When deciding economic policy, the buck, so to speak, is left with a combination of the chancellor and the Bank of England. This arrangement exists as politicians should have the final say in a modern democracy, but a modern democracy needs to have a brake on populist politicians, hence an independent central bank.
Today those worlds publicly collide, with Mark Carney, the next governor of the Bank of England, appearing in front of the Treasury Select Committee. This will hopefully give the markets and politicians a flavour of his approach to dilemmas the Bank of England currently faces given the UK’s current economic malaise. What kind of policy will Carney follow? Is he a natural dove or a hawk?
Well at a guess, he has been appointed by a chancellor who wants economic recovery for the benefit of the country, and from a political point of view, an economic recovery that will keep him and his party in power. It would therefore be fair to assume that when interviewing for the position, any respected German central bankers’ applications would have been put straight in the bin.
One can therefore assume that Carney has been chosen to reflect the need at this point of the electoral cycle for a bit of an economic boost. Indeed, yesterday Osborne was calling for a more dovish stance from the Bank of England.
Politicians in the UK have played loose with fiscal and monetary policy over the years. Did we join the ERM in 1990 to drop interest rates to help the conservatives retain power in 1992? A tightening of monetary policy by the creation of an inflation targeting Bank of England in 1997 aligned the economy to the electoral cycle in Tony Blair’s first term. The amendment of the CPI target by Gordon Brown in 2003 brought a handy monetary stimulus ahead of the 2005 election. Given the election is a couple of years away and monetary policy works with a general lag of 18 months, what is the chancellor to do two years ahead of the election this time?
It is an ideal time for him to meddle with monetary policy. With the changing of the guard at the Bank of England he will be able to liaise with a new governor to undertake reforms to make the economy work better, and therefore increase the chance of re-election. The simplest way to boost the economy in the short term is to change the inflation target. This can be explicit, or disguised amongst the current statistical reform of RPI and CPI measures.
The surprise for the markets over the next year could well be a combination of a flat economy encouraging a politically motivated chancellor, and a new central bank head keen to make an impression in his new job, working together to engineer higher growth and higher inflation via an explicit loosening of the inflationary target in the UK.