Does Mark Carney really deserve his reputation as a super-banker?

The new Bank of England governor shouldn't be given so much credit for Canada's economic success.

Super-banker Mark Carney negotiated an impressive 30 per cent increase in remuneration, in the form of pension contributions, providing him with a total of £624,000 a year for the Bank of England job. This was not agreed by the remuneration committee but was negotiated by the Treasury (George Osborne) and agreed by the bank’s non-executive directors.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back to 1938 in Cleveland, Ohio, and be in the room when Joe Shuster created comic book hero Superman. I don’t have a time machine, but I was in London in November 2012 when super-banker Mark Carney was invented. So since we’re all having to put our hands in our pockets and pay this man his extravagant salary, maybe we should dispel a few myths before going any further. Gushing Osborne describes him as an "outstanding candidate" in the press release. He loves Carney for "avoiding big bail outs and securing growth." So is that what super-banker really did?

Canada has always had a conservative banking industry and its banks were not over-exposed on entering the credit crunch. The country avoided the crisis in every way except for being the neighbour of the USA, which did cause a short term shock. Carney arrived at the Bank of Canada in February 2008, when the world crisis was already in full swing. It would be impossible for him to have implemented policy that retrospectively saved Canada from turmoil. He was simply there when nothing happened and is happy for people to believe he is a genius as a result.

As for Osborne’s comment on "securing growth"? The fact is that countries like Canada and Australia are rich in resources at a time when the expansion of China has created massive demand for them. Carney didn’t arrange for the rise of China, although if someone had attributed it to him, you can bet he’d allow the myth to perpetuate.

For Canada, the last five years have been so benign that Carney could have turned up to work and played ping pong all day. Yet, here we are, pouring praise on him. We know how Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown would respond to a major financial crisis, because they were there, for good or ill. We don’t know how this guy would be in a crisis, because he’s never been in one. Yet he’s a genius, according to George Osborne.

Osborne has returned regulation to the Bank of England, in the bizarre belief that it can do a better job. This obviously ignores BCCI and Barings. Carney is supposedly qualified as a regulator as he has private banking experience at Goldman Sachs. However, it seems that he advised Russian on their 1998 financial crisis while Goldman was simultaneously betting against the country's ability to repay its debt. This bloke doesn’t know what’s happening right under his own nose, yet he’s in charge of London?

The US has much more experience of capitalism than us, and they always, rightly, have a lawyer in charge of regulation. In a recent TV interview Adair Turner, another economist, didn’t know whether Libor cheating would constitute fraud. He was in charge of City regulation at the time. Yet here we have another economist being put in charge of regulation, when the job should go to a lawyer.

For a central banker he does at least have a very smart suit. Maybe that’s why we’re paying him an extra £144,000 of our money each year. Let’s look on the bright side, George Clooney would have wanted even more.

Dan McCurry is a photographer in east London and a Labour activist. He is a former chair of the Bow Labour Party.

The new governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who previously served as the head of the Bank of Canada. Photograph: Getty Images.

Dan McCurry  is a photographer in east London and a Labour activist. He is a former chair of the Bow Labour Party.

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.