Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The more you value financial stability, the more you have to sacrifice financial innovation

--- Dani Rodrik in opinion piece on regulating global finance (or not), The Economist March 14, 2009

In context:

But the most fundamental objection to global regulation lies elsewhere. Desirable forms of financial regulation differ across countries depending on their preferences and levels of development. Financial regulation entails trade-offs along many dimensions. The more you value financial stability, the more you have to sacrifice financial innovation. The more fine-tuned and complex the regulation, the more you need skilled regulators to implement it. The more widespread the financial-market failures, the larger the potential role of directed credit and state banks.

Different nations will want to sit on different points along their “efficient frontiers”. There is nothing wrong with France, say, wanting to purchase more financial stability than America—and having tighter regulations—at the price of giving up some financial innovations. Nor with Brazil giving its state-owned development bank special regulatory treatment, if the country wishes, so that it can fill in for missing long-term credit markets.

In short, global financial regulation is neither feasible, nor prudent, nor desirable. What finance needs instead are some sensible traffic rules that will allow nations (and in some cases regions) to implement their own regulations while preventing adverse spillovers. If you want an analogy, think of a General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade for world finance rather than a World Trade Organisation. The genius of the GATT regime was that it left room for governments to craft their own social and economic policies as long as they did not follow blatantly protectionist policies and did not discriminate among their trade partners.