Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Safety v. risk

Sometimes I worry that RtO is repetitive. I have put up something over 2,000 posts since early in 2008, and I don't have 2,000 ideas, nor do I know about 2,000 things.

When I was a reporter, I didn't worry about redoing stories, because our readership churned so much (what with people moving in and out, dying and growing up) that I figured that any story more than four years old couldn't have been seen by half my current readers. And -- let's be frank -- most of the other half had forgotten it.

Blogging is, or may be, different. I don't know. But I do worry about driving off readers by too much repetition.

But perhaps I worry too much. In the early days of RtO, I wrote a number of posts trying to explain the difference between a "risk" bank and a "safe" bank. The idea is not complicated or deep, but as we learned in October 2008, most bankers don't understand it. (Readers of RtO learned it even earlier, as I had been hammering the idea all summer and predicting the crash. Roubini got famous, I didn't. Readers who heeded my mantra in the summer of 2008 -- conserve cash -- probably saved themselves a lot of grief.)

It has been years since I've written about risk banks and safe banks. (I had actually been lobbying local investors on the subject back before there was an RtO -- even before there was an Internet -- as a method of driving local economic development. But no one with money took it seriously.)

It turns out that the lesson of 2008 was not learned by bankers and not learned by rightwing politicians. Imagine my surprise.

I recommend Dave Hellings' piece in the Kansas City Star. I'll even say his explanation of the difference between a risk bank and a safe bank is clearer than any of my attempts ever were.

A swap is often compared to insurance — or, critics say, a bet. A lender pays a premium to a third party, who must pay the lender back if a loan goes sour.
If that third party misjudges too many loans, though, and too many loans default, he loses the bet and the money runs out, leaving the lender unprotected. In 2008, many swaps designed to insure risky loans collapsed, and lending banks turned to the government for help.

Read more here:
And remember: unregulated markets crash.

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