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The first Basel agreement on global banking regulation, adopted in 1988, was 30 pages long and relied on simple arithmetic. The latest update, known as Basel III, runs to 509 pages and includes 78 calculus equations.

The complexity is emblematic of what happened over the past four years as governments that injected $600 billion to rescue failing banks during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression devised ways to make the global banking system safer. Those efforts have been stymied by conflicting laws, divergent accounting standards and clashing rules adopted by nations to protect their interests, all of which have created new risks.

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