This post repeats a gripe I had after Bank of England Governor Mark Carney spoke at the ‘inclusive capitalism’ conference, ranging over matters of economic and moral philosophy on which I contended he was not hired to talk. On 9 September, Andrew Haldane, the Bank’s Chief Economist, gave a speech on the economics of volunteering, entitled, ‘in giving, how much do we receive‘. As always with his work, it was a great and thought-provoking read.
Speaking off topic isn’t all bad. Perhaps doing stuff on volunteering or the ethics of capitalism can do something to differentiate the central bankers from the bankers, to diffuse the impression that all people who work in finance are money-focused nutcases.
But. There are some downsides.
Reason 1. If there is a finite time for the national consciousness to devote to the economics of volunteering, perhaps that should go to the lead thinker who specialises in that area.
Reason 2. Comparative advantage again. Even if, let’s say, Andrew was the lead thinker in volunteering, since there is a finite amount of Andrew Haldane work effort, that should be spent on what he is best at, namely, talking central banking. One speech on volunteering is one less on monetary or financial policy strategy.
Reason 3. There’s an offsetting risk to the ‘cuddly BoE’ benefit of talking about things like this. Which is that people wonder: ‘hang on, didn’t we pay this lot to try to think about how to fix the financial system? What are they doing spending their time freelancing on third sector economics?’ Extreme analogy: the David Cameron Cornwall wetsuit picture, or the George Bush golfing videos.
Reason 4. This is a delicate time for monetary and financial policy strategy and communication thereof. Shouldn’t the BoE’s top employees be solely focused on refining the messages, about the first interest rate rise, about QE exit and debt management, about the FLS, about Help 2 Buy, about macro-pru? Isn’t the modern science of messaging about careful repetition and refinement? If so, isn’t talking off topic going to confuse and distract?