Aside from the ousting of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, the other big story in Canadian media yesterday was the announcement that Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney will be leaving to take over the Bank of England next year:
Inevitably, there are mixed feelings: satisfaction that a Canadian civil servant should be held in such regard abroad; annoyance that a foreign power should feel entitled to raid our highest offices, as if we were their farm team; gratitude for his service; disappointment that he did not finish his term.
On balance, however, the departure of Mark Carney as governor of the Bank of Canada, to take on the same position at the Bank of England, is probably for the best. It will of course be a great loss: he is largely deserving of his exalted reputation. That’s the point: he was becoming too big for the Bank. His ambitions were known to stretch beyond it; his persona was starting to overshadow it. Rock stars and central banks make an uncomfortable fit.
[. . .]
But ultimately, it’s the institution that counts, not the man. The Bank is steeped in talent, and any successor will be able to draw on the same organizational strengths as Carney. And Carney’s own outsized talents, it must be said, were beginning to present a problem, or at least might have. Politically savvy, a natural communicator, possessed of a certain glamour (at least by central banker standards), and young enough to harbour ambitions beyond his current office, it was perhaps inevitable that he should excite speculation about his future plans, without ever intending to.
All the same, it was unhealthy that talk began to turn to the possibility of him running for Liberal leader, and unhealthier still that this was not more firmly squelched, sooner. I’ve no reason to believe he ever seriously considered doing so, but it would have been a terrible business if he had. It is unusual enough for a governor to leave one country’s central bank for another. But for a governor to resign to lead the party seeking to replace the government he had lately served? I do not think the people who were urging this course upon Carney thought this through.
Update: At the Telegraph, Iain Martin reminds Carney’s sudden horde of fans that he’s merely mortal.
Is there any stopping Carney-mania? Those of us who 24 hours ago couldn’t have identified Mark Carney, even if he was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “I’m the Governor of the Canadian Central Bank” in 110pt type, now stroke our chins and swap our best Carney insights. He was voted the most trustworthy Canadian in a poll conducted by Readers Digest (Canada). He has four children. He paid $800,000 for his house in Ottawa, apparently, although he undertook $95,000 of improvements. Did they extend out the back or convert the attic? I don’t know, yet. And Canada didn’t have a banking crisis, you know. Only it did, in the 1990s, and the recovery and reorganisation put it in place afterwards left it in good shape ahead of the much bigger financial crisis which hit the US and the UK particularly hard. And Canada knows how to regulate its banks, only that wasn’t actually Carney’s job. This is most of what we know so far.
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Now Carney is hailed as “the world’s greatest central banker”. None of this is to knock the Canadian for a second. He seems like a sensible, pragmatic fellow with a good record. It is also pleasing to see a fresh face, someone not from the revolving door cast-list of the British establishment. Although it is worth remembering that he is from the new global establishment, via 13 years at Goldman Sachs and subsequent sessions on panels at Davos.
The UK certainly needs this appointment to work out, but the new arrival deserves continuous scrutiny from sceptical parliamentarians and, yes, from a (hopefully) free press. After all, Mark Carney is a banker, not a magician.