Freitag, 11. Oktober 2013

Über die Hoffnung

Wenn Du denkst es geht nicht mehr,
kommt irgendwo ein Lichtlein her.
Ein Lichtlein wie ein Stern so klar,
es wird Dir leuchten immer da.

Wird zeigen Dir den Weg zurück,
den Weg zu einem neuen Glück.
Drum glaub daran - verzage nie,
es geht schon weiter - irgendwie.

Und mit Willen, Kraft und Mut,
wird dann alles wieder gut.
Du mußt nur immer fest dran glauben
und laß Dir nur den Mut nie rauben.

Es gibt für alles einen Weg,
und sei’s auch nur ein kleiner Steg.
Es gibt nun mal nicht nur gute Zeiten,
das Leben hat auch schlechte Seiten.

Doch wie bist Du stolz, wenn Du’s geschafft,
aus Sorgen und Nöten - mit eigener Kraft,
herauszukommen, was Du nie geglaubt,
da man Dich sooft schon der Hoffnung beraubt.

Doch die Hoffnung auf ein besseres Leben,
die lasse Dir bitte, niemals nehmen.
Denn wenn Du denkst es geht nicht mehr,
kommt irgendwo ein Lichtlein her.

Autor: Roswitha Rudzinski

Mittwoch, 4. September 2013

A Plea for more 'Normal Banks'

Raiffeisen Austria – a Meaningful Alternative Structure for a Bank?

The intensive discussions currently going on about issues like the appropriate role of banks, how to make banks safer, etc. prompts me to describe my experience with the Austrian Raiffeisen organization. The first 30 of my 40 years in banking, I spent with capital markets oriented banks, i. e. they were public stock corporations owned by shareholders. The last 10 years, I spent with a Regional Bank in the Austrian Raiffeisen organization; a co-op.

To sum it up: until my early fifties, I was convinced that there was only one way to structure a bank; i. e. to structure it as a public corporation with shareholders who, naturally, have an interest in the return which they get on their investment. In the last 10 years of my career, it dawned on me that there is a very, very interesting alternative to that structure.

Raiffeisen has become a brand name in many countries. Their structures may differ from one country to next. I will explain the structure of Raiffeisen Austria and I will attempt to do that in layman’s terms.

Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen (1818-88) is described in history books as a ‘social reformer’ whose primary concern was to eliminate poverty in rural areas of Germany. Some of his principal convictions were: “help only for self-help”; “no give-away’s whatsoever”; “one for all and all for one”. He formed co-operatives in rural towns where the constituents of these co-op’s were those locals who had money and those who needed it. The constituents made sure that the money which was given (deposits) was passed on wisely to those who needed it (loans). Just as simple as that!

Raiffeisen structure in Austria
In Austria, the first Raiffeisen co-op dates back almost 150 years. Today, the Raiffeisen organization is probably Austria’s largest financial organization with over 1.000 banking offices in a country of 8 million. It is structured in 3 hierarchical levels:

Primary level – the independent Local Banks serving their local communities
Secondary level –the Regional Banks, owned by Local Banks and serving the Local Banks
Tertiary level – the Umbrella Bank for all Austrian Raiffeisen banks, owned by Regional Banks

The Raiffeisen organization follows Austria’s political organization: the Local Banks are in virtually every town/city (‘minimum equipment’ for an Austrian town: the mayor, the priest and the Raiffeisen banker). The Regional Banks are headquartered in the respective capitals of every federal state of Austria (9 of them) and owned by the Local Banks. And the Umbrella Bank is headquartered in Vienna and owned by the Regional Banks. In short: it is a pyramid turned upside down.

Historic evolution of the structure
To explain it in simple terms: picture the first Raiffeisen Bank (‘Bank A’) being organized in a small town. It is an autonomous co-op. Instead of tradable shares, the bank issues ownership certificates. These certificates do not pay any interest/dividends. The certificates can only be sold back to the co-op at nominal value, which is very low (say 10 Euro/certificate).

Why would people buy such certificates? Certainly not as an investment because the certificates do not generate any return. Instead, people buy them as a show of solidarity with and commitment to the community. When customers open a new account, they are offered to buy a certificate and since the amount is so small, they may agree to buy one out of a sense of solidarity with and commitment to the community. Many owners of such certificates are probably not even aware that they are ‘owners’ of a bank. The certificate entitles the holder to play an official role in the organization (annual meetings, honorary positions on boards, etc.).

Bank A takes in deposits and makes loans. If they have more loan demand than deposits, they initially cannot meet that demand. If they have more deposits than loans, they have to invest the excess with other banks.

One day (several other Local Banks existed already), it was discovered that Bank A had more deposits than loan demand and that Bank B had more loan demand than deposits. So, Bank A lent its excess to Bank B. As the number of Local Banks increased, they discovered that this exchange of liquidity became a rather cumbersome process. Thus, the Local Banks got together and decided to open, in the regional capital, a subsidiary whose initial role was to manage the cash surpluses/shortfalls among the individual Local Banks. As time progressed, the Local Banks discovered that there were many other activities which could be optimized by pooling them at the Regional Bank. The principal was: whatever the Regional Bank can do better for all than the Local Bank only for itself should be delegated to the Regional Bank. Over time, the Regional Bank assumed responsibility for setting regional policy guidelines, etc.

In short: the Regional Bank became something like a regional HQ except that when the regional managers ‘gave out orders’ to the Local Banks, they were dealing with their owners and not with their branch managers. That tends to have an influence on management cultures.

