It is common to hear politicians and financiers these days saying that things are different now. That lessons have been learned. That changes to regulation will ensure that this sort of thing is unlikely to happen again in future. Of course, people say these things after every crisis. Now Vox reports a study that attempts to estimate whether learning actually takes place after a crisis and whether the institutional changes reduce the risk of future crises.
…past occurrence of a banking crisis, on average, does not reduce and may even increase the probability of future crises. … we find no evidence that the history of previous exposure of the banking sector to systemic crisis episodes seem to matter.
A possible explanation for our failure to detect a learning process from past banking crises is that regulators and policymakers are learning, but at a speed that does not catch up with the dynamic evolution of modern banking. The regulator is frequently preparing to prevent the last crisis, and not the future one.
This hypothesis reminds me a lot of Bruce Schneier’s writing on airline security in the US:
If we spend billions defending our subways, and the terrorists bomb a bus, we’ve wasted our money. To be sure, defending the subways makes commuting safer. But focusing on subways also has the effect of shifting attacks toward less-defended targets, and the result is that we’re no safer overall.
Regulation of some financial products may make them more stable, but the regulation will push people to develop new, more profitable products that evade the rules. Have we then made the system any safer? I haven’t followed macroprudential regulation closely enough to know if that’s a problem, but we can only hope that history doesn’t repeat in this case.