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Strictly Confidential (FR)
Class I - FOMC

A Modern History of FOMC Communication:
1975-2002

David E. Lindsey
Deputy Director, Division of Monetary Affairs
Associate Economist, Federal Open Market Committee

June 24, 2003

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are not necessarily shared by the Federal
Open Market Committee, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, or other members of the
staff of either organization.

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

Strictly Confidential (FR)
Class I - FOMC

A Modern History of FOMC Communication:
1975-2002

David E. Lindsey
Deputy Director, Division of Monetary Affairs
Associate Economist, Federal Open Market Committee

June 24, 2003

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

Dedicated to my mother, Elizabeth Smith Lindsey

Acknowledgments
I would like to thank the following people for their help in the preparation of this document:
Stephen Axilrod, Ben Bernanke, Normand Bernard, Emily Cauble, Radha Chaurushiya, James Clouse,
Benson Durham, Ellen Dykes, Pamela Eliff, Dennis Farley, Roger Ferguson, Sharon Ferguson,
Gregg Forte, Robert Frierson, Gary Gillum, Christopher Greene, Dale Henderson, Mary Hoffman,
Dorothy Jensik, Ruth Judson, Donald Kohn, Carol Low, Matthew Leucke, Brian Madigan,
Heather McNett, Ryan Michaels, Athanasios Orphanides, Richard Porter, Wanda Quick,
Vincent Reinhart, Brian Sack, Stephen Siciliano, David Skidmore, Jeffrey Slone, David Small,
Nancy Steele, Diane Werneke, William Whitesell, and Donald Winn.

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CONTENTS
Executive Summary .............................................................
The Structure of Policy Implementation and the Type of Operating Target ..................
................................
The Setting of the Operating Target .. . ..........
..........................
The Disclosure of Detailed Deliberations ................
...................................
The Principles of Policy Design ................
Prologue: An Exchange of Letters ...................................................

. vii
vii
. x
xi
xi
xiii

I. The Second Half of the 1970s: Rising Inflation and Operating on the Funds Rate ... 1
Discontinuing the Memoranda of Discussion ................
.......................
3
14
Releasing the Directive with a Delay and Altering Its Content ...........................
Complying with New Legislative Goals and Reporting Requirements ......................
24
II. October 1979 to September 1982: Controlling M1 and Operating
on Nonborrowed Reserves ................................................
Adopting New Monetary Control Procedures .....................................
............................
Adapting the Content of the Directive ...............
Complying with the Legislative Initiative for Monetary Targeting .........................

39
. 41
44
47

III. October 1982 to November 1989: Disinflation and Operating
on Borrowed Reserves ....................................................
Altering Operating Procedures ...................
...............................
Adjusting the Content of the Directive .................
...........................
Defending the Need for Releasing the Directive with a Delay ...........................
Complying with Legislative Requirements in Conducting Policy ..........................

67
69
71
78
87

IV. The 1990s: Further Disinflation and Operating on the Federal Funds Rate ...... 103
Responding to Representative Gonzalez on Minutes and Transcripts ......................
105
130
Complying with Existing Legislative Goals and Reporting Requirements ..................
155
Refining the Content of the Directive and the Immediate Announcement ...................
V. 2000 to 2002: The Current Era .........................................
Implementing Reforms to the Immediate Announcement ...............................
Reassessing and Retaining Disclosure Methods .....................................
Complying with Legislative Goals and Changing Reporting Requirements .................
VI. 1969-2003:Q1: Evolving Design of Monetary Policy ..........................
Designing Monetary Policy .....................................................
. ............................
Summary of Evolving Policy Design ..............
VII. Conclusion

...........................................................

