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.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.