne è il presidente - siano censurabili.
Ma è una lettura interessante, con alcuni idee molto provocatorie sulla regolamentazione bancaria, idee inapplicabili ma per le quali provo una certa simpatia...Eccone alcuni estratti:

Dal gold standard al PhD standardWhat passes for sound doctrine in 21st-century central banking—socalled financial repression, interest-rate manipulation, stock-price levitation and money printing under the frosted-glass term “quantitative easing”—presents us at Grant’s with a nearly endless supply of good copy. Our symbiotic relationship with the Fed resembles that of Fox News with the Obama administration, or—in an earlier era—that of the Chicago Tribune with the Purple Gang. Grant’s needs the Fed even if the Fed doesn’t need Grant’s.  In the not quite 100 years since the founding of your institution, America has exchanged central banking for a kind of central planning and the gold standard for what I will call the Ph.D. standard.

Povera Siena!’s policies seem not to be working. We legislate and regulate and intervene, but still the patient languishes. It’s a worldwide failure of the institutions of money and credit. I see in the papers that Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena is in the toils of a debt crisis. For the first time in over 500 years, the foundation that controls this ancient Italian institution may be forced to sell shares. We’ve all heard of hundred-year floods. We seem to be in a kind of 500-year debt flood.

La parte che mi piace di più sono le proposte di riforma...To me, the trouble is not that the regulators are ignorant. It’s rather that the owners and managers are unaccountable.
Once upon a time—specifically, between the National Banking Act of 1863 and the Banking Act
of 1935—the impairment or bankruptcy of a nationally chartered bank triggered a capital call. Not
on the taxpayers, but on the stockholders. It was their bank, after all. Individual accountability in
banking was the rule in the advanced economies. Hartley Withers, the editor of The Economist in
the early 20th century, shook his head at the micromanagement of American banks by the Office
of the Comptroller of the Currency—25% of their deposits had to be kept in cash, i.e., gold or
money lawfully convertible into gold. The rules held. Yet New York had panics, London had
none. Adjured Withers: “Good banking is produced not by good laws but by good bankers.”
Well said, Withers! And what makes a good banker is more than skill. It is also the fear of God,
or, more specifically, accountability for the solvency of the institution that he or she owns or
manages. To stay out of trouble, the general partners of Brown Brothers Harriman, Wall Street’s
oldest surviving general partnership, need no regulatory pep talk. Each partner is liable for the
debts of the firm to the full extent of his or her net worth. My colleague Paul Isaac, who is with me
today—he doubles as my food and beverage taster— has an intriguing suggestion for instilling the
credit culture more deeply in our semi-socialized banking institutions.
We can’t turn limited liability corporations into general partnerships. Nor could we easily reinstate
the so-called double liability law on bank stockholders. But what we could and should do, Paul
urges, is to claw back that portion of the compensation paid out by a failed bank in excess of 10
times the average wage in manufacturing for the seven full calendar years before the ruined bank
hit the wall. Such a clawback would not be subject to averaging or offset one year to the next.
And it would be payable in cash.
The idea, Paul explains, is twofold. First, to remove the government from the business of
determining what is, or is not, risky—really, the government doesn’t know. Second, to increase
the personal risk of failure for senior management, but stopping short of the sword of Damocles of
unlimited personal liability. If bankers are venal, why not harness that venality in the public
interest? For the better part of 100 years, and especially in the past five, we have socialized the
risks of high finance. All too often, the bankers who take risks don’t themselves bear them. By all
means, let the capitalists keep the upside. But let them bear their full share of the downside.

Ben detto Jim! Aggiungerei, per le economie nelle quali la mano pubblica è particolarmente pesante e invadente (ogni riferimento all'Italia, alle sue regioni e a molte sue città è puramente casuale...), lo stesso tipo di trattamento per quegli amministratori pubblici che, in tempi di vacche grasse, si riempiono le tasche di gettoni e compensi, regalano consulenze agli amici e riempiono di debiti le società amministrate,  ma poi, in tempi di vacche magre, salutano e se ne vanno in vacanza con il malloppo, lasciando ad altri la preoccupazione dei debiti...

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