183
185
194
195
201
203
237
243

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A MODERN HISTORY OF FOMC COMMUNICATION: 1975-2002
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
This paper chronicles the evolution of the Federal Open Market Committee's policy for
communicating with the public during the last quarter century. The stages of this process are
summarized by the titles of the first five chapters, which are repeated in the general headings of
the table below. The chapters are organized according to the operating target used by the FOMC
during the particular era. Within each chapter, the paper examines the communication of four
aspects of monetary policymaking:
1. the structure of policy implementation, including the type of operating target
2. the specific setting of that operating target at each time and, in some eras, indications
about possible future action
3. the details of the deliberative process behind the FOMC's decisions
4. the principles behind the policy design that the FOMC implicitly used to determine
its policy stance.
The evolution of the last aspect of policymaking is only touched upon in the first five chapters
but is analyzed in more detail in the sixth chapter.
The sixth chapter presents estimates of the FOMC's "reaction function" in an attempt to assess
whether differences in communication strategy were associated with statistically significant
differences in the way the policy instrument was determined. This chapter, which is written at a
more technical level than the rest of the paper, interprets such FOMC reaction functions as only
implicit because correlation cannot reveal conscious FOMC intent. Instead, the FOMC in each
stage is presumed to have acted "as if" it were implementing the specified reaction function.
Also, distinct demarcations between periods with differing policy designs cannot
always be determined with precision.
A chronology of the key milestones in FOMC communication emerges as a byproduct of
this examination (see the table below). A brief conclusion in the seventh chapter finishes the
text.
A prologue sets the stage for the treatment of the last half of the 1970s. It consists of an
exchange of letters in 1975 between Chairman Arthur Burns and Representative Wright Patman
(Democrat from Texas and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary
Policy).
The Structure of Policy Implementation and the Type of Operating Target
The FOMC of the 1970s transmitted fairly clearly the structure of its operations through the
policy record, congressional testimonies, speeches, and staff papers. In that decade, the FOMC
solidified the role of the federal funds rate as its operating instrument. It confined movements of
the funds rate within narrow limits around its expected value, although it allowed the Manager
for Domestic Operations in consultation with the Chairman to make small intermeeting
adjustments in response to the behavior of money and bank credit.

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A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

viii

Key Events in the Modem History of FOMC Communication, 1975-2002
Date

Event
Rising inflation and operating on the funds rate

1975: March 18
March 24
1976: February 17
March 15
March 29
May 18
May 18
June 30
1977: February 15
February 15
November 16
December 14
1978: January 13
October 27
1979: February 6
June 28
July 11

Shortening the delay in the release of the policy record
Adapting to the congressional resolution on reporting 12-month-ahead ranges
Forming the Subcommittee on the memorandum of discussion
Supporting the memorandum of discussion
Reversing field on the memorandum of discussion
Discontinuing the memorandum of discussion
Shortening further the delay in the release of the policy record
Testifying before the Joint Economic Committee
Introducing monetary tolerance ranges in the operational paragraph
Noting the inapplicability of the Government in the Sunshine Act
Receiving multiple objectives in the Federal Reserve Reform Act of 1977
Assessing the impact of immediate release on the Directive
Asking for legislative relief
Accepting the Humphrey-Hawkins Act
Picking the first calendar-year money and credit ranges
Winning the Merrill case
Compiling the first semiannual macroeconomic forecasts
Controlling M and operating on nonborrowed reserves

1979: October 6
October 6
1980: January 9
February 4
March 14
July 9
December 18
1981: February 2
February
1982: June 30
July 1

Replacing the funds rate with nonborrowed reserves
Alluding to reserve aggregates and widening the funds rate band
Reintroducing quantitative short-run monetary ranges
Redefining the monetary aggregates
Implementing credit controls
Resisting setting annual ranges for the next year
Introducing a violation of the funds rate band as a signal for consultation
Accounting for nationwide NOWs with shift adjustment
Evaluating the new monetary control procedures
Aiming at the upper bound of a constant annual M1 range
Perceiving the need for more flexibility in policy design
Disinflation and operating on borrowed reserves

1982: Fall
October 5
November 16
1983: February 8
February 9
March 29
November 15
1984: January 31
June 26
Summer
August 24
1985: March 26
July 18
1986: January
1987: February 10
November 3
1989: November 22

Replacing nonborrowed with borrowed reserves
Abandoning M1 temporarily
Considering the pros and cons of immediate release
Adjusting the annual M2 range for MMDAs and demoting the M range
Converting to restraint on reserve positions
Converting the internal Red Book to the public Beige Book
Introducing the tilt
Introducing the degree of pressure on reserve positions
Replying to Peter Flanigan of Dillon, Read & Co.
Tightening while not tightening: The Continental Illinois episode
Writing to Representative Fauntroy
Introducing the ranking of policy factors
Responding to Senator Mattingly
Eliciting a critique of the defense of delay in the Merrill case
Dropping the annual M1 range
Targeting reserve pressure flexibly
Eating humble pie along with the Thanksgiving turkey

