On becoming governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney made some statements about women which were somewhat intriguing. He argued that: ‘It is anomalous, it’s striking. 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 macro-economic thinking…’
Why? If we replace (for example) ten male economists with ten female economists in a group of 30 economists, what leads Carney to expect more diversity in macro-economic thinking? Surely, there can only be two reasons – 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. This is essentially the reasoning that contributed to Larry Summers resigning from Harvard University as well as him not getting the job as Obama’s Treasury Secretary. I wonder why Osborne and Cameron are not hauling Carney in for a dressing down.
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…
Does Mark Carney have any real evidence that women bring diversity in macro-economic thinking? I doubt it. If one were to list the women economists who have been on the MPC or might plausibly be approached or who are talented economists in their own right, then the list would include: Kate Barker, Rachel Lomax, DeAnne Julius, Marian Bell, Diane Choyleva, Diane Coyle, Stephanie Flanders and Vicky Pryce. It is difficult to think of a group of people whose macro-economic views sit more firmly within the new Keynesian/neo-classical mainstream than this group. The same would be true if we looked at the views of the most cited female economists in the US. This implies no disrespect to these people. These eight, plus Mark Carney would make a Monetary Policy Committee every bit as highly qualified as the current MPC – but it would not think differently (and I would agree with them no more than I agree with the current MPC).
There is an obvious exception amongst the ranks of top female economics commentators; somebody who does start from different premises: Gillian Tett of the Financial Times. However, Gillian Tett would almost take the suggestion that she is an economist as an insult. She would respond immediately by commenting that her insights about the financial crash come from her background as an anthropologist. But, there are male counterparts who work in the same space as Gillian Tett studying the behaviour of people in the context of networks (Paul Ormerod, Daniel Kahneman and, at one time of course, F. A. Hayek). Again, this is to take nothing away from Gillian Tett, 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.
Of course, if adding a group of women to a group of men adds diversity to the thinking of the group as Carney suggests (implicitly assuming that women think differently from men or have different social experiences), 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 economists have a tendency to think the same way whether male or female and 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.
Economics teaches people to reason logically from a set of assumptions and to produce evidence to back up models. I am not sure what Mark Carney’s assumptions are. I am quite sure that he has no evidence for the proposition – which went entirely unchallenged – that more female economists would lead to more diversity in macro-economic thinking.
Indeed, if Mark Carney really wanted some diversity in the Bank of England, he could look for some Austrians, some free bankers, some monetarists or some experimental economists. I am sure that the IEA could find Mark Carney some people who would add diversity if he thinks there is a bit too much group think in the Bank of England.