LONDON — Bank of England deputy governor Ben Broadbent has been forced to apologise after describing the UK economy as “menopausal.”
The deputy governor, who sits on the committee that sets UK interest rates, told the Telegraph in an interview that financial experts used the “menopausal” metaphor for economies that were “past their peak and no longer so potent.”
Ben Broadbent said Britain’s current low productivity growth resembled the end of the 19th century when the age of steam had passed its peak but the new era of electricity was yet to begin.
British productivity “slowed pretty much to a halt” around the end of the 19th century after peaking, as it entered a “climacteric” period, Broadbent said. The word “climacteric” is a term borrowed from biology meaning “you’ve passed your productive peak,” he said.
“It has the same Latin roots as ‘climax’ and means ‘menopausal’ but it applies to both genders,” Broadbent said.
The country could be going through a similar period now as Internet-driven growth slows and new revolutionary technologies like Artificial Intelligence are yet take off, Broadbent said.
His choice of words drew criticism from many readers on Twitter. ITV’s political editor tweeted: “Sloppy, empirically unsound and potentially offensive use of language by Bank of England deputy governor.”
The Bank of England issued a follow-up statement from Broadbent on Wednesday morning in response. It read:
“I’m sorry for my poor choice of language in an interview with the Telegraph yesterday and regret the offence caused. I was explaining the meaning of the word “climacteric”, a term used by economic historians to describe a period of low productivity growth during the nineteenth century. Economic productivity is something which affects every one of us, of all ages and genders.”
The statement comes during a time when the Bank of England are trying to move away from gendered economic such as “grandfathering.”
Broadbent told the Telegraph that opinion is still split over exactly what is causing the current shortfall in productivity, which has lasted nearly ten years and has seen low growth and stagnant wages.
UK GDP growth also slowed to 0.1% in the first quarter of this year. Productivity, measured by output per hour worked, also fell by 0.5%.
In 2017 the Financial Times published a list of four theories for Britain’s productivity woes. It suggested low interest rates could be keeping unproductive “zombie companies” afloat, or that perhaps our techniques for measuring productivity are ineffective.
Broadbent said this would be a source of speculation for many years because almost 150 years after the UK’s last “menopausal” phase, economists still disagree over what caused it.
“I [therefore] don’t have high expectations of our knowing precisely what’s going on at the moment,” he said.