November 20, 2008
Will the Basel Committee Solve the Financial Crisis?
Posted by David Zaring

So  far the answer has been no - indeed, the committee of 12 wealthy central banks has done very little in response to the crisis.  For those of us interested in international governance, Basel's presence on the sidelines has been a useful reminder that not every international regulatory network has become the lord of everything it surveys.

That conclusion is unlikely to change now that Basel, which most famously has come up with the minimum capital requirements that banks must meet ("Basel II"), has announced action, and action that it deems comprehensive:

The key building blocks of the Committee's strategy are the following:

  • strengthening the risk capture of the Basel II framework (in particular for trading book and off-balance sheet exposures);
  • enhancing the quality of Tier 1 capital;
  • building additional shock absorbers into the capital framework that can be drawn upon during periods of stress and dampen procyclicality;
  • evaluating the need to supplement risk-based measures with simple gross measures of exposure in both prudential and risk management frameworks to help contain leverage in the banking system;
  • strengthening supervisory frameworks to assess funding liquidity at cross-border banks;
  • leveraging Basel II to strengthen risk management and governance practices at banks;
  • strengthening counterparty credit risk capital, risk management and disclosure at banks; and
  • promoting globally coordinated supervisory follow-up exercises to ensure implementation of supervisory and industry sound principles.

This is the beginning of a third phase of the government's response to the financial crisis - if you're willing to characterize the first two as being the announcement of bailouts (response), followed by the implementation of bailouts (administration).  The third phase is reform, and there was no question that Basel II would be reformed in light of the current unpleasantness - the SEC, after all, applied Basel II to both Bear Stearns and Lehman and concluded that they were both adequately capitalized right up to the moment of failure.

But reform is not response - for that, we'll have to look elsewhere.  Basel appears to see its role as one of future prevention rather than crisis response, and that is an interesting datapoint for scholars of international governance.  Here's Basel's timeline:

the Basel Committee expects to issue proposals on a number of these topics for public consultation in early 2009, focusing on the April 2008 recommendations of the Financial Stability Forum. The other topics will be addressed over the course of 2009.

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