Working Papers

Putting Central Bankers to the Flesch-Kincaid Test:  Greenspan Beats Bernanke

ICAP economist Michael Thomas runs the speeches of leading central bankers through the Flesch-Kincaid test:

Australia’s central bank chiefs are easier to understand than their U.S. peers, though both lose out to straight-talking Bank of England Governor Mervyn King, according to a study by stockbroker ICAP Australia.

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s speeches require listeners to hold a bachelors degree with honors, said Michael Thomas, ICAP Australia’s head of economics. By contrast, high-school leavers could understand the speeches of incoming Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens, and ``on a good day, King could hold court at his local primary school,’’ Thomas said.

The study of recent speeches by central bankers used the Flesch-Kincaid test, which measures syllables per word and words per sentence, to assess how clearly a person speaks, and the education level a listener would need to understand the speaker. Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan was famous for his sometimes obscure language—or, as Thomas put it, ``in his heyday, Greenspan could make a grocery list indecipherable.’’

Still, Greenspan outperformed Bernanke in the Flesch-Kincaid test, while both lagged Australia’s Stevens and the outgoing Reserve Bank Governor Ian Macfarlane.

posted on 14 September 2006 by skirchner in Economics

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