As time progressed, the Regional Banks discovered that there were functions whose performance could be optimized if they were not handled by every region on its own but, instead, pooled on a national level for Austria (i. e. the securities business). Thus, the 9 Regional Banks formed a subsidiary in Vienna which became the Umbrella Bank for Raiffeisen Austria. Its Supervisory Board is composed of managers of the Regional Banks. When the managers of the Umbrella Bank gave out orders to the Regional Banks, they were dealing with their owners. That tends to have an influence on management cultures.

Influence of organizational structure on management cultures
The constituents of the Local Banks (i. e. the ‘owners’) are members of all walks of economic life in the community (small businessmen, farmers, private individuals, etc.). The Supervisory Board of the Local Banks is composed of those constituents. Those constituents are not experts in banking but they do understand that lending has something to do with risk and that running a bank successfully has something to do with operational costs. So they watch particularly these two things: the loans which the  Local Bank makes and the operational costs which it incurs.

The mindset of the local managers is likely to mesh with the mindset of those constituents who appoint them (if not, they will not be managers for very long…). The constituents have a mindset where common sense prevails because that is how they run their own small businesses. Their view is that bank managers are there to gather deposits and to make loans and anything which prevents them from doing that (i. e. from dealing with customers) should be minimized.

The Local Banks are often very small units. The managers are not challenged to ‘manage’. They are challenged to do business. The key measurement is not any ROE (because ROE does not matter when no earnings are paid out) but, instead, the comparison with other Local Banks. And no local constituent is happy when he sees that other Local Banks are more successful in their communities.

The Regional Bank is owned by the Local Banks (based on the principle of ‘one bank has one vote’ regardless of size). The Supervisory Board of the Regional Bank is composed of managers of Local Banks whose mindset has been described above. Thus, the mindset of the management of the Regional Bank meshes with the mindset of the local managers which, in turn, meshes with the mindset of the local constituents.

Initially, the Regional Bank did nothing other than service the Local Banks. As time progressed, the Regional Bank started doing its own business with its own customers but always in cooperation and coordination with the Local Banks (their ‘owners’). For example: a local customer who might be too large to be handled by the Local Bank would be transferred to the Regional Bank for account management but ALWAYS in coordination and cooperation (and with revenue sharing) with the Local Bank.

My initial reaction to the Raiffeisen Structure
Within about a month, it became clear to me that Raiffeisen worked differently from the capital markets oriented banks which I had worked for before. Thus, I made an appointment with the Controller of the Regional Bank (my employer) to ask some questions. The dialogue went something like the following:

Question: If I understand our structure correctly, we own ourselves. There doesn’t seem to be any natural person who has a financial benefit (other than salary) if the bank earns more money. Normally, I would expect to see complete complacency with that kind of a structure. Why do I see more business aggressiveness than I have seen before in other banks?

Answer: You are right. There are no natural persons who, as owners, benefit financially from the performance of the bank. In fact, there is only one hierarchical level where the owners are natural persons and that is at the Primary Level. There, the ‘owners’ are the local holders of ownership certificates of the Local Bank. However, regardless how the Local Bank performs, they receive neither interest nor dividends. Neither can they make money on selling their certificates because they can only sell them back to the organization at nominal value. These constituents get essentially two things for their ownership certificates. One, at least once a year, they are invited to a meeting of certificate holders where they can feel as important members of the business community. Those are typically very special events with lots of recognition and rewards for individual constituents. And, two, the constituents can assume important functions, albeit without remuneration, in the supervision of the Local and Regional Banks. Put differently, they can assume positions of high standing and responsibility.

Question: But how come that the managers and staff at all levels are motivated so much to perform successfully instead of being complacent?

Answer: Because our system does not aim at the financial motives of people. Instead, our system aims at human motives for being successful in competition and for assuming important functions in society. The supervisors of Bank A pain if they see that Bank B is more successful in its market. The same goes for the managers of Bank A. Thus, the supervisors of the Regional Bank are composed of managers of Local Banks who thrive on competition and who make sure that the business practices which work well at the local level are also pursued at the Regional Bank.

Question: If the Local and Regional Banks can’t sell shares to investors, how can they raise capital for growth?

Answer: Remember, no earnings leave the organization; they are all retained and they are our source of capital formation. If there were insufficient retained earnings, our growth would be limited and Raiffeisen would fall behind its competitors. Since neither the Local Banks nor the Regional Bank want to fall behind competition, they are all motivated to generate earnings.

Question: So far, I have not heard anyone mention the ROE. Does the bank not measure ROE?

Answer: We think that the ROE is important but we also think that the ROE is the result of something and cannot be meaningfully managed in and by itself. That’s why we don’t talk about the ROE, even though we look at it. And we do show ROE in our Annual Report. We believe that a good ROE is the result of having done the right things. For us, ‘doing the right things’ in banking means having your risk and operational expenses under control. Thus, we focus on managing the quality of our risk and the level of our operational expenses. The most important ratio for us is the cost/income ratio. The most important analysis for us is the analysis of our risk portfolio – the risk rating and the level of risk provisions we make. We at the Regional Bank follow the following guidelines: of our operating revenues, no more than 40-45% should go into operating expenses; another 25-30% into risk provisions and the rest into capital formation and dividend pay-out to Local Banks.

Question: Why does the Regional Bank pay out dividends to Local Banks?

