When central bank governor eyebrows were primitive form of emojis..

Andy Haldane, chief economist, Bank of England is leaving the central bank and moving to The Royal Society for Arts

Andy gave his swansong speech recently which is a must read. Fair bit of history and humor.

On central bank communications:

At the point I joined the Bank, central banks lived by a mantra of “monetary mystique”. This was more than just cultural. Secrecy was seen as one of the essential tools in central banks’ armoury.footnote[33] Opacity imparted power, secrecy conferred influence. And the Bank of England was seen as the grand-master of these Delphic arts. These were well-exemplified by the utterances of its most famous former Governor, Montagu Norman, whose “never apologise, never explain” and “I don’t have reasons, I have instincts” have gone down in the annals of central bank folklore.

For much of the first few hundred years of the Bank’s history, its public communication largely took the form of an annual speech by the Governor of the day to the bankers and merchants of the City of London at the Lord Major’s Mansion House Banquet, literally a stone’s throw from the Bank. The public audience for this singular act of public communication was about as diverse a set of white, male, middle-aged, slightly-pissed financiers as it is possible to assemble.

Body language can sometimes substitute for the spoken word. So it was at the Bank of England in the 1920s, when the Governor’s “eyebrows” famously became one of the Bank’s means of externally communicating. The Governor’s eyebrows were, in a way, a primitive form of emoji: sterling crisis – sad face, bad pre-MPC presentation – very sad face. Nonetheless, for even the most malleable-faced Governor, the eyebrows were an imperfect communications medium.


Andy covers a large ground in the speech:

At the end of September I leave the Bank of England, 32 years almost to the day since I joined. Most would say that is a decent stint, but in Bank terms it is just really getting started. My personal assistant, the brilliant Sandra Mills, has just completed 44 years. The Bank’s company secretary, John Footman, is just about to clock 52 years. I never was a completer-finisher.

It has not, of course, been 30 years of hurt.footnote[1] I have loved almost all of my time at the Bank. I promised myself one thing when I joined – that I would only stay as long as it was interesting. It has been interesting for 32 years. Events made it so. And it remains no less interesting now. I tell the Bank’s new entrants I can promise them only one thing: they will be telling their families and friends about this moment in history and, uniquely, they can write its next chapter. As a public servant, this is as good as it gets.

Any lengthy career in public policy will inevitably be punctuated by crisis. In my case, crises have provided not just the punctuation marks, but most of the words, sentences and paragraphs too. In public policy, crises are the ultimate learning experience. They are also the moments when the Overton window of opportunity is widest and the opportunity for change greatest. Crises are moments of challenge and opportunity in equal measure. I am very fortunate to have experienced plenty of both.

My time of the Bank has been evenly split between its twin statutory functions, monetary and financial stability. These functions, embedded in the Bank’s Royal Charter in 1694, remain its statutory centrepiece today. (The Bank’s third objective, fighting the French, has by contrast tended to be downplayed.) Over the intervening 327 years, both monetary and financial stability have had their fair share of challenges and opportunities. These have perhaps come thicker and faster over the past 27 years than the preceding 300.

I want to offer a few retrospective thoughts on the evolution of monetary and financial stability over the past 30 years before turning to central bank communications, a crucial ingredient of both. Bank of England policy frameworks and practices have undergone an astonishing transformation over that period. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say there has been a revolution in how the Bank goes about securing monetary and financial stability and how it communicates about both. The catalyst for this revolution has been crisis.

Having discussed this historical evolution-cum-revolution, I discuss some of the key issues facing central banks today. This is the “dreaming” bit – looking around corners to judge not only what is coming but how to reshape it, seeking out the biggest issues not just of today but tomorrow. It is the Wayne Gretsky approach to public policy – skating to where the puck is going, not where it is.footnote[2] That can be unconventional and sometimes misunderstood. But it is, for me, the essence of effective policymaking.

Nice breezy read which teaches quite a bit..



One Response to “When central bank governor eyebrows were primitive form of emojis..”

  1. Anantha Nageswaran Says:

    I had dissected Andy Haldane’s speech thoroughly in this blog post:

    A forensic farewell to Andrew Haldane

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