It is an indicator of my age that Sade’s Smooth Operator sprung to mind after watching the new Governor of the Bank of England — Canadian Mark Carney — perform last week. He was polished, slick and assured. So assured, in fact, he turned up 20 minutes late to meet the elected politicians of this country….
He’s been compared to a rock star as well as the brilliant but flawed Don Draper from Mad Men and clearly, his handsomeness is somewhat unusual in the world of monetarists. However, I think I prefer my central bankers dull. He is making me nervous (and it’s not his good looks). At the ECB, Jean-Claude Trichet was replaced by Mario Draghi. With his LTRO and his OMT and his “whatever it takes” speeches — action-man Draghi has “saved Europe”. Mark Carney wants a bit of that reputation. And it’s not just Europe. This is the age of an omnipotent central bankers (but sadly not omniscient).
Mark Carney was clearly a political appointee. The UK’s Finance Minister George Osborne wanted his man. He was interviewed only five days after the initial approach by Osborne when the deadline for applications was passed. To stand any chance of re-election in 2015, the Conservative party desperately needs growth. The options for doing that with government cash are limited and so it’s up to the Bank of England to do more. Clearly, Osborne thinks Carney is the man to do that.
In Japan, the brand new Prime Minister is clearly frustrated with the BOJ and has already forced a doubling of the inflation target. Now we await the brand new head of the Bank which is likely to be more of the political appointees than in the past.
The problem with these new political and populist central bankers is that the repercussions of their actions take many years to show. Short term they can be hailed as heroes and yet long term, only after they’ve left, do we know if that is justified. Alan Greenspan’s once God-like status has long gone. And of course, central bankers have the power to impoverish or enrich generations.
Mark Carney spent thirteen years at Goldman Sachs and has only been a Canadian government official for just over eight years. He is more of an investment banker than a central banker. And we know of course that the former prioritizes short-term profits no matter what and the later obsess about long term inflation. The head of the ECB Mario Draghi is also Goldman alumni.We are now in the era of the investment banker central banker and that makes me worry (not surprisingly).
What Mark Carney does have is great market timing. He left investment banking just a few years before the financial crisis at the end of 2004. He also seems to be leaving Canada just as its property market is beginning to implode with painful consequences for Canadian banks (and potentially taxpayers). He is coming to the UK for just five years and not the more normal eight. He wants to make his mark and then go elsewhere. So given he seems to be rather good at picking his spots, maybe we all need to worry in five year’s time when he leaves….
Be under no illusion, Carney is coming to the UK to make his name. He will do whatever is required to get the UK economy past “escape velocity.” Many will cheer this approach at the end of the conservatism of Mervyn King. However, it will be years after Carney has left his five-year appointment, that we know if his expected-to-be-radical-actions saved the UK or destroyed it. And this is the wider problem with populist and political central bankers.
And so returning to Sade.
The lyrics remind me of many investment bankers I have known.
I just tweeted “Carney is an ex-GS investment banker and so will have a big ego, will want to make an impact and will leave before the s**t hits the fan”. I have thought about this and wondered if it was unfair and then remembering all the meetings I’ve had with the species, concluded it is a fair assessment.
The problem is that “Heaven help him, when he falls” does not reflect the risks and rewards. The politicized central bankers will be long gone when their actions start destroying the people who they were supposed to protect. I want my central banker to worry about the wealth of my children’s children.