Henry Ford, the American automobile manufacturer, once said that “It is well enough that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system for, if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning”.
Indeed, if there’s one thing central bankers have been successful at, it’s using obfuscation and jargon so the public finds it difficult to understand what exactly it is they do.
Even when experts try and figure out what central bankers do, a range of legal barriers prevent a complete accounting of their activities. When former Congressman Ron Paul tried to audit the US Federal Reserve System a few years ago, for example, he faced opposition from a range of economists and politicians intent on preserving the Fed’s secrecy.
In Australia, the opaqueness of the Reserve Bank’s discretion doesn’t seem to trouble many people. But it should, because the RBA wields a significant power that influences the level of prices in the economy and consequently affects our hip pocket. The inflation it creates hurts the poor – and if more people knew the RBA was the culprit behind rising prices, and that much of the erosion in purchasing power we have seen over the past 100 years was unnecessary, there is little doubt that there would be protests on the streets.
The RBA’s aversion to scrutiny can be seen in the way that it shies away from the media spotlight, preferring instead to stage-manage the appearances of its officials in carefully scripted testimonies before parliamentary committees. The agency also enjoys significant exemptions from freedom of information legislation, and furthermore, doesn’t provide reasons for its decisions in a way that allows the public hold individual board members accountable for their views (one can contrast this to the Bank of Japan where individual board members’ votes are recorded). Continue reading