It is called The End of Alchemy. I can give it faint praise, but not much more than that.
1. It is long-winded.
2. I share his view that risk-based capital regulations inject a false sense of precision into bank regulation.
3. His main idea is this:
The aim of the PFAS [Pawnbroker for all seasons] is threefold. First to ensure that all deposits are backed by either actual cash or a guaranteed contingent claim on reserves at the central bank. Second, to ensure that the provision of liquidity insurance is mandatory and paid for upfront. Third, to design a system which in effect imposes a tax on the degree of alchemy in our financial system.
Here is how I understand the idea would work. A bank would make a risky loan of, say, $100. The bank and the central bank would agree that in an emergency the loan could be sold to the central bank for, say, $90. In that case, the bank could finance up to $90 of the loan with deposits. This would replace deposit insurance, risk-based capital regulations, and other attempts to reconcile the desire to prevent the bank from failing with the need to address moral hazard.
I do not see how this can handle modern financial instruments. Take AIG, for example. Their problem was that liquid liabilities appeared seemingly out of nowhere, as “collateral calls” on the credit default swaps that they had written on mortgage securities. There is no way that this contingency would have been built into King’s system. King writes,
No doubt there would be other practical issues to resolve, but the reason we employ high-quality public servants is to solve such problems.
That was the exact sort of hand-waving that came with the original TARP proposal to buy up the “toxic assets” in order to fix the financial system. Those of us who understood the financial instruments involved knew that it was impossible to work that way, and TARP as implemented did not work that way at all.
4. Perhaps of all the high-level officials involved in central banking over the past twenty years, King’s thinking is the most nuanced, realistic, and humble. And yet his ideas did not impress me. This is going to sound really arrogant, but I do not believe that the central bankers know enough about finance to be able to fulfill their promise to stabilize financial markets.