The Bank's mild-mannered Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, is bringing in some unlikely new advisers—including potters, poets and percussionistsby Tom Clark / April 18, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
His office is nestled deep within John Soane’s revered neoclassical temple. There is a vast old desk of the sort that you’d expect to find a mandarin or even a general settled behind. Up on the walls, in gilded gold frames, are old-fashioned paintings of even more old-fashioned buildings.
In the corner, there’s a flip chart, with a bit of econo-waffle scribbled on it—“Phillips Curve, P, U*,” which stirs dim memories of dull lectures about inflation and unemployment. But then another scribble catches the eye: Works, Feels, LOLs. What on Earth, I ask Andy Haldane, does that mean? It is, he relays, the three ways you “get purchase” in the public discourse—doing things, stirring emotions or making people laugh. Says who? “Grayson Perry.”
And what had a transvestite potter got to do with his work at the Bank? Well, it transpired, Haldane had very recently roped Perry in for an event with Bank staff, partly to talk about communication, but partly simply because he thought the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street would benefit from the Turner Prize-winning artist’s “lens on the world.” And not only Perry. “Last week, we had [the Pennine poet] Simon Armitage; next week we have Evelyn Glennie, the percussionist, coming in.” Why? Haldane wants Bank staffers to tap their “wellspring of creativity,” which he believes is always best sparked in what, borrowing a phrase from Armitage, he calls, “the crashing of cultures… the crumple zone.”
This sounds even more far-out than Howard Reed’s call to smash up the neoclassical foundations of economics, and use the other social sciences to rebuild it. But there is nothing in the appearance of this svelte middle-aged man, nor in his measured, mildly-Yorkshire inflected tones to suggest an intellectual revolutionary. And his CV—28 straight years working his way up at the Bank, since taking his Master’s—suggests precisely the opposite. Indeed, Bank staff speak of an approachable, but otherwise conventional Bank sort, “lives in the Surrey commuter belt, kids at private school,” says one.