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A governor swap may be just the ticket

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Central bankers are a reserved species, writes William Pesek

Glenn Stevens Reserve Bank Governor appeared before the House Economics Committee at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday 8 October 2012.

Glenn Stevens Reserve Bank Governor appeared before the House Economics Committee at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday 8 October 2012. Photo: Andrew Meares

The Bank of England's choice of a Canadian as its next governor sure makes you think.

It was plenty interesting when Israel seven years ago tapped US economist Stanley Fisher, who was born in Northern Rhodesia. But the eighth-biggest economy reaching 6000 kilometres across the Atlantic to hire Mark Carney raises central-bank headhunting to a new level. It also could inspire more creative staffing at even bigger monetary authorities.

Take China, which is on the lookout for a successor to Zhou Xiaochuan at the People's Bank of China. It needs someone with the gravitas to liberalise a financial system that lacks a convertible currency and an international bond market, and faces daunting deregulation challenges. China also must keep its various bubbles from popping.

How about Mervyn King? The man Carney will replace would offer new and useful ideas at a pivotal moment. In his nine-plus years guiding the Bank of England, King proved far more proactive than the European Central Bank and advocated bank reform. He was early in warning against the evils of moral hazard as bailout mania swept the West.

Near the top of any list of risks to China's future are the huge state-run banks that tower over the economy. Reining in their excessive lending to political elites bent on self-enrichment would honour the spirit of Deng Xiaoping's vision. King isn't a perfect choice - the London interbank offered rate scandal unfolded on his watch - but then who is?

Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens is worth a look. Since China is buying so much of Australia's natural resources to fuel growth in ways that affect both economies, synergies abound. There are few more respected policymakers than Stevens, whose term ends next year.

China could ask Kim Choong-soo to leave his post at the Bank of Korea a year early. He has been a strong voice on the global stage and shunned the seniority-based promotion system that holds much of Asia back.

OK, so this is all improbable. China's Communist Party probably wouldn't even hire someone from Hong Kong to manage mainland interest rates, let alone a Westerner. Nationalism and single-party rule make for insularity when the time comes to fill top posts. Yet today's problems are without precedent. The risk is that China names a predictable replacement for Zhou who acts timidly at a time when serious reform is needed.

Think about it. How many major companies, when looking for exceptional leaders, look abroad? In the same vein, there is no good reason for central banks to confine their search for talent to national boundaries. Monetary policy in Washington, Frankfurt or Beijing has consequences far beyond the borders. Look at it another way. What's the harm in a central-banking version of visiting professorships? The faculties of the world's great universities are filled with scholars from around the world.

There's lot of banking know-how out there. Jean-Claude Trichet is a free agent, able to entertain offers now that he no longer heads the European Central Bank. For developing nations seeking a hard-money guy, Juergen Stark, who stepped down as the ECB's chief economist, probably is available. Former Bundesbank president Axel Weber is back in the private sector. Perhaps he's itching for a return to the public sphere.

If your currency is under attack, you could ring up Philipp Hildebrand, former president of the Swiss National Bank, or Joseph Yam, the former Hong Kong Monetary Authority chief. Both know a thing or two about holding off speculators. If you want more headlines, Japan's Eisuke Sakakibara, a former Ministry of Finance official known as ''Mr Yen'', is always around.

Japan could use some fresh blood, too. Not since governor Yasushi Mieno in 1989 has the Bank of Japan really surprised anyone. Japan is sick of deflation and quantitative-easing isn't working. Why not strike a deal to swap BOJ governor Masaaki Shirakawa for Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke for 12 months? Each has the skills the other's nation needs.

Shirakawa might drain excess money from the US banking system, while Bernanke's willingness to go further and further into uncharted monetary territory would cheer Tokyo and weaken the yen.

Perhaps the International Monetary Fund should thrust cross-border staffing into the spotlight and argue its merits in our interconnected financial world.

Speaking of the IMF, a little outsourcing might not hurt. Managing director Christine Lagarde is too busy trying to save bungling European officials from themselves to discipline global markets. Paul Volcker, the former Fed chief, would top any wish list to take a job as IMF banking czar. Yet at 85, Volcker might be a tough sell. Why not Rudy Giuliani?

The mercurial former New York City mayor and prosecutor might be just the thing to chasten bankers thinking they got away with the subprime-loan crisis. That could change if the IMF deputised the guy who brought down Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken and mafia dons, leaving the global financial system better off.

Our most powerful policymakers tirelessly preach the gospel of capitalism and unfettered markets. Why not a global market for central bankers? Our current system of picking them isn't working.

William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist.

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