Answer: It’s a bit of a feel-good mechanism. Our dividend improves the earnings of the Local Bank and they look good vis-à-vis their constituents. Our dividend also increases their equity which enables them, in turn, to put more equity back into the Regional Bank (which equity, in turn, generates more dividends…).

Question: I see virtually no focus on structural optimization. In fact, it seems to me that there is quite a bit of double-effort inherent in the structure of having Local Banks and a Regional Bank. Why is there no focus on optimized organization?

Answer: Yes, there is some double-effort. We monitor it but we are not unduly concerned about it. Our philosophy is not to maximize short-term. Instead, we optimize longer-term. We have a strong belief (and everyone in the organization shares it) that every individual and every unit of the bank has to achieve a satisfactory operating profit. Note, I said ‘satisfactory’ and not ‘maximum’ operating profit.  If two units happen to work with one and the same customer and both achieve a satisfactory operating profit in the process, we are better off having two units than only one. Generally, the customer feels better serviced as well. Put differently, if we eliminated one of the two units, the customer could feel that, while it is a benefit for us, it is possibly a disadvantage for him.

Question: How can a system work with so many stand-alone Local Banks, many of them of extremely small size?

Answer: They are ‘stand-alone’ mostly on the outside. That’s what the customer sees. The customer does not see where the internal administrative functions are performed. The customer of the Local Bank does not see that his account statement is prepared and distributed by the Regional Bank. He does not see, or at least we hope he doesn’t see it, that most of the administrative functions of the Local Banks are pooled.

Question: With so many Local Banks being involved in the supervision of the Regional Bank, how can that work in practice?

Answer: It works because we all share similar values, the values of Raiffeisen. There is very little room to depart from those values. Suppose the managers of the Regional Bank decided to become ‘professional managers’ like in a capital markets oriented bank. They might invite a consulting firm to advise them how to optimize structures. They might make a PowerPoint presentation to their Supervisory Board. And then? Remember, that Supervisory Board consists of local managers with the mindset of local managers. They wouldn’t understand the PowerPoint presentation. Instead, they would probably begin to wonder whether they had the right kind of managers at the Regional Bank. Also remember, if the management of a centralized bank makes one very bad decision, the consequences run through their network of branches and subsidiaries. Our structure does not allow ‘one very bad decision’ to be made by only one management. The risk that all managers support the same ‘one very bad decision’ at the same time is very small.

Question: With so many entities, how can one control risk effectively?

Answer: Every bank in the system is liable for every other bank. Before one depositor loses money, the entire Raiffeisen organization would have to disappear. The Local Banks are liable for each other and for the Regional Bank, and vice versa. That motivates everyone to watch what everyone else is doing. The auditing arm of the Raiffeisen organization is completely separate from the banking arm. It audits the Local Banks as well as the Regional Bank. Furthermore, the Regional Bank with its greater professional expertise monitors closely the performance of the Local Banks. The Regional Bank cannot ‘dictate’ any measures to the independent management of the Local Bank but the Regional Bank can make conditions for ‘continued support’ of the Local Bank. One condition might be the replacement of local management.

What is the role of the Umbrella Bank? (Raiffeisen Bank International)
With so many Local Banks and 9 Regional Banks, what can an additional Umbrella Bank possibly do?

Traditionally, the principal role of RBI was to make sure that the full spectrum of international services could be offered by every single Raiffeisen Bank, even in the smallest town of Austria. Then followed other services which were deemed to work better when pooled at the national level (Leasing, Fund Management, Investment Banking, etc.). Also, the larger Austrian corporations preferred to do business with a bank headquartered in Vienna and with direct international competencies.

During the 1980s, RBI ventured into Eastern Europe with a small subsidiary in Budapest. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Eastern Europe exploded for RBI. Today, RBI is the largest banking group in Eastern Europe with subsidiaries and national banking networks in all countries. In many countries among the top-3 banks; in some countries even the No. 1.

To finance that expansion, RBI could no longer get by with only the equity provided by the Regional Banks. Today, RBI is a publicly traded bank with about 25% of its shares traded publicly. While still under control of the Raiffeisen culture, it is quite noticeable that RBI now has public shareholders who want a (short-term) return on their investment: RBI focuses on ROE and it works with management consultants from time to time…

In terms of structure, RBI is the ‘grand-daughter’ of Local Banks (via the Regional Banks). The East European subsidiaries of RBI are ‘great-grand-daughters’ of local Raiffeisen Banks. The significant benefit of that is that, ultimately, RBI can fall back on the deposit base of over 1.000 Local Banks (which act like a vacuum sucker of deposits).

Example: after Lehman, some of the East European subsidiaries of RBI faced liquidity squeezes. They needed funding from RBI. Since RBI acts like a wholesale bank, it did not have much of a deposit base on its own and the interbank market had dried out. Nevertheless, RBI could draw on the resources of its owners, the Regional Banks. Since the Regional Banks did not have much of a deposit base on their own, either, they had to draw on the Local Banks, their owners. And the Local Banks had the largest share of deposits of any Austrian banking group. No better way to show the advantages of a bottom-up organization than that!

