During his stint as governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney earned a reputation for preachiness and often coming close to crossing the line into politics. His prognostications about the disaster that would befall Britain’s economy if it left the European Union and his warnings about the financial risks of climate change rubbed many British MPs the wrong way, and seemed to suggest that Mr. Carney was itching for a bigger role in shaping public policy.
The publication of his new book, Value(s), will do absolutely nothing to change that impression. On the contrary, it confirms Mr. Carney has had a lot on his chest and has been impatient for some time to unleash it. The 600-page tome amounts to a scathing critique of capitalism and its invasiveness into all aspects of our lives. It calls for nothing short of a reordering of society to ensure markets answer to citizens rather than the other way around.
“We are approaching the extremes of commodification as commerce expands deep into the personal and civic realms,” Mr. Carney laments in what is a recurring complaint in his book. “The price of everything is becoming the value of everything.”
The problem, he says, with allowing markets to determine the worth of everything is it leads to outcomes that, collectively, are in no one’s interest. The 2008 financial crisis, at which Mr. Carney had a front-row seat as Bank of Canada governor, was the result of more than two decades of deregulation, he points out. The climate-change crisis and rising income inequality in developed countries have been similarly driven by the fealty by governments toward markets.
Mr. Carney advocates for a “mission-oriented capitalism” in which “purposeful” corporations see profit as a means to an end. Companies exist not just to make money, “but to improve our lives, expand our horizons and solve society’s problems, both large and small.”
Solving the climate crisis is a biggie, and Mr. Carney has an abiding interest in the issue. The former central banker – who turned 56 last week – joined Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management Inc. as vice-chair and head of ESG (environmental, social, governance), he writes in the book, to pursue a “strategy of relentlessly focusing on decarbonization across the economy while achieving commercial returns for investors.”
This is easier said than done, of course, and Mr. Carney was forced to clarify a comment he made last month to the effect that Brookfield was already a net-zero company because the “avoided emissions” stemming from its investments in renewable power compensated for its investments in fossil fuels. Environmentalists accused him of greenwashing and Mr. Carney later conceded, in a tweet, that “avoided emissions do not count” in net-zero calculations.
In laying out the seven common values that markets should be harnessed to serve – dynamism, resilience, sustainability, fairness, responsibility, solidarity and humility – Mr. Carney provides few detailed policy prescriptions for “building a better world for all,” as the book’s subtitle promises. Most of his policy recommendations fit the mould of those promulgated by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Economic Forum. It is all very neat and tidy, but sausage-making is much messier than this book implies.
Just who gets to decide which “values” take priority over others, especially when they conflict with each other? Governments weigh short-term against long-term imperatives and economic efficiency against equity. As former governor of the Bank of England, whose large-scale purchases of government bonds were widely seen as helping fuel Britain’s inequality-creating property boom, surely Mr. Carney understands the real-world trade-offs policy makers face.
In Britain, where Mr. Carney has arguably an even higher public profile than in his native Canada, reviews of his book have tended to reflect the country’s left-right political divide. Writing in The Guardian, Will Hutton praised Value(s) as an “intellectual broadside at free market fundamentalism” that blames the 2008 financial crash, the climate emergency and the pandemic “on twisted economics, an amoral culture and degraded institutions.”
Ryan Bourne’s review in The Sunday Telegraph, however, described Mr. Carney’s “anti-market rhetoric” as “catnip to a Davos-attending technocratic elite, who bemoan ‘unfettered capitalism’ (despite the fact that, as regulators, lobbyists and beneficiaries of cronyism, they are doing a pretty good job of fettering the supposed laissez-faire consensus).”
If Mr. Carney is contemplating a political career, Value(s) serves as a distillation of his views on economic, social and environmental issues that most Liberals will love. He praises the Trudeau government’s Canada Child Benefit and calls Ottawa’s carbon-pricing framework a “model” for other countries that “gives Canadian businesses the certainty they need to make the investments to set our economy on a sustainable path to a competitive and greener future.”
Small-l liberals, who see value in free markets, will find much less to like in Mr. Carney’s book. And that may just be its whole point.
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