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Executive Summary

Key Events in the Modern History of FOMC Communication, 1975-2002-CONTINUED
Date

Event
Further disinflation and operating on the federal funds rate

1990: November 13
1991: August 20
December 17
1992: July 21
October 8
1993: February 2
February 2
February 3
March 23
May 18
July 6
July 20
October 5
October 15
October 19
October 22
November 16
December 21
1994: February 3
February 4
July 5
July 5
1995: February 1
February 2
February 2
July 6
1996: July 2
1997: February 4
July 1
August 19
1998: December 22
December 22
1999: May 18
December 21

Deleting the range for the federal funds rate
Considering more automaticity in the funds rate
Amending the ranking of policy factors
Tracking M2 while being overtaken by the Four Horsemen
Receiving disclosure questions from Representative Gonzalez
Discussing the timing and extent of disclosure
Downgrading broad money to information-variable status
Removing a quantitative short-run M2 range from the operational paragraph
Creating the minutes of the FOMC meeting
Leaking the asymmetric tilt
Receiving Representative Gonzalez's reaction
Sticking to their guns
Preparing to testify before the House banking committee
Preparing further to testify before the House banking committee
Testifying before the House banking committee
Leaking makes the transcripts an issue
Deciding on the disposition of past transcripts
Letting Representative Gonzalez's stafflisten to the October 15 tape
Rejecting a more-distant horizon for the macroeconomic forecasts
Introducing the immediate announcement
Rejecting an even-more-distant horizon for the macroeconomic forecasts
Relegating the broad monetary ranges to benchmark status
Rejecting multiyear inflation targets
Deciding on the disposition of future transcripts
Formalizing rules for immediate announcements
Giving the funds rate target in the immediate announcement
Considering the working definition of, and approach to, price stability
Accelerating release of the directive by one day
Considering the working definition of, and approach to, price stability
Giving the funds rate target in the operational paragraph
Amending the tilt wording and deleting the qualitative money sentence
Announcing major shifts of view without a policy change infrequently
Announcing a change in the tilt immediately
Agreeing on the balance of risks and shortening the directive
The current era

2000: January 19
January 19
December 27
2002: March 19
March 19
March 19

Making an immediate announcement after each meeting
Announcing the balance of risks
Replacing the expired reporting requirements of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act
Announcing the FOMC vote immediately
Continuing the rules and understandings for the blackout period and speeches
Continuing the schedule for the minutes

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Unfortunately, the FOMC at that time found that moving the overnight funds rate by enough to
control money was not easy with its operating approach of directly deciding the setting of that
rate itself. The results for inflation in the 1970s suggested that the FOMC had acted "too littletoo late;" so as the decade came to an end, the FOMC in a dramatic step replaced the funds rate
with nonborrowed reserves as its operating instrument, in part to prove its heightened resolve to
control monetary expansion. The Committee laid out for the public the basic principles of the
new operating procedures in some detail. Although the FOMC used this instrument to slow the
trend growth of M1 over the next three years and inflation responded, in the end the vagaries of
M1 demand proved to be the undoing of operating on nonborrowed reserves.
The Committee replaced nonborrowed reserves with borrowed reserves in its operations at some
point in the fall of 1982, after it had effectively abandoned targeting slow M1 growth as its
policy design principle at midyear. In contrast to the October 1979 step, the switch in operating
procedures was not immediately described publicly-indeed, it was not described until April
1984. The Committee's downplaying of M1 targeting in the second half of 1982 and its
subsequent dropping of nonborrowed reserves could have been defended with solid analytic
reasons, and Chairman Volcker did explain part of the case for the discontinuation of M1
targeting. However, had the revised operating procedures and their rationale been fully laid out
at the time, they might well have been interpreted on superficial examination as representing a
wholesale reversion to the failed approach of the 1970s. These points are offered not to excuse
the FOMC's lack of transparency at the time but rather to warn about the problems that even a
justified reform can pose for public relations if an opposing point of view has a significant
following.
The FOMC was more forthcoming in later years about switching its operating target from
borrowed reserves to the federal funds rate-temporarily after the stock market crash in October
1987 and permanently after Thanksgiving 1989. Even so, for a few years some FOMC
statements were elliptic in describing the funds rate target. The obscurity evidently did no harm
because the intended funds rate became clear, generally in a day or two, from the operations of
the Trading Desk.
The Setting of the Operating Target
In terms of transmitting to the public the specific setting of the operating target, in the 1970s the
FOMC similarly relied on the signals imparted by Trading Desk operations, which sent a fairly
transparent message. By contrast, the specific operating targets were not so apparent to outside
observers in the regimes of both nonborrowed reserves in the early 1980s and borrowed reserves
in the rest of the 1980s. The Desk's signals about the intended funds rate again became easy to
read in the first four years of the 1990s. The Committee moved to an immediate announcement
of changes in its policy stance in early 1994.
In May 1999, the FOMC started to disclose immediately its "tilt," or "bias," which indicated its
predisposition regarding possible future action. After experiencing some difficulty, the
Committee replaced its tilt in early 2000 with the "balance-of-risks" statement, which
encapsulated its judgment about the key probabilities in the macroeconomic outlook relative to
its dual objectives. At the same time, an immediate announcement came to be issued after every

