Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Regulator Franchise, or the Alan Blinder Problem

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Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I recently had a lunch conversation with Arianna that was mostly about ethics; so I suddenly felt ashamed of not having publicly denounced what appears to be a blatant generator of moral hazard. As someone who claims to be as independent as one can possibly be, with nothing to lose, and fear of nobody (except my mother's occasional reprimands), I am even more obligated than anyone else to expose hidden scams.

The story is as follows. Last year, in Davos, during a private coffee conversation that I thought aimed at saving the world from, among other things, moral hazard, I was interrupted by Alan Blinder, a former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States, who tried to sell me a peculiar investment product. It allowed the high net-worth investor to go around the regulations limiting deposit insurance (at the time, $100,000) and benefit from coverage for near unlimited amounts. The investor would deposit funds in any amount and Prof. Blinder's company would break it up in smaller accounts and invest in banks, thus escaping the limit; it would look like a single account but would be insured in full. In other words, it would allow the super-rich to scam taxpayers by getting free government sponsored insurance. Yes, scam taxpayers. Legally. With the help of former civil servants who have an insider edge.

I blurted out: "isn't this unethical?" I was told in response, "We have plenty of former regulators on the staff," implying that what was legal was ethical.

The Regulator Franchise, or the Alan Blinder Problem

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