Business philosophy of Raiffeisen
As explained in great detail, one will never hear a Raiffeisen banker say something like “our primary responsibility is to earn an adequate return for our shareholders”. Instead, a Raiffeisen banker will say something like the following: (I have heard it on innumerable occasions)

“Our principal purpose is to provide our customers with the financial resources so that they can take advantage of their market opportunities and grow. Our growth and success depends on the growth and success of our customers. Our business is not simply the lending of money. Instead, it is the providing of financial resources. In most cases, the making of loans will serve that purpose well. In some cases, our customers may be better served if we offer them other forms of financing. Where we offer Private Equity, we don’t do that with an exit to third parties in mind. Instead, we do it with a view that the customer will benefit from that equity so much that he can eventually repurchase it out of his own means. In other cases Leasing may be the best way to provide financial resources to our customers. Or Factoring. Or whatever. It is the providing of financial resources which is what we are here for.

Our customers may not really ‘need’ us in good times but in bad times they must be able to rely on us as a provider of financial resources. In order to be a reliable financial partner, we must adequately provide for risks long before they occur. When we attend the first bankers’ meeting after a company has announced problems, we see a lot of bankers who are nervous. They are nervous because they have not made any loan loss provisions yet. Their mindset is that, whatever is decided, it should not harm their P+L. Thus, their focus is on getting their money back as soon as possible, even if that means damaging the company. Our view is that the greatest damage for all occurs in the case of bankruptcy. Thus, wherever and whenever there is a reasonable hope that the company can survive with our help, we have to provide that help. In the end, we will most frequently be better off financially and we will certainly be better off in terms of market reputation.

We are not an end it and by itself. Instead, we can only exist because some people have money and others need it. Thus, if we occupy ourselves with ourselves, we are defeating the purpose. We cannot secure our well-being on our own. We need the market and customers for that. What counts, above all, is customer satisfaction and we are monitoring that carefully and continually.

Finally, successful banking is not only about risk but, equally importantly, about costs. Operating costs, that is. The more we spend on operating costs, the less we have available for risk provisions and equity formation. As long as we keep our operating costs in the range of 40-45% of revenues, we are in good shape. That cost/income ratio is the most important yardstick which we are tracking through the entire organization all the time”.

The first Annual Report came out after I had been with the bank for about 9 months. The first number I looked for was the ROE. I wanted to see how low it was when a bank was not managed with a view towards maximizing ROE. Interestingly, the ROE was about 12% and it had been in the range of 10-12% in the years before. Not quite the 25% which Josef Ackermann promised his shareholders but, then, very close to the 12% which Deutsche Bank had actually averaged during Ackermann’s tenure.

There can be no question that in a globalized world with globalized corporations, banks have to be more than local, regional or national co-op’s if they are to service their customers well. A publicly traded stock corporation seems to be the only way to structure such a bank.

The question is one of mindset and culture of a bank. A capital markets oriented bank will communicate well with a capital markets oriented customer. They are both driven by the same mindsets and culture (they ‘speak the same language’). A capital markets driven bank and a middle-market entrepreneur may become a poisonous combination because they are driven be different mindsets and cultures (they hardly ever ‘speak the same language’).

My conclusion is that for that segment of the economy which is not driven by a capital markets mindset and culture, the organizational structure described above is a most interesting alternative to that of a public stock corporation. And, if it is works well, it can work extremely well for all sides. Much better than a public stock corporation ever could in that market segment.

Mittwoch, 3. Juli 2013

New EU-Rules on Bank Bail-In's - Perhaps a Straightjacket?

The EU has now agreed on new regulations regarding the future failure of banks. The overall objective is that, in the future, it shall no longer be tax payers only who pay for the cost of a bank bail-out. Instead, bank creditors/customers will also have to share in the burden. Put differently, a shift away from 'profits are for the private sector but losses are for the tax payers' to more of a 'profits are for the private sector but losses as well'. That overall objective must be unequivocally supported.

Thus, the question is not the 'what' but, instead, the 'how'. The Council of the European Union published a respective Directive on June 28, 2013. It contains 319 pages. By contrast, Chapter 11 of the American Bankruptcy Code contains 32 pages.

This is a classic contrast between the American, more solution-oriented mindset and the more bureaucratic European mindset. Americans state the broader regulatory framework in order not to be straight-jacketed in its application. Europeans prepare an entire to-do list to cover all eventualities which might occur with the result that, in its application, one may find oneself in a straightjacket. The American Constitution consists of a few pages and has served the country very well for over 200 years. The Treaty of Lisbon consists of over 800 pages with the result that it had to be more or less violated ('bent') on several occasions so far.

There is no way that a non-lawyer can understand the 319 pages of the EU Directive. What is lacking is an 'understandable brief'; a brief which summarizes the essential content on a few pages and ignores the voluminous legalese. That is a tremendous oversight on the part of the EU!

I browsed the entire 319 pages with 2 principal questions in mind: (a) When does the liability chain come into force? And (b) Who will be affected by it and how? There is no way that a non-lawyer can answer question (a) and the answer to question (b) can only be guessed.

Who will be affected by the liability chain and how?
The Directive seems to work on the premise that there are 'liabilities eligible for the liability chain' and there are those 'liabilities which are excluded from the liability chain'.

One example of an excluded liability would be a collateralized creditor claim. That is understandable because why should a creditor lose money when he has taken measures to fully collateralize his claim? Employees' claims, commercial and/or trade creditors claims, etc. are also excluded and that, too, is reasonable. But there is a catch to all of this!

What if I pledge all my deposits over 100 TEUR to a family member as collateral for future inheritance claims? The answer to that may be hidden in the 319 pages but I could not find it.