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Executive Summary

xi

meeting whether or not the Committee had voted to make any changes; this overall
announcement occasionally contained hints about the likelihood of possible future policy action.
The Disclosure of Detailed Deliberations

The Committee's disclosure practices regarding the details of its deliberations also have evolved
over the years. In response to court decisions arising from the Merrill Freedom of Information
Act suit in 1975, the FOMC decided that it would no longer communicate to the public a detailed
accounting of its deliberative process. It discontinued the heavily edited but thorough
"memoranda of discussion" of its meetings as of late March 1976; these memoranda had been
released after five years. At the same time, it expanded the policy record and reduced the delay
of the release to shortly after the subsequent meeting.
In 1993, Representative Henry B. Gonzalez (Democrat from Texas and chairman of the House
Banking Committee) mounted an assault on the FOMC's disclosure policy regarding the detailed
coverage of its meetings. The Federal Reserve instituted the current minutes of FOMC
meetings. Then it acknowledged the existence of unedited transcripts going back in time, and
subsequently it decided to release those transcripts, after light editing, with a five-year lag.
Ultimately, the gap resulting from the discontinuation of the memoranda of discussion as of late
March 1976 will be completely bridged by the release of these transcripts. Transcripts of
subsequent meetings have also been released after the passage of five years.
The Principles of Policy Design

During the 1970s, the FOMC increased its emphasis on money, setting targets for monetary
growth, with mixed results. Also, it evidently wished to act preemptively, though cautiously, to
keep inflation contained while maintaining relatively full employment. That is, it evidently

consulted forecasts of inflation and resource use in calibrating its policy stance, while adjusting
that stance gradually. This approach foundered when the macroeconomic forecasts proved to be
unreliable, the estimates of the NAIRU turned out to be much too low, and the Committee's
policy responses remained behind the curve. Inflation gathered momentum, reaching a torrid
pace by the end of the decade. Even then, the Committee did not take responsibility for the trend
of inflation but rather pointed to the multiplicity of other influences on price behavior. Given
this performance, Federal Reserve critics increasingly climbed aboard the monetarist
bandwagon.
In October 1979, the FOMC in effect assumed responsibility for attaining long-run price stability
by elevating monetary targeting; in so doing, it implicitly embraced Milton Friedman's aphorism
that sustained "inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon." The FOMC
attempted to control money growth in the intermediate term to attain a slow targeted trend rate
consistent with much-reduced price increases, while downgrading gradual policy adjustment.
This new approach slowed inflation to a jog, but in the context of a serious recession and
unstable money demand. Nonetheless, many observers came to accept the Federal Reserve's
assurance that, with a restrained trend of money growth, the average rate of inflation ultimately
would fall appreciably.

