The Bank of Jamaica uses reggae to explain monetary policy : The Indicator from Planet Money Jamaica's Central Bank has a unique way of explaining its policies: Reggae music videos. The Indicator talks with the Central Bank about why they've taken this unique approach.
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Jamaican Monetary Policy: Behind The Music

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Jamaican Monetary Policy: Behind The Music

Jamaican Monetary Policy: Behind The Music

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1, BYLINE: NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

The economic news is pretty rough right now. What used to be just, you know, scrolling through headlines is now called doomscrolling. But the other day, as I was doomscrolling, I saw a bit of light in all this doom. It was a press release from the central bank of Jamaica, which does not sound like a light in all the doom, but bear with me. It was a music video explaining inflation - definitely not the typical thing you see from a central bank.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "BANK OF JAMAICA - INFLATION TARGETING FT. DENYQUE")

DENYQUE MULLINGS: (Singing) When inflation's stable and predictable, that's the way to go.

VANEK SMITH: I needed to figure out what was going on, so I called them up.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "BANK OF JAMAICA - INFLATION TARGETING FT. DENYQUE")

MULLINGS: (Singing) People are gonna cry. When it's too low, the economy can't grow.

VANEK SMITH: This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith. Today on the show, we call up the central bank of Jamaica to ask about their inflation music video explainer. What's going on? What are they trying to do? And why now?

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "BANK OF JAMAICA - INFLATION TARGETING FT. DENYQUE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This is a message from Bank of Jamaica.

MULLINGS: (Singing) We don't want it too high.

VANEK SMITH: So we called up the central bank of Jamaica to ask what was going on with their music video. And they put us in touch with Wayne Robinson, an economist and deputy governor at the central bank of Jamaica. Hello, Wayne. You're here with us now. Thanks for joining us. First very basic question - what does the central bank of Jamaica do?

WAYNE ROBINSON: OK. Have you heard about the Fed, the U.S. Fed?

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter).

ROBINSON: I'm sure you have.

VANEK SMITH: I mean, yes, but (laughter)...

ROBINSON: Well, we are the equivalent of the U.S. Fed in Jamaica, responsible for overseeing the financial system, and we're also responsible for monetary policy and the issuing of notes and coins.

VANEK SMITH: So I was on Twitter kind of scrolling through very distressing stories, and I saw something that you posted on the Jamaican central bank. And it was like - it was all these dancers and it was like - it was like a music video.

ROBINSON: Yes. I think you are speaking to our...

VANEK SMITH: So what was I looking at?

ROBINSON: OK. The government took a policy decision as a part of its economic reform program transitioning our monetary policy framework and our monetary policy strategy to what is called a full-fledged inflation targeting strategy. This, in essence...

VANEK SMITH: See, what you're saying now is exactly - like, that is the kind of language I expect out of a central bank, right? I mean, it's very - it's very technical. It's very measured.

ROBINSON: Precisely. I think you're not alluding to the challenge we face then. How do we break down just what I said to you in language that every single individual can understand and can appreciate? And that was the challenge we give to our PR department. And one of the things - if you know Jamaica, you know that we're a country that is renowned and we love music. And the PR department decided to actually try to capitalize on this to try to tell the story in a language that everybody speaks and everybody understands. And that language is music, particularly reggae music.

VANEK SMITH: Music video with, like, dancing and, like, everybody's talking about inflation rates (laughter).

ROBINSON: Yes.

VANEK SMITH: And it's the - what is it? - the low, stable and predictable inflation dancers.

ROBINSON: Low, stable and predictable inflation. Yeah.

VANEK SMITH: And inflation's just - it's the amount that prices rise. So if inflation is really high, that means prices are going up a lot, and people get really scared because their saving starts to be - feel less valuable.

ROBINSON: Right. And businesses also begin to worry so then they will then cut back on their investments as well. So that will affect employment and growth.

VANEK SMITH: I feel like for a long time, at least at the central bank of the U.S., I mean, there was sort of an effort made to be as cryptic as possible. The idea of clearly communicating monetary policy so that everyone can understand - like, that's actually not - that's pretty new.

ROBINSON: Well, a number of central banks, you know, have actually recognized this imperative. And a number of central banks have tried to change their approach. But I think coming out of the global financial crisis where one of the major challenges we encountered was that our traditional tools of monetary policy - I think right across the globe, central banks recognized that we had to augment those traditional tools and in a context where expectations - where the market expectations and with ordinary man's expectations really matter a lot, the central banks came to the realization that they had to then adjust how they communicate in order to affect those very same expectations, which are important.

VANEK SMITH: Central banks, they're known for being very formal, very stuffy, very cryptic. And even though there has been some movement away from that, like, you guys have just gone, like, totally in the other direction. I mean, this is, like, this video - it's, like, exuberant and fun and people are dancing. And it's just like so - it's, like, the opposite of everything I associate with central banks.

ROBINSON: That was a deliberate strategy because we recognize that at the outset, the first thing that we needed to do was to grab people's attention because, as I say, economics, monetary policy issues, tend to be very cryptic, very boring, very, to use your term, we come across as being very stuffy. So we had to radically change that. So as I said, the first step was to grab attention. And then the next phase then was to then try and break down the issues. To do that, we had to do something radical.

VANEK SMITH: I feel like one of the things that central banks really try to do - it's, like, very important for them to be taken seriously because there's a lot of trust that is necessary in a banking system. Was there any worry that, like, this might make people trust the central bank less, that it might seem like less serious?

ROBINSON: No, no. That wasn't our concern, really, because one thing we really recognize was a need to connect to people. You can't build that trust unless you create a bridge, unless you make that connection. And so this was the main strategy that we thought was necessary to make that connection in order to build that trust.

VANEK SMITH: Do you think other central banks should take a page from you guys and be sort of more fun, more accessible?

ROBINSON: Oh, sure. Oh, most definitely. But the precise strategy, the precise method, would be a function of the audience that they're targeting.

VANEK SMITH: Are you in - are you in Kingston right now?

ROBINSON: Yes, the capital, yes.

VANEK SMITH: Are you working from home? Are you going to the office now?

ROBINSON: Well, a combination. Some days, I'm in; some days, I work from home. One of the strangest thing is that coming into the office, you're virtually alone here because we have minimal staff that comes in.

VANEK SMITH: Do you miss your co-workers?

ROBINSON: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. And the coffee breaks, the chats over coffee, yes, that sort of camaraderie that comes about via this direct social interaction, you know? And as an institution now, we are thinking of ways, you know, to still sort of encourage this even in this virtual world.

VANEK SMITH: Well, thank you so much for making the time. I so appreciate it.

ROBINSON: Oh, that's my pleasure, Stacey.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "BANK OF JAMAICA - INFLATION TARGETING FT. DENYQUE")

MULLINGS: (Singing) 'Cause GOJ and BOJ run the race. The foundation well ready for private sector. Get busy (ph).

VANEK SMITH: This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Darian Woods and Jamila Huxtable. THE INDICATOR is edited by Paddy Hirsch and is a production of NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "BANK OF JAMAICA - INFLATION TARGETING FT. DENYQUE")

MULLINGS: (Singing) When inflation's stable and predictable, that's the way to go. 'Cause when it's high, people are gonna cry. When it's too low, the economy can't grow.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This is a message from Bank of Jamaica.

MULLINGS: (Singing) We don't want it too high.

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