Now here comes one of the real catches! Excluded from eligible liabilities are 'liabilities with an original maturity of less than seven days'. Much of interbank funding is for very short tenors; some of it only overnight. Banks now definitely have an incentive to shorten the tenor of all their interbank lending to within 7 days. The benefit to the lending banks is that they are protected in case of bank failure. The damage is to the borrowing bank because it now has a much shorter overall funding structure. The damage is also to other creditors (including depositors) because if much of the interbank liabilities are exempt from the liability chain, they will have to come up with a higher contribution.

Here is another one of the catches! Subsection II, Article 39, Point 2a reads as follows: 

"Where a liability is governed by the law of a jurisdiction outside the Union, resolution authorities may require the institution to demonstrate that any decision of a resolution authority to write down or convert that liability would be effected under the law of that jurisdiction, having regard to the terms of the contract governing the liability, international agreements on the recognition of resolution proceedings and other relevant matters. If the resolution authority is not satisfied that any decision would be effected under the law of that jurisdiction, the liability shall not be counted towards the minimum requi rement for own funds and eligible liabilities".

Suppose the decision of a resolution authority to write down or convert a liability into equity would not be permissable under US law, then all liabilities of the, say, US subsidiary of Deutsche Bank would be exempt from the liability chain. Deutsche would be incentivated to shift much of its funding and deposit base to such a foreign subsidiary which, under local laws, would not be permitted to bail-in creditors. Banks will not discover and/or take advantage of such a loophole? Well, think again!

As mentioned above, the principal premise of the Directive is that tax payers should no longer be the only ones paying for damage incurred by banks and their irresposible managements. In a way, I question this premise. I think the real premise should be that tax payers, when they are obligated to put money into failed banks, should have a fair chance of making a good profit on it. The American TARP made a profit on its bail-out's of financial institutions! When investors buy distressed companies, they don't do that with the intent of losing as little of their investment as possible. Instead, they do it with an intent to make money off it!

I am surprised that the 'good bank', 'bad bank' approach is being more or less ignored in the Directive (unless I overlooked it). When a TBTF-bank fails, all assets of impaired value should be put into a bad bank and put on rapid liquidation. The original shareholders remain shareholders of the bad bank. 

The remaining good bank should then indeed be a very good bank into which tax payers can be expected to invest. Hopefully, tax payers will make a profit when the good bank is eventually sold back to private investors.

When the bad bank is fully liquidated, substantial losses will have been recognized. These losses are NOT for the tax payers. Instead, they are for shareholders and all the other members of the liability chain. Since those losses will not be known until a few years down the road, creditors subject to the liability chain should be given new debt instrumens for their claims (i. e. negotiable CD's). When the day of final reckoning comes, those creditors will find out what their contribution to the damage will be. If they don't want to wait that long, they can sell their CD's in the market at a loss.

In summary, the overall objective of the new regulations must be considered as correct. Whether the Directive remains the best instrument to implement them remains to be seen. Oftentimes, things appear very plausible before an event takes place but when the event does take place, some of those things may turn out to be inoperable. The no-bail-out clause in the Lisbon Treaty seemed to be a very plausible clause at the time. When the time came to have it implemented, EU-politicians found out that they had trapped themselves in a straight-jacket.

Montag, 8. April 2013

Griechenland - einmal anders betrachtet

Vom Film „Alexis Zorbas“ war ich Mitte der 1960er Jahre als Gymnasiast zum ersten Mal fasziniert. 1975 lernte ich meine spätere Frau kennen, eine Griechin aus dem Norden des Landes. 1977 besuchten wir zum ersten Mal gemeinsam ihre Heimat. In den Folgejahren waren wir mindestens 1-mal jährlich auf Urlaub in Griechenland. Seit meiner Pensionierung 2011 verbringen wir fast die Hälfte des Jahres in Griechenland. Und trotzdem – ich bin immer noch am Lernen, wenn es darum geht, die griechische Mentalität zu verstehen.

Letztendlich münden alle Beobachtungen in der Frage: Warum verhalten sich die Griechen so anders als wir Mitteleuropäer? Zum einen muss man festhalten, dass es wohl keine Mittel- oder sonstige Europäer gibt, die so viel Herzlichkeit vermitteln können wie die Griechen. Von dieser Warte her betrachtet kann man schnell auf die Griechen neidisch werden. Zum anderen gibt es wohl nur wenige Mittel- oder sonstige Europäer, die so ‚anders‘ sein können wie es die Griechen oft sind. Zumindest anders, als wir uns das vorstellen und auch erwarten. Wahrscheinlich erwarten wir uns von den Griechen, dass sie sich ähnlich rational verhalten sollten, wie wir es gelernt haben und dann treffen wir auf manchmal irrationale Spontanäität und Impulsivität. Es mag vielleicht keinen Sinn machen, aber es hat allemal Charme.

So fragte ich kürzlich meinen jahrelangen Freund und Griechenland-Mentor, warum sich denn beispielsweise die jungen Griechen, die sich jetzt mit einer Rekordarbeitslosigkeit konfrontiert sehen, nicht um Arbeit in anderen Ländern bemühen, beispielsweise in Deutschland. Mehr hätte ich nicht fragen müssen, um eine umfassende Vorlesung von meinem Freund zu bekommen.

Das liegt, sagte er, an der ‚griechischen Psyche‘. Griechenland sei eine Gesellschaft, so fuhr er fort, die sich von ihrer Geschichte überfordert fühlt. Dazu kommt noch, dass Griechen zumindest bisher eine überfürsorgliche und total verwöhnende Erziehung (vor allem seitens der griechischen Mütter) erfuhren, was nicht unbedingt zur optimalen Entfaltung einer Persönlichkeit beiträgt.

