Last week the Financial Times published the obituary of Sir Andrew Crockett. This is sad news indeed. Sir Andrew, the former head of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), was highly regarded in international monetary and financial policy circles. As the FT obituary notes, he fostered the environment of critical thinking and independence of thought at the BIS that allowed Bill White and other colleagues to raise warning flags prior to the global financial crisis. Alas, those concerns were not heeded; the legacies of the crisis will remain with us for some considerable time.
Sir Andrew was deeply committed to international policy cooperation. No doubt this reflected his lengthy tenure at the International Monetary Fund, and the underlying vision of the Bretton Woods institutions, which is to promote global growth and development through international trade and orderly balance of payments adjustment. In this respect, he followed in the path of fellow Briton, John Maynard Keynes.
My own experiences with Sir Andrew were as an observer at various international meetings of one kind or another over the years. I recall most vividly the give and take of debate around the table at meetings of Working Party Three (WP3) at the OECD in Paris. At the time of its creation and for some time afterwards, this forum was the summit of international macro-economic policy debates. It attracted the top policy makers of the major industrial countries to discuss how best to address problems in the global economy.
By the time of my introduction to Sir Andrew at WP3, some of the cachet of the group had been lost, as the locus of decision making was moving to G7 deputies. Nevertheless, it many respects, the group was the intellectual core of international policy-making. In no small measure this was because of the contributions of Crockett. Along with White, Ted Truman, Jean-Claude Trichet, Mario Draghi, the late Mike Mussa and others, he took on the issues of the day with reason, humour and occasionally heated passion. Together they helped guide the decisions subsequently taken by the G7.
Few individuals could summarize a debate as succinctly or as coherently as Sir Andrew. He was, frankly, a master of synthesizing long, often disparate discussions and making sense of it all, ensuring that each speaker's contribution was recognized (often making sense of an intervention that was incomprehensible). But he also had an ability to draw out key policy lessons, drawing on a sense of history as well as strong technical understanding.
In this respect, Sir Andrew was incredibly perceptive. The last occasion at which I saw him action was via a video link at the conference on the future of the Financial Stability Board (FSB) co-hosted by the Bank of Canada, the Banco de Mexico, and CIGI. It was a brilliant performance. He reviewed the history of the Financial Stability Forum (the precursor of the FSB), what went wrong in the lead up to the global crisis, and the financial and economic challenges confronting international policy-makers working to reform global financial regulation to avoid a repetition of the crisis. The goal, he noted, is to strike the right balance between efficiency and stability. Wise words indeed.