Noisy politics, quiet technocrats? Central banking in contentious times

Uses computational text analysis to study how central banks react to politicization.

Benjamin Braun

Maximilian Düsterhöft


In a break from the quiet politics of the pre-2008 period, when delegation arrangements were remarkably stable, many policy areas have become increasingly ‘noisy’. How do independent agencies designed for quiet politics react when a contentious public turns the volume up on them? We theorize that depending on the levels of epistemic uncertainty and political salience, agencies choose between different modes of engagement: Whereas strategic ignorance, organized hypocrisy, and strategic silence are aimed at quelling ‘noise’ and sustaining depoliticization, head-on engagement means to enter the political fray to engage critics directly and openly. Focusing on the case of unconventional monetary policy in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, we hypothesize that the high-salience and high-uncertainty conditions under which central banks implemented quantitative easing programs made them prone to seeking to dodge public contention via strategic silence. To test this hypothesis, we study central bank communication on sensitive topics related to quantitative easing. Using panel regression analysis on a dataset of more than 11,000 central bank speeches, we find that central banks conducting QE programs exhibited strategic silence on house prices, private debt, and climate change. Their strategic silence varies in line with countries’ growth models and the parameters of QE programs. These findings point to significant technocratic agency in the de- and re-politicization of policy issues.

Draft paper available here.