Es natural que quienes consideran que la crisis actual es resultado de la falta de regulación, consideren que la solución a la crisis sea incrementar la regulación de las actividades financieras. Diversos expertos (por ejemplo, Stiglitz, Krugman, Wolf) parecen compartir esta opinión, aunque difieran en cual debe ser el contenido real de la regulación, o peor, no lo especifiquen.

Una refutación interesante a estos argumentos es ofrecida por el economista venezolano Ricardo Hausmann, de la Universidad de Harvard, quien plantea que aún una fuerte regulación financiera podría no haber sido capaz de detener la expansión (y eventual explosión) de la burbuja aún en un ambiente altamente regulado, si se hubiese mantenido una política monetaria insostenible como la de los últimos años. Hausmann ilustra su tesis mediante un caso hipotético:

“I propose we engage in the following counter-factual scenario. Let us suppose that more stringent financial regulations had been adopted in 2003 or some such date. Let us discuss two macroeconomic scenarios.

Consider first the case where the Fed would have set the same interest rates as we observe in the historical record. In this case, the new regulations would have lead to a smaller rate of credit expansion because the regulations would have meant that, for any interest rate set by the Fed, the market for credit would have been smaller.

Presumably, there would have been less mortgage lending, fewer home equity loans and less junk mail offering zero percent loans on credit cards. Aggregate demand would have been lower and presumably so would have been the rate of growth, the level of employment, the inflation rate and the current account deficit.

Now, consider the alternative scenario in which the FOMC would have set interest rates following the way monetary policy is conducted, with the same inflation and employment targets. What would have been the consequences of this alternative and more plausible financial scenario?

Obviously, the Fed would have lowered interest rates until the amount of lending required by the inflation and employment targets had been achieved. The financial system would have been asked to find other ways to expand credit.

Maybe, that additional lending might have been safer than the form that lending actually took because risk would have been better priced. But I am not so sure that this would have been the case. With the even lower level of real interest rates, the incentives for financial engineers to invent new instruments that could be placed in large numbers would have been enormous and many more bright minds would have been hard at work at circumventing the new regulations than those that had crafted them.” [1]

Hausmann concluye expresando que es improbable que las regulaciones financieras logren hacer seguro a un sistema financiero que está sujeto a una política monetaria insostenible:

“My bottom line is that it is impossible to discuss the lessons of this crisis without talking about macro policy. I would put more of the blame on the way monetary policy is conducted. It is based on a so-called Taylor rule – that sets the interest rate as low as possible, so long as the discomfort with inflation is not larger than the discomfort with unemployment, with blatant disregard to the current account, the exchange rate, asset prices, international finance, the rate of growth of credit or the balance sheets of households.

In the end, it is hard to believe that a macro policy that overshoots the sustainable growth rate by encouraging millions of citizens to over-borrow is going to be made safe through financial regulation.” [2]

Otro elemento a considerar es que las regulaciones que se establecen como respuesta a una crisis están destinadas a evitar la ocurrencia de la crisis que ya ocurrió, pero no pueden evitar la siguiente crisis. El sistema financiero de los EEUU tuvo varias crisis en su etapa de regulación bajo Glass-Steagall, en particular la crisis de los S&L de los 70 y 80. Como dice Johan Norberg de Timbro:

“Regulations and controls often result in new difficulties even when the intentions of policymakers are good and the hopes are real. That does not even begin to address the problem that a lot of new regulations are just symbols, enacted to show people that politicians have done something, even if they know that it does not really address the problem. It follows the politicians’ logic from the British television series Yes, Prime Minister: “Something must be done. This is something. Therefore we must do it.”

This logic is as old as the crises. After the collapse of the South Sea Bubble in 1720, the British parliament delayed the Industrial Revolution by impeding the free formation of joint stock companies for more than 100 years.

And after the Depression, American politicians made risk-handling more difficult for two generations by banning stock options.

Regulators and politicians always fight the last crisis, and when they do they run the risk of making the next crisis more severe.

As we don’t know what the next trigger will be, we can’t regulate against it without introducing such drastic measures that financial markets cease to function effectively.” [3]

Un argumento similar tiene el columnista del New York Times David Brooks, quien sugiere que la actual corriente de opinión que exige más y mejores ‘regulaciones inteligentes’ puede ser irrealizable, pues requeriría convertir a los reguladores en virtuales superhombres, capaces de anticipar los movimientos del mercado (incluyendo los nuevos productos financieros), de ser más inteligentes que banqueros que ganan mucho más que ellos, de resistir presiones políticas, etc:

“We don’t even have a clear explanation about the past, yet we’re also going to need regulators who understand the present and can diagnose the future.

We’re going to need regulators who can anticipate what the next Wall Street business model is going to look like, and how the next crisis will be different than the current one. We’re going to need squads of low-paid regulators who can stay ahead of the highly paid bankers, auditors and analysts who pace this industry (and who themselves failed to anticipate this turmoil).

We’re apparently going to need an all-powerful Super-Fed than can manage inflation, unemployment, bubbles and maybe hurricanes — all at the same time! We’re going to need regulators who write regulations that control risky behavior rather than just channeling it off into dark corners, and who understand what’s happening in bank trading rooms even if the C.E.O.’s themselves are oblivious.

We’re also going to need regulators who can overcome politics and human nature. As McArdle notes, cracking down on subprime loans just when they were getting frothy would have meant issuing an edict that effectively said: “Don’t lend money to poor people.” Good luck with that.

We’d need regulators who could spot a bubble and squelch a boom just when things seem to be going good, who can scare away foreign investment and who could over-rule popularity-mongering presidents. (The statements by the two candidates this week have been moronic.)
To sum it all up, this supposed new era of federal activism is going to confront some old problems: the lack of information available to government planners, the inability to keep up with or control complex economic systems, the fact that political considerations invariably distort the best laid plans.” [4]

De la misma manera, John Kay del Financial Times, escribe un artículo en el cual polemiza con su colega Martin Wolf, expresando por qué los procesos de mercado ofrecen mejores poderes correctivos que los análisis de los reguladores:

“It is easy to assert that the solution to any market failure is better regulation. If regulators were all-knowing and all-powerful; if they were wiser than the chief executives but willing to do the job for a fraction of the remuneration awarded to such executives; if they understood what was happening in the dealing rooms of Citigroup, Merrill or Lehman better than Chuck Prince, Stan O’Neal, or Dick Fuld; then banking regulation could protect us against financial instability. But such a world does not exist. Market economies outperform planned economies not because business people are smarter than civil servants – sometimes they are, sometimes not. But no one has enough information or foresight to understand the changing environment, so the market’s messy processes of experiment and correction yield better results than a regulator’s analysis.”[5]


[1] Ricardo Hausmann. “Are we having the right discussion about the financial crisis”. Dani Rodrik’s Weblog

[2] Hausmann, nota anterior

[3] Norberg, nota anterior

[4] Brooks, nota anterior

[5] Kay, nota anterior