A couple weeks in, the FPC is ALREADY calling for "drastic reform"

Bank of England’s Andy Haldane calls 'em like he sees ‘em.

It seems a bit odd for one of the key figures in the UK’s newly installed financial regulatory structure to be calling for drastic reform of bank regulation already, but the Bank of England’s Andy Haldane seems to be calling them like he sees ‘em nonetheless.

Haldane is executive director of financial stability for the Bank’s Financial Policy Committee (FPC), the forward-looking systemic risk identifier created alongside the FCA and PRA as a result of 2012’s Financial Services act.

Given his position, it was interesting to hear him identify a “Byzantine” regulatory structure as a credible threat to the stability of the banking system, at a dinner held by the International Financial Law Review (IFLR) yesterday.

Complex regulation, he said, has only acted to the advantage of those with most resources to devote to exploiting gaps in the rules, arguing instead that “Simple measures of bank leverage, untainted by such complexity, were ten times better at predicting banking failure during the crisis than complex regulatory alternatives.”

Along with proposing a leverage ratio “north, possibly well north” of international requirements (a view that makes sense given Haldane’s work on the Basel committee), he suggested a “restructuring rule” facilitating simple wind-downs of banking operations, and a “resolution rule” governing restructuring, as the main building blocks of a stripped-down regulatory system.

Perhaps the most insightful back-to-basics comment made by Haldane this week, however, came at an event held the day before the IFLR dinner by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Speaking on the subject of executive bonuses, he built on comments made in January (regarding the proposed deferral of bonuses by ten years to encourage prudence) to suggest that debt, rather than equity, should make up the mainstay of management compensation structures.

“Equity can give strange incentives” to the management of banks in crisis, he argued, adding that during the financial crisis, “many big firms gambled for their resurrection when, if you look at how top management was remunerated, it was heavily in equity.”

Debt elements facing wipeout in the event of business failure, he explained, could act as a major counter to these “strange incentives” if built into pay structure, concluding that “more can and should be done to have those sorts of debt form a larger part of compensation structures.”

This approach – to look at the incentives that drive how banks behave, rather than creating a web of rules to restrict what is possible – feels very much in line with the current zeitgeist.

Steven D. Levitt, the economics world’s answer to Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park, had this to say in the first chapter of bestselling pop-econ book Freakonomics:

“The typical economist believes the world has not yet invented a problem that he cannot fix if given a free hand to design the proper incentive scheme. His solution may not always be pretty -- it may involve coercion or exorbitant penalties or the violation of civil liberties -- but the original problem, rest assured, will be fixed. An incentive is a bullet, a lever, a key: an often tiny object with astonishing power to change a situation.”

With this in mind, it’s tempting to think that a creative look at executive remuneration, a subject which currently enrages a large slice of the world’s population, and which has been blamed for a lot of the misery to affect global markets since 2008, may be the tool capable of cutting the Gordian knot of post-crisis regulation.  

Photograph: Getty Images

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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Britain has built a national myth on winning the Second World War, but it’s distorting our politics

The impending humiliation of Brexit is going to have a lot more in common with Suez.

The Crown, Peter Morgan’s epic drama covering the reign of Elizabeth II, ended its first series with a nemesis waiting just off-stage to shake up its court politics. In the final episode, Egyptian president Gamal Nasser gives a rip-roaringly anti-imperialist – and anti-British – speech. The scene is set for the Suez Crisis to be a big plot point in Season 2.

Suez has gone down in history as the great foreign policy debacle of postwar Britain. The 1956 crisis – which saw Israel, France and Britain jointly invade Egypt to take control of the Suez Canal, only to slink off again, nine days later, once it became clear the US wasn’t having any of it – is seen as the point at which it became clear that even the bigger states of Europe were no longer great powers in the world. “President Eisenhower’s humiliation of Britain,” Jack Straw wrote in his 2012 memoir, “had been total.”