Mein Freund empfahl mir das Büchlein „Über das Unglück, ein Grieche zu sein“ von Nikos Dimou, das 1975 erschienen war. Es besteht aus 193 Aphorismen auf nicht einmal 70 Seiten. Als ich es las, musste ich mich an „Die Österreichische Seele“ von Prof. Erwin Ringel erinnern.

Dimou schreibt (sehr unterhaltsam!), dass die Griechen bis ins 18. Jahrhundert eine Mischung von Türken, Albanern, Slawen, Walachen, etc. etc. waren, die auf relativ primitive Weise in einem kargen Land ums Überleben kämpften. Wenn man sich beispielsweise ein Bild von Athen zur Zeit der Unabhängigkeit anschaut, dann sieht man ein türkisches Dorf mit ca. 4.000 Bewohnern und mit einer Akropolis, die den Türken als Waffendepot diente (angeblich wollte man sogar die Akropolis niederreißen). Und dann – so schreibt Dimou – kamen die Deutschen und Engländer und redeten diesen einfachen Menschen ein, dass sie nicht Türken, Albaner, Slawen, Walachen oder was sonst noch waren, sondern stattdessen die direkten Nachfahren der großen Hellenen!

Dimou leitet daraus das Kernproblem der heutigen Griechen ab – eine Mischung aus einem nationalen Minderwertigkeitskomplex und Größenwahn.

Griechen ‚bewerben‘ sich nicht; sie ‚lassen sich umwerben‘, erklärte mir mein Freund. Griechen ignorieren die Realität, weil – wie Dimou schreibt – die Griechen mit der Realität nicht fertig werden würden. Mein Freund wies mich darauf hin, dass die Griechen in den Schulbüchern ihre Geschichte seit der Unabhängigkeit teilweise umgeschrieben haben. Da lernen die jungen Griechen, dass ihre Vorfahren direkte Nachkommen der großen Hellenen waren, die sich in einem mutigen Befreiungskrieg erfolgreich gegen die Türken durchgesetzt haben. Dass auf dem heutigen Territorium Griechenlands immer nur Griechen lebten; etc. Laut meinem Freund ist das eine gewaltige Dehnung der Realität. Im heutigen Nordgriechenland (Makedonien) war beispielsweise vor dem Bevölkerungsaustausch mit den Türken der Anteil der Griechen nur 45%. Und die Griechen haben, so sagte mein Freund, so Einiges an ethnischen Säuberungen durchgeführt, damit das heutige Griechenland ‚ganz griechisch‘ sein konnte (bis heute weigert sich Griechenland angeblich, eine systematische Erfassung von Minderheiten, die vor allem im Norden ganz gewaltig sind, zu machen).

Mein Freund erklärte, dass sich aus all diesen Strömungen eine nationale Psyche ergibt, die mit dem rationalen Westen sehr wenig und mit der protestantischen Ethik aber schon gar nichts zu tun hat. Interessanterweise gilt das für die Griechen in Griechenland. Sobald griechische Auswanderer beispielsweise Fuß auf amerikanischen Boden setzen, saugen sie buchstäblich über Nacht die amerikanische Arbeitsethik auf.

Mein Freund behauptet, dass ein Griechenland-Kenner vor 40 Jahren sagen hätte müssen: ‚Liebe EU, liebe Griechen – bitte nehmt zur Kenntnis, dass Ihr nicht zusammen passt. Euch trennen Kulturwelten! Ihr werdet Euch gegenseitig zerreiben!‘. Und vor 20 Jahren hätte man sagen müssen: ‚Liebe Griechen, seid vorsichtig mit dem Euro; der könnte Euch umbringen‘. Offenbar hat es in der elitären EU keine Griechenland-Kenner gegeben.

Mein Freund weigert sich, die Flinte ins Korn zu werfen und fatalistisch über Griechenlands Zukunft in der Eurozone zu spekulieren. Deswegen kommt er immer wieder mit Ideen, wie es Griechenland vielleicht doch noch schaffen könnte (wohl wissend, dass solche Ideen wohl nie umgesetzt werden könnten). Trotzdem meint er, dass über kurz oder lang Griechenland wieder zur Drachme zurückkehren wird/muss. Eine deflationäre Anpassung in jenem Ausmaß, das Griechenland benötigt, wäre selbst für das aufgeklärteste Volk eine enorme Herausforderung. In Griechenland wird dadurch – wie man sieht – die Situation immer nur schlimmer. Manchmal gewinnt man den Eindruck, als wollten die Griechen der Troika beweisen, dass ihre Maßnahmen nicht funktionieren können, nur damit sie als Opfer bestätigt werden.

Mein Freund legt Wert darauf, seine obigen Ausführungen über die ‚griechische Psyche‘ etwas zu qualifizieren. Bis zu einem gewissen Grad wächst heute schon eine neue junge Generation heran. Das sind junge Griechen, die weniger von den Mythen der Vergangenheit, sondern vom Studium an Universitäten geprägt sind. Junge Griechen, die Fremdsprachen hervorragend beherrschen. Junge Griechen, mit denen man ganz vernünftig über Griechenland diskutieren kann, ohne dass sie in narzisstische Wutanfälle gegen die Ausländer (vor allem gegen die Deutschen) geraten. Das sind aber – leider für Griechenland – auch jene jungen Griechen, die ihre Heimat verlassen wollen, um sich anderswo besser verwirklichen zu können.

