Daniel W. Drezner

‘Good enough’ global governance and international finance

The Washington Post‘s Howard Schneider and Danielle Douglas have a story detailing the ways in which post-crisis global financial reform has allegedly ground to a halt: Five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a global push to tighten financial regulation around the world has slowed in the face of a tepid recovery and a ...

The Washington Post‘s Howard Schneider and Danielle Douglas have a story detailing the ways in which post-crisis global financial reform has allegedly ground to a halt:

Five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a global push to tighten financial regulation around the world has slowed in the face of a tepid recovery and a tough industry lobbying effort….

the post-Lehman goal — of a global scheme that would immunize the financial system from another large-scale shock — remains incomplete. Big banks, insurers and other financial giants remain intact and arguably “too big too fail.” Tools to guard against dangerous bubbles in the value of property or other assets are not yet in place. There is no agreement on how countries should coordinate the failure of a globally important financial company. Implementation of basic banking rules in major nations has fallen behind schedule.

Finishing the job “is going to take many years,” International Monetary Fund chief economist Olivier Blanchard said last week. “It is conceptually very difficult, politically very difficult.”

In their effort to overhaul the global system, regulators have been confronted by a number of head winds. The world’s economy has been unexpectedly slow to recover, making governments leery of doing anything that might make banks cautious to loan and invest. The financial industry has pushed back hard, warning that aggressive regulation might undermine growth. And regulators are simply limited in their understanding of how modern finance can be made safe while still supporting economic activity.

The result: Some of the proposals once considered core to a safe, post-Lehman system have been delayed and weakened, and others have been played down, at least for now, as too politically complex.

Well, this sounds like a blow against my theory of "pretty good" or "good enough" global governance that I’ve been yammering about on the blog…. that is, until one starts reading the rest of the Post‘s story.

First of all, with the exception of one Jamie Dimon quote, there’s not any real evidence in the story that industry lobbying is to blame. I’m not saying that this means that there was no industry lobbying, or that it was inconsequential — merely that there’s no evidence in the story to support the lede.

What there is evidence of, however, are two things that seem pretty consistent with "good enough" global governance. The first is that even in areas where there’s been minimal global agreement, there have beern "patchwork" arrangements that look like they will work. For example:

There also is no comprehensive global approach for addressing bank failures. Individual members of the Basel committee, including the United States, have established resolution plans in case their own lenders become insolvent. And the United States and Britain in December released a set of guidelines to handle a major insolvency — a potentially important agreement between two world financial centers.

But determining how to coordinate the collapse of a major multinational bank is an area where the IMF and others have had limited success in pushing for a broader global agreement. The issue is important because a method to share the fallout of a bank failure across national borders would probably make countries more willing to let institutions go out of business, rather than propping them up with taxpayers’ money.

Again, in a perfect world one would like to see a comprehensive agreement. Given the center of gravity for the financial sector, however, an Anglo-American arrangement is actually pretty powerful and covers the biggest concerns.

Then we get to the implementation of the Basel III accords, designed to insure that banks have sufficient reserves of safe and liquid assets on hand to prevent a panic. As Schneider and Douglas note, the Financial Stability Board reports that only 8 of 27 nations are on track to implement these reforms on schedule.

Why is that the case? Here we find that interest group lobbying seems to matter less than… a recognition by regulators that life is not so simple:

[O]ther Basel proposals have been revised as regulators, bankers and officials have better understood how some of their major assumptions about finance and risk had been upended by events.

In Basel this month, regulators scaled back one key set of provisions that would force banks to keep the equivalent of larger levels of cash on hand to guard against a run on deposits or another fast-moving crisis.

Such highly liquid assets had been defined to include government bonds — which traditionally can be sold quickly and at close to their face value — and to exclude securities backed by residential mortgages, the bundled, complex assets that had triggered the financial crisis in 2007 when they proved difficult to sell other than at a steep loss.

The financial crisis in the euro zone showed a flaw in the approach when Greek, Portuguese and other government bonds plummeted in value. Smaller U.S. banks, meanwhile, argued that to completely exclude mortgages from the new “liquidity coverage ratio” would reduce their ability to make home loans.

When the final Basel rules on the issue were released this month, the required liquidity levels were reduced, mortgages were included in the tally and banks were given extra time to comply.

“Nobody set out to make it stronger or weaker as a standard but to make it more realistic… to make sure there was no impediment to financing recovery,” said Bank of England Governor Mervyn King, who chairs a Basel committee of central bankers and regulatory chiefs.

So, to sum up: after an initial burst of regulatory arrangements, progress has slowed down in some areas, and in other areas relies on a more patchwork arrangement. That said, there appear to be intrisically good reasons for the slowdown, and the patchwork covers the major financial centers.

Yeah, this is "good enough" global governance.

 Twitter: @dandrezner

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola