Watching the panel discussion on BBC’s Newsnight programme after the ECB’s announcement of its Outright Monetary Transactions policy last Thursday, a long-running criticism of central bankers was brought powerfully home even before any of the guests had opened their mouths.
For here was an all-woman group of qualified observers discussing decisions made in an environment so male-dominated it might as well be one of London’s traditional gentlemen’s clubs in St James. The ECB has no women on its executive board and none of the 17 heads of eurozone central banks that join the executive board on the bank’s rate-setting governing council is led by a woman. And the ECB is far from an exception — women are exceptionally rare in central banks the world over.
Economists love to portray themselves as iconoclasts who follow the evidence and act rationally. So why is central banking gender politics so 19th century?
Keeping the show on the road became the G20′s main achievement at the acrimonious Seoul summit in November. But if you have to keep pedaling to stop the global trade imbalances bicycle from toppling, a new speech by Andy Haldane of the Bank of England demonstrates that the road ahead is uphill.
It is difficult to say much fresh about trade imbalances. Everyone knows they are big; they are a threat to the global economy; they played a part in the recent crisis; and countries fundamentally disagree over who is responsible for their existence and who should change policies to reduce their threat.
But Mr Haldane has an interesting stab at the subject, showing he has ambitions extending considerably outside his current responsibility for financial stability.
As a current account deficit must, by definition, also represent a situation where investment is greater than savings (and vice versa), he
No doubt in a valiant attempt to feed our insatiable curiosity ahead of time, some excerpts from Tim Geithner’s written testimony and prepared oral statement have come out tonight, before Thursday’s appearance in front of two Congressional committees. The key passage:
“We are concerned, as are many of China’s trading partners, that the pace of appreciation has been too slow and the extent of appreciation too limited. We will take China’s actions into account as we prepare the next Foreign Exchange Report, and we are examining the important question of what mix of tools, those available to the United States and multilateral approaches, might help encourage the Chinese authorities to move more quickly.”
It’s not explosive stuff but it does show that: 1) the administration is considering (or at least wants to give the impression that it is considering) a range of options, which could include classifying exchange rate undervaluation as an illegal export subsidy or taking a case to the WTO; 2) It is not a given that the Treasury will repeat its previous decision to resist naming China as a manipulator in the twice-yearly currency report.
Big day on the Hill on Thursday as Mr Secretary does the rounds talking about China: the Senate banking committee in the morning and the House of Reps ways and means committee (which spent yesterday on another auto da fe hearing about the Chinese currency) in the afternoon. He faces a Blondinesque balancing act of being mad enough at Chinese foreign exchange intervention to placate angry lawmakers while not committing to precipitous and possibly WTO-illegal action like agreeing to currency tariffs.
Last time he was in this position, on June 10, Geithner rather neatly managed to amplify the complaints of senators in the hope that they would be heard in Beijing without necessarily endorsing them. Nine days later, China unpegged the renminbi. He will most probably try some version of this again on Thursday and hope that puts enough pressure on Beijing to take its foot off the renminbi brake for a while. Would that placate the senators and the congressmen? No. (Appearing in front of congressional committees, Geithner somewhat resembles a put-upon nephew who has been deputed to break some bad news to a gang of irascible uncles.) But would it do enough to stop them forcing currency legislation on to a crowded fall legislative schedule? Probably, yes.
Four things have struck me at today’s high-level meeting on the international monetary system, organised by the International Monetary Fund and Swiss National Bank.
Might the global economy all go horribly wrong again?
Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, an ECB executive board member, has just warned that those who think the world will return to where it was before the economic crisis are “deluding themselves”.
Addressing a crowded Frankfurt reception hosted by the city’s chambers of commerce, he said: “If the world economy were to return to the pre-crisis situation, within a short timespan a new crisis would be likely to occur because the same imbalances that led to the crisis would build up again.”
In what I thought was a pessimistic comment – even by ECB standards – he went on: “Considering some recent developments and behaviour, and considering the way certain policies are being discussed and the thinking of some key players, such a scenario does not seem that unlikely.”