Zum Schluss erwähnt mein Freund die griechischen Eliten. Das seien Eliten, von denen sich die Eliten anderer Länder etwas abschauen könnten: bestens gebildet; international versiert; höchst kultiviert; Eliten eben. Aber leider sind es auch Eliten, die bisher immer meinten, dass das Land für sie da sei und nicht umgekehrt.

Samstag, 6. April 2013

Enttäuscht vom Hayek-Institut!

Am 3. April wurde auf ATV eine Diskussion zum Thema "Rekordarbeitslosigkeit bei Jugendlichen - Wie entschärft die EU die tickende Zeitbombe?" ausgestrahlt. Zu den Diskussionsteilnehmern gehörten Dr. Stephan Schulmeister und die Präsidentin des Wiener Hayek-Institutes Dr. Barbara Kolm. Wer gehofft hatte, dass Dr. Kolm ein überzeugendes Plädoyer für die Vorteile einer liberalen Marktwirtschaft halten würde, musste sich enttäuscht fühlen. Während Dr. Schulmeister recht leidenschaftlich seine Vision einer besseren Welt darstellte, begnügte sich Dr. Kolm mit modellhaften Standardargumenten. Unten ist als Reaktion darauf mein Schreiben an Dr. Kolm.

Sehr geehrte Frau Dr. Kolm,

als Hayek-Verehrer war ich gestern bei der TV-Diskussion enttäuscht, dass Sie keine starken Argumente für die Causa einer liberalen Marktwirtschaft gebracht haben. Ehrlich gesagt, wenngleich meine Denke fast diametral jener von Dr. Schulmeister gegenübersteht, fand ich ihn trotzdem streckenweise überzeugender in der Diskussion.

Sie wiederholten die klassischen Argumente: Staatsausgaben in der Griff bekommen, Reformen umsetzen und die Wirtschaft nach außen öffnen --- und dann einfach warten, bis Wunder geschehen. Sie übersehen dabei jedoch den wichtigsten Punkt von allen, nämlich die Frage: in wieweit passt dieses Modell zur jeweiligen Gesellschaft. Wenn es passt, dann werden sich Erfolge rasch einspielen. Wenn nicht, dann wird es eher einen Bumerang geben.

Ich erlebte Chile in den frühen 1980er Jahren als Leiter der Niederlassung einer amerikanischen Großbank. Durch meine Position hatte ich Zugang zu und persönliche Beziehungen mit allen wesentlichen Chicago-Boys vom Finanzminister abwärts. Für mich ist das, wofür die Chicago-Boys damals den Grundstein gelegt hatten, bis heute weltweit unübertroffen. Es hat seither auch noch keine chilenische Regierung, weder von links noch von rechts, es gewagt, an den Grundprinzipien dieses Modells etwas zu ändern.

Miton Friedman’s Laborexperiment hätte komplett schiefgehen können. Es wurde m. E. aus einem einzigen Grund eine reine Erfolgsstory: die Chilenen waren von der Mentalität her optimale ‚Versuchskaninchen‘. Die Chilenen sind ein aufgeschlossenes und aufgeklärtes Volk. Sie wollen sich stets verbessern und sind nahezu süchtig, von anderen zu lernen. Sie betrachten es als Auszeichnung und Vertrauensvotum, wenn ausländische Investoren ins Land kommen. Sie machen eine objektive Analyse ihrer Stärken/Schwächen und bauen darauf ihr Geschäftsmodell auf. Etc. etc.

Mein Thema ist Griechenland, weil ich seit knapp 40 Jahren mit einer Griechin verheiratet bin und das Land gut kenne. Deswegen führe ich auch einen recht gut frequentierten Blog über Griechenland. Mit den anderen Problemländern der Eurozone beschäftige ich mich nur am Rande. Ich glaube auch, dass Griechenland nicht wirklich mit anderen Ländern vergleichbar ist.

Man könnte meinetwegen über Nacht den Griechen alle Staatsschulden erlassen, das Budget auf plus/minus Null stutzen und sämtliche Branchen liberalisieren --- es würde die große Veränderung/Verbesserung nicht bringen. Die Griechen sind so ziemlich das Gegenteil von den Chilenen. Unsicher, ob sie wirklich dem rationalen Westen (anstelle des eher mystischen Ostens) zugehören; misstrauisch gegenüber allem, was aus dem Ausland kommt; misstrauisch gegenüber allem, was mit dem Wort Kapitalismus in Verbindung gebracht werden kann; etc. etc. Vor allem: dort, wo sich die Chilenen dafür begeistern konnten, sich aus dem Dreck der 1970er Jahre aus eigener Kraft zu ziehen, neigen die Griechen dazu, sich eher noch mehr in den Dreck zu vertiefen, damit das Unglück größer wird und damit sie andere für ihr Unglück beschuldigen können. Das ist eine Frage der Mentalität.

Bitte beachten Sie, dass es in Griechenland keine Reformation, keine Aufklärung und keine industrielle Revolution gegeben hat. Während die Mitteleuropäer jahrhundertelang fast ununterbrochen Kriege führten und im Zuge dessen fast ununterbrochen ihre Wettbewerbsfähigkeit steigerten, gewöhnte sich die griechische Psyche an ein Untertanensein, wo man am besten dran war, wenn man die Autorität bzw. den Staat hintergehen konnte.

