I was asked by someone, who is definitely not an economist, why I had problems with an independent central bank last week. I explained it like this.
Suppose that instead of running the economy the government was running a restaurant. And that it decided that the most important thing when doing so was that the ovens should never go above 180C. This was the rigid rule, and it worked: the best heeled customers had always ordered roast beef browned right through to the middle and since that could be done at 180C (or less) then why on earth was there a need for anything else?
In that case, to make sure that this rule was enforced, the government decided to appoint a committee of experts, although they weren't cooks with real experience of kitchens. They were instead cooker engineers and if ever there was any risk of temperature variation they would not think of varying the recipe for the dish of the day but would instead tinker with the mechanics of the control system, subject to one priviso. This was that if anyone tried to turn the temperature in the oven up then they would just turn the whole thing off.
But this had two serious consequences. First the chef realised that, much as a small part of the potential clientele liked roast beef cooked until there was not a hint of flavour or texture left, there were also available a whole range of ideas that required experimentation, risk taking and investment in new skills, and all these things would be necessary to satisfy those beyond the the restuartant's usual range of patrons, whose numbers were small. She just wanted to, at least once, cook the joint really rare, but this required (as an old friend once advised me, and she was right) just 12 minutes at 250C. This was never going to happen under the current regime.
Second, both the the government in the role of restaurant owner and the cooking engineers in the role of the Montetary Policy Committee had altogether forgotten that there was a hob on top of the oven, which also got turned off if the 180C rule was broken: their on/off threat was a might blunt instrument in a world where finesse was required if demand was to be met.
Would that be the way to run a restaurant, I asked My friend? It might keep a few happy, but what about most? And in the event of a crisis what options would be available? The answer was, of course, precious few because the person I was talking too can, I know, cook rather well.
So why then, I asked, do we insist on running the economy at a low temperature (which is the equivalent of the inflation target) and without real use of the hob (otherwise called fiscal policy), with rules enforced by a technical committee with remarkably little real world experience between them (the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee), and all because the government think the economy must serve the interests of a few (the wealthy who want low inflation, and who eat overdone roast beef) at cost to the rest of society who now know the real food potential of the country is enormous, and utterly constrained by rules that make no sense?
I think my friend got the point.