Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, in an interview earlier this month, pointed out that there are no women on the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC). There also happen to be no female ministers in the Treasury. Carney suggested,
“What we have to do at the Bank of England is grow top female economists all the way through the ranks. That adds to the diversity in macroeconomic thinking, it adds to qualified candidates for the MPC including qualified candidates to be a future governor.”
This seems like a reasonable message, but Philip Booth at the Institute of Economic Affairs wonders “why Osborne and Cameron are not hauling Carney in for a dressing down.” He makes a deeply confusing comparison between Carney and Larry Summers, and then adds:
“It is worth noting that I am quite comfortable with the idea that the sexes are complementary and that, in any business, social or family situation, they may (on average) bring different characteristics to the table. However, if Carney holds this position, there are some interesting conclusions because, if it is accepted that women (on average) might exhibit certain skills in greater preponderance than men, then the opposite may have to be accepted too. But, let’s move on…”
Before moving on, though, what are these “interesting” conclusions? If men do exhibit certain skills (like passive-aggressive ellipses usage) in greater preponderance than women, do we really know that each of these man-skills are beneficial for monetary policymaking?
Booth writes, “Surely, there can only be two reasons [for Carney's remarks] – that Carney believes that there are intrinsic differences between the ways in which men and women reason and assess evidence or that their social experiences are different from those of men who have similar career patterns.”
Really, can these be the only two reasons? Isn’t it also plausible that Carney thinks the lack of women on the MPC is a sign that some qualified candidates are, for various and perhaps subtle reasons, not making it into or up the ranks, and that excluding part of a talent pool is a generally bad idea? It is not just that the social experiences are different for men and women who have similar career patterns — different social experiences also lead men and women to having different career patterns.
Does Booth himself think that it is just a big coincidence that there are zero women out of nine on the committee? Surely his manly math skills are good enough that he doesn’t chalk that up to random chance. So even though Booth is chiding Carney for implying that men and women are intrinsically different, he seems to be working off of some “interesting” assumptions himself.
Next, Booth manages to list eight female economists, but doesn’t personally think that any of them would add diversity to the MPC. He thinks Gillian Tett might add diversity to the group, “but it is the fact that she is an anthropologist that ensures that her views add diversity, not the fact that she is a woman.” (In fact, a survey of 400 economists documents notable differences of opinion between the genders.) Then he gets to the most telling paragraph:
“It does not follow that adding those women who choose to become economists to a group of male economists adds to the diversity of thinking of the group of economists. It may be the case…that those women who ‘add diversity’ in intellectual life do not choose to become economists. This would mean that women contribute to diversity in society but not necessarily to diversity amongst economists.”
He is inadvertently proving Carney’s point, just as he is trying to tear it down. If he thinks that intellectually diverse women do not choose to become economists, he needs to ask himself why that is. It might help to read Neil Irwin’s article about what happens when a certain female economist does “contribute to diversity”:
Yellen has a perfectly solid relationship with Bernanke, as best as I can tell, but she’s more of her own thinker within the institution. She has spent her time as vice chairwoman urging Bernanke and her other fellow policymakers to shift policy to try to do more to combat unemployment, and thinking through ways to do just that…And people dealing with her within the Fed have viewed her not so much as Bernanke’s emissary but as her own intellectual force within the organization.
Felix Salmon summarizes Irwin’s reasons why the White House is uneasy about Yellen:
“The first is the ‘team player’ attack: Yellen is an independent thinker more than she is a loyal deputy to Bernanke… She never became part of the boys’ club which was making enormous decisions on a daily basis in the fall of 2008… The ‘team player’ argument, then, is basically the ‘one of us’ argument, thinly disguised. Which is the first place that the sexism comes in…
This second reason essentially takes the ‘team player’ argument past its breaking point, to the point at which the Obama team is basically saying ‘Yellen needs to share our biggest weaknesses.’”
I hope this post was not too much of a rant. I just wanted to make the point that Governor Carney’s remarks are perfectly acceptable and in fact welcome.
Cross-posted from Carola Binder’s blog, Quantitative Ease.