Society and Culture

Diversity? What diversity?

The IEA’s occasional left-wing sparring partner, Richard Murphy of the Tax Justice Network, tweeted this week about the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy  Committee’s decision to raise interest rates. He noted that all the men on the MPC voted for an interest rate rise, but ‘two-thirds of the women voted to keep rates where they were. If only we had an economy run by women….’

Maybe we shouldn’t have hiked interest rates so sharply. It’s a view, though not mine. But I’m more interested in what Murphy is saying about women. You often see this sort of stuff – that women bring a different, quite possibly more insightful, view on most things. Again, it’s a view. Is it mine? I’m not sure.

I thought I’d take a look at the composition of the MPC for the first time in ages. It currently has nine members. Five are internal ex-officio members: the Governor (the increasingly beleaguered Andrew Bailey), three Deputy Governors, and the Bank’s Chief Economist (Huw Pill, himself recently coming under flak for telling workers to stop whingeing about pay).

The four external members are appointed ‘to make sure that the MPC benefits from thinking and expertise from outside of the Bank of England.’ Presumably they should also , in line with the Bank’s stated policy ‘reflect the society we serve’. They are formally appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but in practice the Chancellor usually rubberstamps the decision of a small appointments committee. In principle any qualified person can apply, but as with most posts of this kind, ‘suitable’ people are probably approached to have their name put forward.

One external is Jonathan Haskel, a pale stale male like me, but a distinguished economist who is in his second term as a member of the Committee. The other three externals, however, are all women.

One is Catherine Mann, who is a Professor at Brandeis University and has held numerous important posts at the OECD, the Federal Reserve and the Council on Foreign Relations. She has degrees from Harvard and MIT. Another is Swati Dhingra, an LSE associate professor who studied at Delhi and Wisconsin-Madison, and worked at Princeton. The third female member is Silvana Tenreyro, who has a PhD from Harvard and is a Professor at the LSE, worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and is a former President of the European Economic Association. She is coming to the end of her second spell of MPC membership, and is shortly to be replaced by Megan Greene, a Senior Fellow at Brown University, Global Chief Economist at Kroll, the Financial and Risk Advisory Firm. She studied at Princeton and Oxford.

I can (sort of) see a ‘diversity’ argument for having mainly female externals when all the internal members are male. But look how similar the backgrounds of these women are to the male committee staffers  – their education, their experience  in the financial sector, their time in central banks and international organisations.

Perhaps even their attitudes to British politics? They all seem to be pretty anti-Brexit, for example. Dhingra has written that the effects of Brexit have been ‘overwhelmingly negative’, Mann blames it for ‘adding to inflation’, Greene speaks of ‘the most damaging blow ever inflicted on the liberal democratic order’, while the FT has described Tenreyro as ‘a staunch critic’ of our departure from the EU.

I don’t think these cosmopolitan women, individually highly intelligent and competent though they certainly are, ‘reflect the society we serve’, but that’s a nebulous notion anyway. More to the point, they don’t reflect the range of views on, and practical experience of, our economy. Have we nobody with experience in the real business world, rather than the financial Jenga builders, risk rearrangers and paper-writers? Have we nobody suitable for the MPC who has had to meet a private sector payroll? Have we nobody who lives and works outside London (and I don’t mean in New York or Paris)?

So, to return to Richard Murphy’s gynophilia – while women qua women may indeed have some insights men don’t possess, I’m not altogether convinced that these particular women, with backgrounds and attitudes very similar to those of their male colleagues, can really give us the sort of diversity that could be useful in helping determine future monetary policy.


Editorial and Research Fellow

Len Shackleton is an Editorial and Research Fellow at the IEA and Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham. He was previously Dean of the Royal Docks Business School at the University of East London and prior to that was Dean of the Westminster Business School. He has also taught at Queen Mary, University of London and worked as an economist in the Civil Service. His research interests are primarily in the economics of labour markets. He has worked with many think tanks, most closely with the Institute of Economic Affairs, where he is an Economics Fellow. He edits the journal Economic Affairs, which is co-published by the IEA and the University of Buckingham.

1 thought on “Diversity? What diversity?”

  1. Posted 24/06/2023 at 08:01 | Permalink

    hello America

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