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

While controlling money offered certain advantages for public relations, the monetarist promise
proved to be elusive. In the event, Federal Reserve policymakers themselves doubted that steady
M1 growth would produce short-term stability in the economy, in part because of the sizable
unforeseen shifts in transactions demands for money. By mid-1982, the FOMC recognized that
more policy flexibility than M1 targeting had afforded was required to counter depressed
spending and its repercussions. The Federal Reserve realized not only that it could not live up to
monetarist dogma but also that it would be better to stop trying. The FOMC previously might or
might not have been a true believer; but in October 1982, it overtly started attending a different
church.
Although at that time the FOMC publicly de-emphasized targeting M1 and the other aggregates
in favor of a more eclectic approach, it evidently continued to design its policy stance in
response to demand-side determinants of monetary expansion-inflation and real output growth.
It apparently avoided committing the mistakes made in the 1970s of reliance on misleading
forecasts, on optimistic NAIRU assessments, and on too cautious an adjustment of the funds
rate. The FOMC's public statements continued to stress its anti-inflationary posture. Indeed, as
the 1980s progressed, its policies restrained inflation to a walk, while supporting economic
recovery. But to deflect criticism and associated political pressure to re-inflate, the FOMC was
somewhat vague over most of the 1980s about the nature of its policy design as well as the
structure of its policy implementation.
As political sentiment became more supportive of the ideas of price stability and central bank
independence, the FOMC emerged from its shell. It became more and more transparent about
how its policy was designed as well as implemented, in the process gaining additional public
exposure. The FOMC through the early 1990s devoted some attention to M2 growth. But
apparently starting in the late 1980s, it put renewed weight on likely resource use and the
outlook for inflation relative to an implicit low objective while restoring a gradual adjustment of
the funds rate target. The FOMC seemed to pursue this approach as the 1990s progressed. After
the early years of the decade, official statements began to characterize policy design as mainly
preemptive. In other words, the FOMC indicated that it attempted to counter potentially adverse
future developments by moving its current funds rate target. By the middle of the decade, its
policies had slowed inflation to a stroll.
As the second half of the 1990s passed, the uncertainties surrounding a step-up in productivity
growth as well as a sequence of crises seemed to make the future somewhat harder to foretell.
Because the Committee perforce had to focus a bit more on the present circumstances and peer a
little less intently into the dimmer future, official statements put somewhat less emphasis on the
outlook and relatively more on discerning the current situation. Accordingly, in recent years the
Committee has left the public impression that in designing policy it has significantly weighed
both estimated actualities and the macroeconomic outlook. Whatever its exact approach, the
FOMC managed to bring inflation to a crawl, considering the residual upward measurement bias
of price indexes and the desirability of having some "cushion" to protect against the zero bound
on nominal interest rates.

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PROLOGUE: AN EXCHANGE OF LETTERS
April 1, 1975
Honorable Arthur F. Bums
Chairman
Federal Reserve Board
Federal Reserve System
Washington, D.C. 20551
Dear Dr. Burns:
In the exercise of its constitutional mandate to oversee the formation and implementation
of monetary policy, the Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy requests the belowmentioned material.
Two items would be most helpful to the Subcommittee in this regard:
1. Unedited copies of the Minutes of the 1971, 1972, 1973, and 1974 meetings of the
FOMC; and,
2. Uncensored copies of the original transcripts from which these Minutes were
prepared.
Sincerely yours,
Wright Patman
Chairman
.+ ... .
+++...
-

April 9, 1975
The Honorable Wright Patman, Chairman
Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Mr. Chairman:
Enclosed are copies of minutes of actions of the Federal Open Market Committee for the years
of 1971, 1972, 1973, and 1974.
These minutes are being supplied in response to your request of April 1, 1975.
Sincerely yours,
Arthur F. Bums

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xiv

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

April 11, 1975
The Honorable Arthur F. Burns
Dear Dr. Bums:
This will acknowledge receipt of your reply to the request of the Subcommittee on
Domestic Monetary Policy of April 1, 1975, for the following:
1. Unedited copies of the Minutes of the 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1974 Meetings of the
FOMC; and,
2. Uncensored copies of the original transcripts from which these Minutes were
prepared.
While I cannot believe you were not aware that this request was for something other than
material already published in the Federal Reserve Bulletin, I would have thought the second item
requested would have removed any ambiguity in the request.
To avoid any further misinterpretation, the request has been rephrased in what I trust is
the technically correct and clearest possible language:
1. The Memoranda of Discussion of the 1971, 1972, 1973, and 1974 meetings of the
FOMC; and,
2. The unedited materials from which these Memoranda were prepared.
What is requested, in other words, is material not scheduled for public release until 1976,
1977, 1978 and 1979, respectively, as well as the notes or transcripts from which these
Memoranda are prepared.
Further, I would also appreciate receiving a detailed explanation of the procedures, if
any, for precisely recording what transpires at the meetings of the FOMC. It is my
understanding that three or four persons are present to take notes at these meetings and "try to
get down the gist of what is said" as well as they can.
Is there any reason why a stenotypist or tape recorder is not employed so that a verbatim
transcript can conveniently be made of the proceedings which is similar to those prepared for
Congressional hearings?
Your gracious attention to this matter is appreciated.
Sincerely yours,
Wright Patman
+++++.-;"..

