I’ve been among those who’ve drawn attention, disapprovingly, to the fact that the Governor of the Reserve Bank, now in office for more than a year, has made no on-the-record speeches about either of his main areas of policy responsibility: monetary policy and financial stability/regulation. The enabling legislation meant that until very recently he was the sole decisionmaker in both areas, and in both areas there have been significant new initiatives in the last year – a new objective, and new governance structure, for monetary policy, and far-reaching contentious proposals around bank capital.
The Governor has recently become merely primus inter pares on most aspects of monetary policy, joined by six others to form the new Monetary Policy Committee. The first OCR decision of that new committee was released on Wednesday.
On Thursday morning, the Governor appeared at Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Committee for his regular post-MPS questioning. I was going to use the word “grilling” there, but the questioning is often pretty soft, and used to seem more attuned to soundbites for the evening news bulletins than to serious scrutiny and accountability. But this week, apparently, the Governor was asked about the criticism that he had not been delivering substantive speeches. His response apparently was to “dismiss the criticism” on the grounds that the Bank publishes Monetary Policy Statements, OCR reviews, and some descriptive material on the new governance structure.
But here’s the thing. Other countries’ central banks also publish official interest rate announcements, and the equivalents of Monetary Policy Statements (and these days, those documents are typically more in-depth and insightful than New Zealand Monetary Policy Statements).
But since the Governor took office in March 2017 there has been not a single substantive public speech from the Governor on monetary policy. There was one conference paper written by the now-departed chief economist, which must have been commissioned and substantially written before Orr took office. That was more than a year ago.
In Australia this calendar year alone the Governor has given two public speeches on economic matters firmly within the monetary policy remit of the Reserve Bank of Australia. And other senior managers have given another four such speeches.
In Canada, the Governor and senior managers have given eight to ten such speeches (depending how on classifies particular speeches).
In the UK, there appear to have been about six such speeches this year – again, on things pretty closely related to monetary policy and the state of the economy.
And in the US, just at the Board of Governors (there were numerous other speeches by regional Fed people), I counted 10 such on-the-record speeches this year.
I deliberately mention speeches both by the Governor (or US equivalent) and by senior staff or committee members, because apparently Orr went on to ask, presumably rhetorically, if all public communications needed to come from the Governor, noting that in the past there had been criticism (when?) of a Governor having too high a profile (recall that Graeme Wheeler avoided all substantive searching interviews for five years). Indeed, it doesn’t, but (a) we’ve had no speeches from any of them for more than a year now, and (b) until a few weeks ago the Governor was solely and personally accountable for monetary policy, and is still formally (ministerial determination) the spokesman for the MPC.
Playing distraction, Orr apparently went to suggest that a lot of discussion focuses on issues around things like climate change and social inclusion, asserting that the same people who criticise him for not doing speeches would criticise him for talking about such issues, and that he just couldn’t seem to win.
Of course, he knows very well that there are two quite separate lines of criticism. Many (including me) think it is inappropriate and unwise for the Governor to be talking about such topics which go well beyond his remit (as it would be, say, for the Chief Justice to be giving speeches on economic policy). But even if you were to grant that it was appropriate for the Governor to be discussing such peripheral (to the Bank) issues, you would then surely think it should be all the more reasonable to expect the Governor – and other MPC members – to be giving serious, on-the-record, speeches about the state of the economy, monetary policy and so on (not to mention financial regulation, but this post – and the FEC appearance – were about monetary policy). Things they are actually responsible for, and where they wield a great deal of power, subject to no appeal or review. It should be all the more reasonable to expect that at a time when (a) a new regime is being put in place, and (b) when the Bank has had to materially alter its policy view.
And when all their peers in other similar countries seem to give serious speeches as a matter of course. It isn’t clear why our Reserve Bank has stopped doing so.