Sunday 27 May 2018

BoE deputy governor apologises after describing UK economy as 'menopausal'

Bank of England deputy governor Ben Broadbent has apologised amid a backlash after he described the UK economy as 'menopausal' (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Bank of England deputy governor Ben Broadbent has apologised amid a backlash after he described the UK economy as 'menopausal' (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Holly Williams

Bank of England deputy governor Ben Broadbent has apologised for his "poor choice of language" amid a backlash after he described the UK economy as "menopausal".

Mr Broadbent - who is also on the Bank's team of interest rate-setters - has been accused of sexism after using the word to describe the current UK slowdown and slump in productivity.

He said: "I'm sorry for my poor choice of language in an interview with the Telegraph yesterday and regret the offence caused.

"I was explaining the meaning of the word 'climacteric', a term used by economic historians to describe a period of low productivity growth during the 19th century.

"Economic productivity is something which affects every one of us, of all ages and genders."

The interview saw him suggest the UK economy was entering a "menopausal" era after a peak in productivity from the digital revolution.

Mr Broadbent indicated that a "pause" between two technological leaps forward, akin to one experienced by late-Victorian industrialists from steam to electricity, could be behind the slump in productivity that has been blamed for stagnating wages.

It sparked a raft of angry tweets and comes as an embarrassment to the Bank, which has sought to promote gender diversity within its ranks.

The Bank has already come under fire after revealing a 25% pay gap, with its male employees paid almost a quarter more than their female colleagues.

There is only one woman on the Bank's nine-strong rate-setting committee - Silvana Tenreyro.

Twitter user Pamela Wales said Mr Broadbent's comment was "outrageous and insulting".

"No wonder there is such a large gender pay gap with attitudes like these," she said.

Another, @commuterlaydee, said: "Absolutely shameful comment by Ben Broadbent. The language HAS to change."

Jonathan Riley also took to Twitter to slam it as "truly disgraceful".

"Perhaps reference to flabby, flacid, balding men who have lost their potency might have been more appropriate?," he said.

Mr Broadbent sits on the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), which recently stunned the City by holding interest rates amid grim forecasts for the economy.

A former economist at Goldman Sachs, Mr Broadbent is considered a potential successor to the Bank's governor Mark Carney, when his term ends in a year's time.

In his interview with the Daily Telegraph, Mr Broadbent said the term menopausal means "you've passed your productive peak".

Britain's productivity woes pose a headache for the Government and economists, and consensus on the cause remains elusive.

Much as the Victorians had to deal with a lull between the ages of steam and electricity, the UK may be seeing a trough between the digital era and the next big technological advance, possibly from artificial intelligence.

Mr Broadbent sought to explain that the slowdown in productivity growth to a near-halt at the end of 1800s has been described as a "climacteric" period.

Economists and historians say one cause for the Victorian slowdown could have been "a pause between two general purpose technologies, steam on the one hand, electricity on the other," Mr Broadbent told the paper.

However he remained sceptical that the reason for Britain's "undesirable" low productivity levels at present will be decisively identified any time soon, given the continued debate around what caused the Victorian problem.

His comments come after official figures showed that productivity fell 0.5% in the first quarter.

Unemployment has meanwhile continued to hit a fresh record high, while wider economic growth slowed to just 0.1% in the first quarter.

The poor growth figures saw the MPC last week hold rates at 0.5%, having earlier signalled a May rise was on the cards.

Press Association

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