Wednesday, 20 January 2010

David ‘Danny’ Blanchflower’s ideas

Blanchflower is the rebellious ex-member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC). His turbulent term came to an end in May 2009, after a frustrating period in which he frequently found his views (and votes) at odds with his fellow members. But his minority view was often proved to have been right in hindsight.

Now speaking from the touchlines (writing in this week’s New Statesman), Blanchflower argues that "the MPC's days are numbered, certainly in terms of its remit and probably its membership. After the election we are going to have to reconsider who sets monetary policy." He adds: "This MPC is not fit for purpose and should be disbanded.” He wants a complete rethink on what should be targeted, whether the MPC is the right place to take these decisions, and who should be party to those decisions.

Blanchflower also appeared on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme this morning. After saying that he was worried by this, that and the other (8 times), Blanchflower was repeatedly challenged by John Humphries to say what his answer was. He wouldn’t or couldn’t provide it. All he could say was that a major rethink was needed and that people needed to give thought to this. This interview pattern is a familiar one on programmes of this kind. Some people might criticise Blanchflower for appearing to duck Humphries’ question. But Blanchflower has a point. It goes like this.

If you involve many individuals to discuss a problem (such as the future of the MPC or an alternative body and its brief), they become a ‘system’. A system has so-called emergent properties; that is, the outcome that emerges is more than the sum of the parts. No one part or party (any individual participant) holds the complete or acceptable answer. In a healthy discussion, the answer emerges from what happens in the interactions and spaces between them. This may be consensus seeking, or it may be more creative.

‘Wicked’ problems like this one cannot be ‘solved’ as such because there is no single right answer. But problem situations may be improved by involving people widely in generating sparks between them in a healthy dialogue. Blanchflower’s ‘answer’ on its own would contribute little in an interview, and he may have understood that.