Who should set the cash rate?

The Greens have proposed that the Reserve Bank Board should set the official cash rate, not just the Governor. It’s a reasonable debate to have, but one that seemed familiar. I was sure the issue had been canvassed in the past as part of an independent review. I asked Don Brash if my recollection was correct and he responded:

David, you are almost correct. Cullen asked Lars Svensson to conduct a comprehensive review of the whole monetary policy framework. At the time, in 2000, Svensson was a leading monetary policy academic, at Yale from memory. Being Swedish, he had the advantage of being from a country regarded as “moderate” in political terms and, like New Zealand, a country very dependent on trade, with a floating exchange rate. He has since become one of the Deputy Governors of the Swedish central bank. 

He gave the New Zealand framework top marks, describing it as “world’s best practice”, but he did say that he thought that having all monetary policy decisions vested in the single person of the Governor was risky. (Fortunately for me, he said I had done a good job!) He suggested that instead monetary policy decisions should be taken by a small internal committee of senior RB staff – not by the board of (outside) directors because of the potential for conflicts of interest. Both the Treasury and the non-executive directors of the Reserve Bank recommended that New Zealand stick with the single decision-maker model because that makes it easier to pin the blame if monetary policy doesn’t deliver what the Policy Targets Agreement (the agreement between Minister of Finance and Governor) requires to be delivered.

It is a fair point, that if you make the decision a joint one by the Board, it makes it harder for there to be accountability for any failure in monetary policy.

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