Louise Cooper: Twitter and the Bank of England drag central banking into the gutter

Controversial radio hosts love them to provoke and increase ratings (and boost their careers) and celebrities use them for further exposure (literally for Rihanna) to sell records or movies. But central bankers? Rowing on Twitter? They’re supposed to be responsible people, deeply intellectual, profound thinkers, worrying about inflation for decades to come. Sober, sensible, suited, a bit boring to be honest. Monetary policy, currency stability, inflation targeting, bank regulation, credit system monitoring, managing exchange reserves, the Lenders of Last Resort. Any of that sounds like the tawdry and bitchy world of showbiz? No, not to me either… And yet, here in the UK two ex Monetary Policy Committee members have been indulging in a vicious twitter row. Obviously there were fewer F-bombs than @chrisbrown and less self-publicity than @piersmorgan, but still a full on twitter row. Its been simmering for some time but really kicked off last Sunday when Andrew Sentance and Danny Blanchflower both appeared in different newspapers. Mr Sentance in the Tory favourite, the Sunday Telegraph and Mr Blanchflower showing his political bias, in the left wing Independent. Both were comments following the loss of the UK’s AAA rating. The row was at least over economic policy, with Blanchflower calling for more monetary stimulus and Sentance favouring more economic reform and a harder stance on inflation. But it wasn’t just a dove against a hawk. This was a bitter exchange although to be fair, mostly unpleasant from Blanchflower who seems to have a bit of a reputation amongst Twitter (and at the Bank of England) for his caustic arrogance. (@connarmcbain calls him “corrosive and completely hubristic”). The “debate” lasted most of the day, involved hundreds of tweets, pulled others into the argument( as often happens) and even restarted again later on Wednesday after the publication of revised UK GDP figures for 2012. Once it got going, Blanchflower didn’t hold back: In some sort of high school popularity contest, @D_Blanchflower boasted “fortunately four times as many people follow @D_Blanchflower..” And in numerous exchanges @D_Blanchflower returned to the playground with his “I told you so” message to @asentance, Sentance engaged in the debate and he helped stir the pot. But to be fair, he didn’t drop to the gutter, despite the onslaught of vitriolic criticism. You can score it for yourselves… I tweeted @D_Blanchflower and @asentance to get their take on the row but got no reply. But I shall give my advice to them and other central bankers as to how to behave on twitter, anyhow. My first top tip is to avoid hubris – acceptable in a rock star but more dangerous in a central banker. The one thing that two decades of working in finance has taught me is that markets and economics teach us humility. The once Great God Greenspan? No longer. Secondly, the rise in prices should be a central banker’s main concern and not the rise in retweets and recommendations. And clearly if you’re in charge of monetary stimulus, growth in the economy is more important than growth in follower count (@D_Blanchflower is clearly proud of his 13,000 followers but has a way to go to get @chrisbrown’s 13m). And twitter should preserve the dignity of office and not demean it – gravity and substance are important attributes for central bankers. But I think my sign off has to go to @forexleeches who advises us all: “If someone has upset you and you’ve consumed half your body weight in wine, the chances of saying something you shouldn’t on twitter greatly increase” Which I think translates to next time I have a boozy City lunch or night out, I need to leave my Iphone turned off. (Editors note: We invite you to follow Louise Cooper at @louiseaileen70 and @forexlive)

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