The Next BOE Governor Could Be the Insider With the Outside Perspective
(Bloomberg) -- Andy Haldane has spent 30 years working at the Bank of England, yet he may boast the greatest outside perspective of anybody running to become its next governor.
The central bank’s chief economist since 2014, Haldane has long cultivated an image as its man of the people, explaining and defending its decisions across an economy increasingly divided over the upcoming exit from the European Union.
All his major speeches this year were delivered outside London, including a recent one at the football ground of a steel industry hub that voted 2-to-1 for Brexit. A research trip to Blackpool in 2018 featured a visit to what he called a “doss house cum drug den.”
He has used Dr Seuss to bemoan the reading age needed to understand the central bank’s communications, and thrown open its doors to anti-capitalist singers and sports stars to generate ideas. He heads the government’s new Industrial Strategy Council, which aims to boost productivity, and cofounded an initiative to pair economists with charities to improve their impact.
It’s perhaps that focus on the BOE’s social mission, as much as his economics and finance expertise, which may appeal to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government when it names a successor to Mark Carney.
Haldane’s profile is “something that would stand in his favor, because that’s the way the wind is blowing -- this is the zeitgeist,” said Tony Yates, a former BOE official who worked with him. Even so, he’d be surprised by such a choice, saying Haldane’s skills are “more of a thought leader than a chief executive.”
Now 52, Haldane joined the BOE’s Monetary Policy Division in 1989 after gaining a masters in economics from Warwick University. Despite a career climbing the ranks under four governors, he plays the role of a renegade on town hall visits across the country, making a self-proclaimed attempt to “reach people not previously reached by the bank” and publishing a candid blog about his experiences.
He also launched a series of events with celebrities -- an offbeat initiative for an austere institution whose doormen still wear pink tailcoats and top hats. When Billy Bragg appeared last year, the singer-songwriter used the forum to criticize quantitative easing and said he was cordoned by police on his previous visit to the BOE for protesting.
Another recent event saw Haldane play talkshow host to former Guardian newspaper editor Alan Rusbridger. Chatting to attendees over a glass of wine afterward, he joked about whether Dolly Parton or the England women’s soccer team could be convinced to talk to the bank.
Haldane hasn’t confirmed that he applied for the governorship, which would more than double his salary to 480,000 pounds ($620,000), though he is widely considered likely to have done so.
He logged key experience at the BOE in international finance, market infrastructure and financial stability during the crisis, before clinching his current role under Carney in 2014. That year, Time magazine named him one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Supporters of Brexit may wince at his involvement in the bank’s analysis of potential outcomes. Its worse-case scenario for a disorderly departure foresaw the deepest economic slump since at least World War II, with property prices plunging almost a third. He may also be tarred by Carney’s recent disagreement with the prime minister over the potential for post-Brexit trade with the EU.
Yet Jacob Rees-Mogg -- a Brexit backer, arch critic of Carney, and now Conservative Leader of the House of Commons in Johnson’s government -- said last year that Haldane could be a “good candidate.”
The opposition Labour Party’s finance spokesman John McDonnell has said the BOE needs “someone who is willing to be radical” -- potentially another boost for Haldane should the current government fall.
“He’s clearly trying to change the old establishment look,” said James Rossiter, an economist at TD Securities who used to work at the BOE. “Haldane would really try and make it the people’s bank, rather than the ivory tower. That would appeal to Number 10, I’m sure.”
Haldane has had missteps though -- notably two years ago when he compared pre-crisis economic projections to a famously inaccurate forecast by BBC weatherman Michael Fish before a 1987 storm that killed 18 people.
In 2016, he told the Sunday Times that insufficient home-building means property is a better bet for retirement than a pension, undercutting government efforts to promote savings and ignoring the fact that he is entitled to a generous BOE pension. In the same interview, he said he was “plainly not wealthy.”
In 2012, he drew the ire of his future boss with a speech -- eye-catchingly called The Dog and the Frisbee -- which called for simplicity in banking regulation. Carney, then Bank of Canada governor and head of the global Financial Stability Board, said the speech was “uneven” and the conclusion “not supported by the proper understanding of the facts.”
On monetary policy, he was mostly considered dovish until he started making a case for higher interest rates last year. More recently, he has voted to keep rates steady as Brexit plays out. He also used a speech in the industrial northern town of Scunthorpe to stress the limitations of monetary policy should the U.K. leave the EU without a transition deal.
That appearance highlighted his public rapport, handling questions with an easy camaraderie while managing to avoid alienating the audience of local businesses in the Brexit heartland. When asked about Elliot Wave Theory by one economics buff, he drew laughs as he promised to google it.
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