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What are Crashes in Cycling’s Grand Tours telling us about banking crisis?

The concept of moral hazard can often be hard to explain to non-economists – or at least non-economists are often skeptical when economists try to explain excessive risk taking in banking with moral hazard problems. Non-economists often prefer a simpler explanation to banking crisis – bankers are simply evil and greedy bastards.

But maybe if we – as economists – use something that most people would understand – sports – to explain moral hazard we might be more successful when we want to explain moral hazard in banking.

Just take a look at the abstract from a recent paper – Does the Red Flag Rule Induce Risk Taking in Sprint Finishes? Moral Hazard Crashes in Cycling’s Grand Tours – from the Journal of Sports Economics:

Sprint finishes in professional cycling are fast, furious, and dangerous. A ‘‘red flag rule’’ (RFR) seeks to moderate the chaos of these finishes, but may induce moral hazard by removing the time penalty associated with crashing. To test for moral hazard, the authors use a 2005 rule change that moved the red flag from 1 km to 3 km from the finish. Data from Europe’s Grand Tours indicate that, after the rule change, both the incidence and the size of crashes nearly doubled in the 1–3 km from the finish zone. There was no such increase in crashing rates in the 3–5 km zone.

I love Sportometrics or the Economics of Sports not only because it tells us about sports, but also because sports is a good way of testing economic theories such as moral hazard. It is real-life experimental economics.

Therefore, I think that if we can show that if you reduce the “cost” of crashing in a bike race with a rule like the “red flag rule” then you will increase “risk taking” then it is only natural also to expect bankers to take excessive risks if there is a similar “red flag rule” in banking – such as deposit insurance.

This also shows that if we try to make the “game” more safe then the end result might very well be the opposite.  Regulators and bankers alike should realise this.

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