The Great Debate UK
That's the provocative question posed by Willem Buiter. His latest, characteristically lengthy, blog post tackles the regulatory vogue for forcing banks to hold much greater reserves of liquid assets - in practice, government bonds.
Buiter's missive follows new rules from Britain's Financial Services Authority, which will force banks to increase their reserves of government bonds by more than a third. The rules have been met with predictable bleating from the industry, which accuses the regulator of undermining Britain's competitiveness and promoting the fragmentation of the global financial system. Another concern is the FSA's handling of the transition.
Buiter's objections are more fundamental. He's not convinced banks should be preparing to deal with a seizure in the markets. That, he argues, is the job of central banks:
It may be possible for private banks to hold enough liquid assets (government debt, effectively) on their balance sheets to survive even a major liquidity crunch without recourse to the central bank. But that would be socially inefficient. Banks are meant to intermediate short liabilities into long-term assets, and frequently into long-term illiquid assets. It’s what their raison d’être is.