This was, though, a fairly limited sort of humiliation. Britain was not invaded or occupied; there was no sudden collapse in living standards, let alone a significant body count. Our greatest national debacle is nothing more than the realisation that Britain could no longer do whatever it wanted without fear of reprisal. As humiliations go, this one’s up there with the loss of status men have faced from the rise of feminism: suddenly, Britain could do what it wanted a mere 80 per cent of the time.

The Crown begins in 1947, when Prince Philip gives up his Greek and Danish royal titles and becomes a British subject, so that he can marry Princess Elizabeth. That year saw another British foreign policy debacle, one on which the show remains oddly silent. In the partition which followed India’s independence from the British Empire, 70 years ago this week, upwards of a million people died; in the decades since, the borders drawn up at that time have been the site of numerous wars, and Kashmir remains a flashpoint.

All this, one might think, might count as a far bigger regret than Suez – yet it doesn’t feature in the national narrative in the same way. Perhaps because partition was about the withdrawal of British forces, rather than their deployment; perhaps it’s simply that it all happened a very long way away. Or perhaps we just care less about a body count than we do about looking bad in front of the Americans.

I think, though, there’s another reason we don’t talk about this stuff: the end of empire is hidden behind a much bigger part of our national myth. In the Second World War, Britain is undeniably one of the good guys; for 12 months, indeed, Britain was the only good guy. Never mind that it still had the largest empire the world had ever seen to fall back on: Britain stood alone.

The centrality of the Second World War to the national myth warps our view of history and our place in the world in all sorts of ways. For starters, it means we’ve never had to take an honest account of the consequences of empire. In a tale about British heroes defeating Nazi villains, British mistakes or British atrocities just don’t fit. (Winston Churchill’s role in the 1943 Bengal famine – death toll: three million – by ordering the export of Indian grain to Britain rarely comes up in biopics.) In this dominant version of the national story, the end of empire is just the price we pay to defeat fascism.

More than that, our obsession with the Second World War creates the bizarre impression that failure is not just heroic, but a necessary precursor to success. Two of the most discussed elements of Britain’s war – the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the Blitz – are not about victory at all, but about survival against the odds. The lesson we take is that, with a touch of British grit and an ability to improvise, we can accomplish anything. It’s hard not to see this reflected in Brexit secretary David Davis’s lack of notes, but it’s nonsense: had the Russians and Americans not arrived to bail us out, Britain would have been stuffed.

Most obviously, being one of the winners of the Second World War infects our attitude to Europe. It’s probably not a coincidence that Britain has always been both one of the most eurosceptic EU countries, and one of the tiny number not to have been trampled by a foreign army at some point in recent history: we don’t instinctively grasp why European unity matters.

Once again, Suez is instructive. The lesson postwar France took from the discovery that the imperial age was over was that it should lead a strong and unified Europe. The lesson Britain took was that, so long as we cosied up to the US – Athens to their Rome, to quote Harold Macmillan – we could still bask in reflected superpower.

Until recently, Britain’s Second World War obsession and national ignorance about empire didn’t really seem to affect contemporary politics. They were embarrassing; but they were also irrelevant, so we could cope. Brexit, though, means that hubris is about to run headlong into nemesis, and the widespread assumption that Britain is a rich, powerful and much-loved country is unlikely to survive contact with reality. India will not offer a trade deal for sentimental reasons; Ireland is not a junior partner that will meekly follow us out of the door or police its borders on our behalf. The discovery that Britain is now a mid-ranking power that – excepting the over-heated south-east of England – isn’t even that rich is likely to mean a loss of status to rival Suez.

Morgan says he has planned six seasons of The Crown. (This looks entertainingly like a bet the Queen will be dead by 2021; if not, like Game of Thrones before it, he might well run out of text to adapt.) It’ll be interesting to see how the show handles Brexit. It began with the royal family facing up to a vertiginous decline in British power. As things stand, it may have to end the same way. 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear