In an interview with ProMarket, former Bank of England deputy governor Sir Paul Tucker explains why the “unelected power” of central bankers threatens our system of government.
Sir Paul Tucker
The European Central Bank found itself under renewed scrutiny this month, after Italy accused it of buying too few Italian sovereign bonds, allegedly in an effort to pressure the country’s new populist government to adopt more conventional economic policies.
The accusation was yet another example of the curious position the ECB has repeatedly found itself in ever since the central bank’s president Mario Draghi promised to “do whatever it takes” to preserve the euro in 2012. But it was also part of a larger, global wave of populist attacks against central banks. In Turkey, President Erdogan has repeatedly attacked the country’s central bank for raising interest rates, even going so far as to threaten the bank’s independence. In Britain, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has assailed the Bank of England and other central banks for their loose monetary policies, arguing that these policies benefited a small minority of “crony capitalists” who had “rigged the system” in their favor.
This political backlash came as no surprise to Sir Paul Tucker, the former deputy governor at the Bank of England and a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Central bankers, Tucker writes in his timely new book Unelected Power: The Quest for Legitimacy in Central Banking and the Regulatory State, have emerged from the financial crisis with enormous new powers, entrusted by governments with the ultimate responsibility of making the economic recovery work. This change, he writes, relied on the “false hope” that central banks can create long-term prosperity. It is also fundamentally different than the response to the Great Depression, which was led by elected officials, not central bankers. Their expanded responsibilities, argues Tucker, have also turned central bankers into the “poster boys and girls” of unelected power, a process which ultimately erodes the legitimacy not only of central banks, but also our system of government as a whole.
Tucker, the chair of the Systemic Risk Council, a non-partisan think tank composed of former government officials and financial and legal experts, is a lifelong central banker. His book, an ambitious tome that stretches over 656 dense pages, is both a philosophical treatise on the limits of the administrative state and a passionate call for fellow technocrats to heed the lessons of recent political upheavals, pull back their power, and engage the public in a wider debate.
We recently sat with Tucker, who visited the Stigler Center in May for a series of interrelated lunch seminars, for an interview on politics, regulatory capture, and central banking’s crisis of legitimacy.
Read the interview promarket.org/former-central-banker-tells-central-bankers-stay-away-davos/