Call it the MIT Mafia, but there are now three senior officials at the Reserve Bank, including two leading candidates for the governorship (whenever Glenn Stevens steps down), who all obtained their PhDs at the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the US.

Yesterday, the bank announced the appointment of Dr Jonathon Kearns to head  its Economic Research Department. He is currently deputy head of Domestic Markets Department, having previously held the position of deputy head of Economic Analysis Department. According to the bank’s statement Dr Kearns’ research has focused particularly on financial market issues.

The assistant governor overseeing the economics work at the bank, Phil Lowe got his doctorate from MIT in 1991, while the assistant governor in charge of financial markets, Guy Debelle, got his in 1994. Both also did time at the Bank of International Settlements, the so-called central bankers central bank based in Basel, Switzerland.

Only the top-flight central bankers are sent there for experience and exposure to global issues. Dr Debelle also had a stint at the IMF. Dr Lowe is a RBA lifer, except for his time at the BIS.

Dr Debelle started in federal treasury (which is not held against him) and then switched to the RBA. He has also done time as a visiting professor at MIT. Dr Debelle has had the busier time of the two in the past three years, overseeing the way the bank handled the enormous impact of the credit crunch and GFC on the Australian financial markets and system especially the banks.

He was at the forefront in dealing with the loss of international liquidity that hit Australia in late 2008 after the Lehman brothers’ failure and the collapse of other banks in the US, Germany, UK and Europe, along with the bank’s stability department, which was led by Dr Lowe and then Dr Malcolm Edey during the tough months of late 2008.

Dr Kearns’ work on financial markets issues makes him a future contender for  Debelle’s gig, along with Luci Ellis, who heads the financial stability department, which is finishing off the second financial stability review for the year. That will be released next week on September 30.  Ellis was recruited from the Bank of International Settlements a couple of years ago to become head of the financial stability department. While at the BIS she wrote an important paper explaining why the American housing market collapsed. But she is probably more of a future successor to Dr Malcolm Edey, who presently oversees the Australian Financial System for the bank.

Dr Lowe swapped roles with Dr Edey in December 2008 (just before Christmas). That was seen as giving Dr Lowe more exposure the major economic decisions at the bank. The assistant governorship of the RBA (economic), is described by the bank as being “chief economic adviser to the governor and the board.” The Consigliere of the RBA, perhaps, to extend the mafia metaphor a little too far?

Dr Lowe and Dr Debelle have headed the bank’s economic analysis department. Dr Lower headed up the financial stability, research and domestic markets departments as well and Dr Debelle, the international department. Dr Debelle followed deputy governor Ric Battellino into the role of assistant governor in charge of  financial markets.

Dr Lowe has had to grapple with uncharted waters in that he was overseeing an economy that wouldn’t lay down and die, when many though it would because of the impact of the GFC and the global recession.

Thanks to record interest rate cuts (overseeing the analysis on that was a big part of his gig) and the the stimulus from the federal government, Australia escaped. China has kicked in, along with India and Japan in its own way and now Dr Lowe is overseeing the basis for the next rate rise, which is coming after the latest RBA board minutes made that clear yesterday, except for the timing.

This is not to say that Stevens and  Battellino are absent, or not involved. They are, heavily. But except when Paul Keating parachuted Bernie Fraser into the RBA from Treasury, the central bank has looked inside for its leaders.

Dr Lowe made a major speech in Sydney last week that set up the context for Stevens’ speech in Shepparton on Monday and then the release of the September board meeting minutes yesterday.

All this is designed to lead the debate towards an interest rate rise either at the October meeting, or the Melbourne Cup day meeting in November.

Led by the work of Dr Lowe and others, with input from other departments, the bank now sees an inevitability about the inflationary pressures starting to re-emerge because of the unprecedented strength of the resources boom and the enormous surge in investment that’s feeding off it. Mining industry investment  alone is expected to reach an estimated 6.5% of GDP at its peak in 2012 and then continue around that level for several more years as the huge LNG projects in Queensland and WA replace iron ore ands coal spending.

Total investment from all sectors will be 10% or more of GDP at its peak, despite the impact of the stronger dollar on some areas, such as manufacturing. That’s what’s driving the bank’s thinking on interest rates. And why, when they see consumer spending stronger than expected in the second quarter accounts and since then in retail sales and other figures, the bank has advanced its rate rise timing.

Footnote: Glenn Stevens’ appointment is up in September 2013, so it will have to be dealt with by the government before the 2013 federal election. Assuming the current arrangements in Canberra do not collapse, that’s something for Prime Minister Gillard and Treasurer Swan.