It is a popular myth that the whole western crisis was brought on by an outbreak of light touch “Anglo-Saxon” regulation which allowed irresponsbile banks to lend too much. Ultimately the authorities had to act and managed to bring the whole system crashing down.
This convenient myth ignores some basic truths.
1. The European banking system is in a worse mess than the UK or US systems today. There is no evidence that the EU, Spaniards, Italians, Greeks and Germans suddenly fell in love with “light touch Anglos Saxon regulation” and made the same mistake, yet they ended up with more weak banks.
2. The volume of regulations expanded substantialy during the build up of the boom. The EU came into the game and added many pages of new financial regulation at their level, on top of all the extra regulations the UK and US authorities were issuing. The UK was governed by a left of centre administration which believed in the efficacy of more regulation. The FSA reviewed all past banking regulation and added to it.
3. The authorities themselves were enthusiastic proponents of the easier credit they allowed under their myriad of new detailed regulations. In the US a Democrat President promoted more mortgages to people on low incomes as a social policy, which led directly to the junk loans which jeopardised the system later. They called the crisis the “sub prime” crisis in honour of the loans advanced by mortgage banks and by a couple of state financing arms that were fully nationalised in the crisis. The UK government ran up big bills paid for by off balance sheet transactions called PFI and PPP in the spirit of the lend more age.
4. The UK administration was particularly keen on promoting the growth of Northern Rock, a North Eastern company, and RBS,a Scottish company, as they grew very quickly. They took pride in the huge expansions of their balance sheets, and in the way they used off balance sheet vehicles to speed their growth. In the good days these were northern and Scottish companies showing London and the south how to run modern banking and financial services.
The regulators managed to combine ever more detailed regulations and more enforcement of them with an inability to see the bigger picture. They missed the obvious. There was too much credit in circulation and being extended. The balance sheets of some leading banks were becoming too racy. We will look tomorrow at could all this be predicted? Did the authorities have the powers to rein it in?