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Justin Fox

A Central Banker’s Plea for Less Power

Former Bank of England official Paul Tucker thinks technocrats need to retreat, at least a little.

Hold up.

Hold up.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

After more than 30 years at the Bank of England, the last four-plus as deputy governor for financial stability in the immediate aftermath of the global financial crisis, Paul Tucker left in late 2013 for a fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he started work on a book. I was in the same fellowship program at the same time and was also starting work on a book, of which I have now written 1 1/2 chapters. Meanwhile, the Princeton University Press has just published Tucker’s 656-page “Unelected Power: The Quest for Legitimacy in Central Banking and the Regulatory State.” So that’s a little chastening.

It is also, it turns out, a really important and timely book about the role and the limitations of what U.S. scholars generally call the administrative state, the seemingly inexorable expansion of which is at least partly to blame for recent populist uprisings in the U.S. and Europe. For the past couple of years, political scientist Philip Wallach, now at the center-right R Street Institute in Washington, has been trying to get people to pay attention to what he has called “the administrative state’s legitimacy crisis” (I wrote about this in 2016). Now he has an ally from across the Atlantic in Tucker.