Seit seiner Unabhängigkeit 1832 gab es meines Wissen kein einziges Jahr, in dem Griechenland NICHT auf finanzielle Impulse aus dem Ausland angewiesen war. Das moderne Griechenland wurde nach dem Bürgerkrieg von Gastarbeitern aufgebaut. Von 1950-72 waren die Rücküberweisungen der Gastarbeiter BEI WEITEM die größte Devisenquelle des Landes (wesentlich größer als Fremdenverkehr und/oder Schifffahrt). Als die Gastarbeiterrücküberweisungen abflauten, wurden sie nahtlos von EU-Förderungen und seit dem Euro von billigen Krediten abgelöst. Griechenland hatte nie eine nennenswerte Industrie. Was es jemals davon hatte, wurde durch den Euro weitgehend ausradiert.

Griechenland ist über weite Strecken noch ein Entwicklungsland. Zumindest zwei der vier EU-Freiheiten (freier Güter- und Kapitalverkehr) sind Freiheiten, mit denen die griechische Wirtschaft nicht von heute auf morgen fertig werden kann. Man kann sich natürlich fragen, was ein solches Land in der EU und Eurozone verloren hat, aber diese Frage ist heute zu spät. In Wirklichkeit braucht Griechenland Entwicklungshilfe in weiten Gebieten des wirtschaftlichen, öffentlichen und politischen Lebens. Und zu meiner großen Enttäuschung höre ich von Ihnen nicht viel mehr als die Standardvorschläge des ordentlichen Haushaltens und des Liberalisierens der Wirtschaft.

Griechenland kann nur gerettet werden (und die Kredite an Griechenland können nur gerettet werden), wenn man sich kreative Incentives einfallen lässt, wie man Wertschöpfung ins Land bringt. Die Schulmeisters dieser Welt denken sofort an öffentliche Ankurbelungsprogramme. Das eine oder andere öffentlich finanzierte Infrastrukturprojekt mag schon sinnvoll sein, man muss sich dabei aber bewusst sein, dass durch solche Projekte auch die Guthaben auf Auslandskonten einflussreicher Griechen steigen.

Der Chef der deutschen Allianz-Gruppe hatte vor ca. 2 Jahren einmal den Satz geprägt, auf den es ankommt. Er sagte sinngemäß: „Wir müssen schauen, dass wir einen Teil unserer Auslandsinvestitionen umschichten vom Osten und Fernosten in Richtung Süden“ (sprich: nach Griechenland). Damit ist fast alles gesagt, aber niemand in der EU – auch Sie nicht! -  redet darüber.

Griechenland hat es geschafft, seine internen und externen Konten ins Gleichgewicht zu bringen: das Primärbudget und die Leistungsbilanz verzeichnen bereits geringe Überschüsse. Ergebnis: Arbeitslosigkeit in Richtung 30%. Ein wirtschaftlicher Laie kann daraus schließen, dass die griechische Wirtschaft in ihrer derzeitigen Struktur ihre Bevölkerung nicht ausreichend beschäftigen kann, wenn die internen und externen Konten ausgeglichen sind.

Man werfe einen kurzen Blick auf die griechische Zahlungsbilanz und man sieht, dass die griechische Wirtschaft Geld aus dem Ausland braucht wie der Mensch den Sauerstoff zum Atmen. Da dieses Geld nicht mehr in ausreichendem Maße in der Form von zinstragenden und rückzahlbaren Krediten kommen wird, MUSS es in der Form von Auslandsinvestitionen kommen.

Es wäre ein Leichtes (und äußerst Kostengünstiges!) für die EU, sich Incentives einfallen zu lassen, wie privates Investitionskapital freiwillig nach Griechenland fließen könnte. Man müsste beispielsweise nur Haftungsrahmen à la Kontrollbank für solche Investitionen einräumen. Meinetwegen zum Nulltarif. Die Haftungen müssten das gesamte politische Risiko beinhalten (inklusive das Grexit-Risiko), nicht aber das wirtschaftliche Risiko. Und von den Griechen müsste man verlangen, dass sie mittels Investitionsgesetz den Auslandsinvestoren jene Rahmenbedingungen zusagen (meinetwegen nur in Sonderwirtschaftszonen), die sich Auslandsinvestoren wünschen. Keine besonderen Perks; einfach nur optimale Rahmenbedingungen. Wenn diese Voraussetzungen gegeben sind, dann fließt privates Investitionskapital von selbst.

Und zu solchen Überlegungen hätte ich von Ihnen gerne Vorschläge gehört. Das waren die Überlegungen, welche die Chicago-Boys seinerzeit in Chile angestellt hatten. Das wäre wirtschaftliche Aufbauhilfe, die unsere Chancen erhöhen würden, jemals wieder etwas von unserem dorthin geschickten Geld zu sehen.

In diesem Papier hatte ich vor 3 Jahren zum ersten Mal meine Ideen vorgeschlagen. In meinem Blog habe ich es mehrmals aktualisiert. Ich behaupte nicht, dass nur meine Ideen zum Ziel führen, aber ich behaupte sehr wohl, dass es diese Themen sind, mit denen sich Wirtschaftsliberale auseinandersetzen sollten/müssten, statt immer nur modellhafte Standardformeln runter zu beten. Damit ist nur den Schulmeisters dieser Welt geholfen!

Freundliche Grüße

Klaus R. Kastner