First, why did it happen? a second question: how big are the risks now? The third big question is what policies we need right now. The fourth and biggest question concerns the lessons we need to learn.
The most interesting part of the BIS analysis of the lessons is that it focuses not on what is new – the paraphernalia of the modern financial system – but on what is old – “the inherent procyclicality of the financial system and excessive credit growth”. The important point here is that fiddling with details of the regulatory regime or tightening supervision of individual institutions is not the heart of the matter. What matters is the operation of the system as a whole.
This is why the BIS takes such a strong stance on the need to tighten monetary policy when credit growth soars and asset prices explode, even if that temporarily reduces inflation below target levels. This, argues the BIS, would be a more symmetrical use of policy instruments. It is also why the report stresses “macroprudential” policies. These would focus not on the misbehaviour of specific institutions but rather on systemic risks, such as their shared exposure to common shocks and possible adverse interactions among and between institutions and markets.
The aim is clear: it is neither to prevent institutions from going bust nor to eliminate the cycle of boom and bust. The former is undesirable and the latter impossible. The aim is to reduce the frequency and severity of crises. It is not enough to say that we can clear up afterwards. That is too complacent and too one-sided.
We do not have all the answers. But, to its great credit, the BIS has at least defined the right questions.
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