World's Top Central Bankers (Bernanke Isn't One)

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 9/30/2011 09:00:00 AM
In my never-ending quest to bring you, dear readers, the finest in political-economic commentary on what's out there--and believe me there is much--I've trawled through a multitude of sources. Riffing on others' blog posts is common in the blogosphere, but I like to think mine is...wider-ranging. Some sources that have occasionally yielded interesting finds are financial industry magazines. Prior to Super Lehman Brothers, there seemed to be a veritable proliferation of Euromoney wannabes. But just as that epochal collapse signalled the demise of many purebred investment banks, so did it augur the end of many industry rags. There is a season to all things and it seems these magazines have seen better days.

By some luck, then, I was perusing the latest issue of Global Finance. Alike Euromoney, it's very fond of coming out with "Best of" lists. World's Safest Banks in Asia, World's Best Trade Finance get the idea. As it so happens, one of their latest features concerns the "World's Top Central Bankers 2011 ." What are the criteria they use to determine performance? Mostly national macroeconomic criteria, to no real surprise, according to the press blurb:
Global Finance magazine has named the heads of the Central Banks of six countries as the World’s Best Central Bankers over the past year.

The “Central Banker Report Card” feature, published annually by Global Finance since 1994, grades Central Bank Governors of 36 key countries (and the ECB) on an “A” to “F” scale for success in areas such as inflation control, economic growth goals, currency stability and interest rate management. (“A” represents an excellent performance down through “F” for outright failure.)

Subjective criteria also apply. Global Finance Publisher Joseph Giarraputo says: “During one of the toughest years on record, the World’s Central Bankers were tested as never before. Every year, we assess the determination of Central Bankers to stand up to political interference, and their efforts at influencing their governments on such issues as spending and economic openness to foreign investment and financial services.“
Anyway, six of the world's central bankers got the highest marks: Australia's Glenn Stevens, Israel's Stanley Fischer (formerly the IMF's No 2 man), Lebanon's Riad Salameh, Malaysia's Zeti Akhtar Aziz, the Philippines' Amando Tetangco, and Taiwan's Fai-Nang Perng. Given the collectively abysmal performance of industrialized economies, I expected more than three emerging economies to get As, but hey, it's their list. Plus, I am also chuffed that two central bankers in our region of Southeast Asia got the gold.

Let's now turn our attention to America's helicopter dropping man. Unsurprisingly, Ben Bernanke gets the third lowest grade. With more and more joining the lynch mob calling for his immediate execution, let's see how he does in 2012. As a writer of economics textbooks in use in several American universities, I suppose Bernanke is more used to grading than being graded, but he definitely isn't promoting either full employment (with unemployment rates Stateside sticking near the 10% mark) or price stability (which isn't usually spoken of in the same breath as tossing cash from a chopper). Hence his third lowest mark.

This league table certainly suits me, and I think there are fine applications possible here. Alike in European association football where the worst-performing teams are relegated to a lower division, the world economy would benefit if the same practice held in central banking. Really, they should put Bernanke where he can do less harm to the US economy in particular and the world economy in general. Unclogging toilets at the Federal Reserve headquarters in DC should do, or have him instead play Choplifter all day long where he may actually "rescue" little computer people after being such an abject failure at doing the same with real Americans. Homo economicus that he is, I'm sure Bernanke will take one of these alternatives over, well, hanging in Texas.

Make no mistake: many of the world's finest practitioners of the arts of central banking now reside in the Global South.