Executive Override of Central Banks: A Comparison of the Legal Frameworks in the United States and the United Kingdom
This Article examines executive branch powers to “override” the decisions of an independent central bank. It focuses in particular on the power and authority of a nation’s executive branch to direct its central bank, thereby circumscribing canonical central bank independence. To investigate this issue, this Article compares two types of executive overrides: those found in the United States, exercised by the U.S. Treasury (Treasury) over the U.S. Federal Reserve (the Fed), and those in the United Kingdom, exercised by Her Majesty’s Treasury (HM Treasury) over the Bank of England (the Bank). This Article finds that in the former, the power is informal and subject to minimal formal oversight, whereas in the latter, there are legal powers of executive override within an established and transparent legal framework.
This Article is the first piece of scholarship to undertake comparative analysis of the legal powers of executive override over these two leading central banks. The comparison is indeed striking—it juxtaposes the express, but limited, legal powers of HM Treasury to direct the Bank of England with the ad hoc and informal conventions of Treasury or presidential control of the Federal Reserve. The comparative analysis begs a paradoxical question in the conception of central bank independence: could a narrowly tailored set of override powers that authorize a treasury, with oversight from the legislature, to direct a central bank in exigent circumstances yield a sturdier form of central bank independence than a system which establishes few or limited legal mechanisms of executive override? Ultimately, this analysis prompts renewed examination of the way in which the law structures the Fed’s independence vis-á-vis the Treasury and the President, informed by lessons from the U.K. design.