As the year of the 325th anniversary of the Bank of England’s foundation, and as the month of one of the Bank’s more important rate-setting decisions since 2008, September provides a congruous occasion on which to reflect on the history of the BoE and consider what the future holds for it. Founded in 1694 as a private bank to the government, it was in 1998 that the BoE was granted independence from the government in setting monetary policy. Now the UK faces perhaps its greatest political uncertainty in a generation, it is worth asking the question: to what extent will this independence continue?
We have already seen the effect of populist leaders on central banks that are ostensibly independent. The obvious case is that of the US, but there are other examples to be found of central banks facing political pressure to keep monetary policy easy, from Turkish President Erdogan’s sacking of the then central bank governor, to the ECB’s reaction to persistently low growth in Europe. Even if Trump doesn’t control the Fed directly, he certainly controls the market, which in turn has forced the hand of the central bank and led to the Fed cutting rates with the economy in expansion. And with ever more monetary sweets to choose from in the jar, which politician could resist raiding the cupboard and giving their economy a sugar high of rate cuts, QE and lending?
Pressure on the Fed is likely only to increase as the 2020 elections approach: if President Trump is able to engineer further cuts, and then get the markets soaring with a trade deal and promises of tax cuts just in time for elections, we might begin to agree he is – in his words – “a very stable genius”.