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Prologue

April 18, 1975
The Honorable Wright Patman

Dear Mr. Chairman:
I have your letter of April 11, 1975, requesting certain materials of the Federal Open
Market Committee.
Your request for the memoranda of discussion for FOMC meetings in the years 1971-74,
inclusive, will be considered by the Committee at its next meeting, to be held on May 20, 1975.
I will inform you of the response of the Committee shortly after that meeting.
You refer to the "unedited materials from which these memoranda were prepared."
These materials cannot be supplied because they are routinely disposed of after the Committee
has formally accepted the memorandum of discussion for the meeting in question.
Over the years we have experimented with various means of recording the proceedings at
meetings of the FOMC, including note-taking, stenotyping, and tape recording. Currently, we
are employing a combination of note-taking and tape recording. In any event, the materials are
disposed of when they have served their purpose, as noted above.
Sincerely yours,
Arthur F. Burns
June 3, 1975
The Honorable Wright Patman
Dear Mr. Chairman:
Your request for the memoranda of discussion for meetings of the Federal Open Market
Committee ("FOMC") in the years 1971-74, inclusive, has been considered carefully by the
Committee. In this connection, the FOMC has given full and deliberate consideration to the
oversight responsibility that the Congress in general and your Subcommittee in particular have
with respect to its functions and operations.
I might note at the outset that, apart from the memoranda which you request, there are
three regularly available sources of information about the operations of the FOMC. One consists
of weekly statistical releases published by the Board, which promptly and fully disclose the
results of the Committee's open market operations. The most important of such weekly releases
are the Federal Reserve Statement (H.4.1), the Weekly Summary of Banking and Credit
Measures (H.9), and Money Stock Measures (H.6).

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xvi

A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

A second source is the record of policy actions, which is prepared pursuant to a
requirement of the Federal Reserve Act. These policy records disclose the Committee's
intentions with respect to open market policy, as reflected in the actions reported. They include
all votes, by name, cast by members of the Committee in connection with the determination of
open market policies; the reasons underlying the policy actions, including descriptions of thencurrent and prospective economic developments and of conditions in domestic and international
financial markets; and statements of the reasons for any dissenting votes.
A third source, the minutes of actions indicates all votes taken by the FOMC--including
those relating to procedural matters as well as those relating to policy questions. The minute
entries for policy actions are made available for public inspection on the same schedule as the
policy records; the minute entries for most other actions are made available promptly after the
meeting.
To this copious body of information concerning the operations of the FOMC, the
memoranda of discussion add essentially one further type of material: reports of the deliberations
through which the Committee reaches its decisions on policy and procedural matters. As you are
aware, there is no legal requirement that such memoranda of FOMC meetings be prepared.
However, they have proved valuable to the FOMC and its staff in connection with the ongoing
work of the Committee, and we believe they constitute a useful historical record. For these
reasons, they are maintained by the Committee and made available to the public after a time lag
determined by the FOMC.
The memoranda of discussion reflect the unfettered, spontaneous expressions of FOMC
member views and opinions. Some of these expressions may be put forth primarily to elicit
discussion and clarification of issues rather than as statements of firmly held views. Some may
turn out to be inconclusive with respect to the FOMC's ultimate decisions, and others at odds
with those decisions. All such expressions do, however, contribute to the decisional process.
The informal "give and take" debate at FOMC meetings, as substantially reflected in the
memoranda of discussion, involves the decision-making process utilized by the legislative,
executive, and judicial branches of our Government since the founding of the Republic. Each
branch of Government daily encounters the situation where individual opinions and advice,
expressed and conveyed in the decision-making process, are re-thought, altered, or reversed on
the hearing of opinions and views of other participants. Premature public exposure of such
deliberations, whether involving legislative, executive, judicial, or administrative bodies,
preceding as they do the official decision and actions of such bodies, would quickly and
certainly make such decisional process sterile. If the FOMC memoranda of discussion were to
be released prematurely, the Committee would be faced with the choice of permitting a
destructive diminution of candor in its deliberations or of preserving the members' ability to
speak their minds freely and fully by terminating the preparation of such memoranda. Neither
alternative would be in the public interest.
In addition, the matters commonly discussed at FOMC meetings include ongoing or
prospective transactions in foreign exchange markets, the premature disclosure of which could

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xvii

Prologue

have both immediate and longer-term adverse impact on international flows of funds. Moreover,
references are frequently made to highly sensitive matters involving, or statements by or about,
foreign central banks and governments. Clearly continued FOMC access to such important and
relevant communications must not be jeopardized by even a suggestion of untimely
dissemination.
In view of these considerations, the Committee has concluded that it must respectfully
decline to comply with your request for the 1971-74 memoranda of discussion.
The Committee's decision, premised in major part on its need to preserve the practice of
free and uninhibited member contribution to discussions, reflects a legal position the concept of
which was reaffirmed by the United States Supreme Court as recently as one month ago in the
case of NLRB v. Sears, Roebuck, & Co., 95 S. Ct. 1504, 1516 (1975). Justice White, speaking
for the Court with respect to the need to protect the decision-making processes of government
agencies, cited the Court's earlier position that "... experience teaches that those who
expect public dissemination of their remarks may well temper candor with a concern for
appearances.... to the detriment of the decision-making process."
As Chairman of the Federal Open Market Committee I endorse whole-heartedly the
foregoing principle.
Sincerely yours,
Arthur F. Burns

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I. THE SECOND HALF OF THE 1970s: RISING INFLATION AND
OPERATING ON THE FUNDS RATE
Discontinuing the Memoranda of Discussion ....................................

3

Forming the subcommittee on the memorandum of discussion, February 17, 1976 ..............
Supporting the memorandum of discussion, March 15, 1976 ...............................
Reversing field on the memorandum of discussion, March 29, 1976 .........................
Discontinuing the memorandum of discussion, May 18, 1976 ..............................
Testifying before the Joint Economic Committee, June 30, 1976 ............................
Encouraging congressional efforts to protect memoranda of discussion, 1976-84 ..............
Communicating can't be in the ear of the listener, 1976-93 ............................

4
5
6
7
8
11
. 12

Releasing the Directive with a Delay and Altering its Content .......................
Shortening the delay in the release of the policy record, March 18, 1975 .....................
Shortening further the delay in the release of the policy record, May 18, 1976 .................
Introducing two-month monetary tolerance ranges and a permissible
funds rate band in the operational paragraph, February 15, 1977 ........................
Noting the inapplicability of the Government in the Sunshine Act, February 15, 1977 ...........
Assessing the impact of immediate release on the directive, December 14, 1977 ...............
Asking for legislative relief, January 13, 1978 ........................................
.
..............
......... . ....
W inning the Merrill case, June 28, 1979 ...............

14
14
16
17
18
18
22
23

24
Complying with New Legislative Goals and Reporting Requirements ................
Adapting to the congressional resolution on reporting 12-month-ahead ranges, March 24, 1975 ... 24
Receiving multiple objectives in the Federal Reserve Reform Act of 1977, November 16, 1977 ... 27
29
Accepting the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, October 27, 1978 ................................
32
Picking the first calendar-year money and credit ranges, February 6, 1979 ....................
32
Compiling the first semiannual macroeconomic forecasts, July 11, 1979 .....................
33
...........................
Implementing monetary policy, 1969-79 ................
38
.........................
Communicating monetary policy, 1969-79 ................

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I. THE SECOND HALF OF THE 1970s: RISING INFLATION AND
OPERATING ON THE FUNDS RATE
As the decade of the 1970s wore on, the Federal Open Market Committee placed increasing
emphasis in its operations on restraining monetary expansion. Although the closing part of the
Domestic Policy Directive (directive) began to include tolerance ranges for growth of the
aggregates that allowed such growth to affect the setting of the federal funds rate operating
target, these procedures did not succeed in holding down money growth, given the Committee's
specified limits on funds rate variation. The actual growth of either M or M2 breached the
upper bound of the announced range in each of the last four years of the decade. At the same
time, and seemingly not coincidentally, inflation continued to rise, to truly dizzying heights by
the end of the decade.
This chapter recounts the evolution of the Committee's communication practices during this
period. First to be examined is the FOMC's decision at its May 1976 meeting to stop preparing
"memoranda of discussion" for disclosure after five years. Next to be covered is the FOMC's
practice of releasing the Record of Policy Actions (policy record), which includes the directive,
only after a delay. Then the focus turns to the implications for the FOMC of the congressional
deliberations leading up to, and the final passage of, the Humphrey-Hawkins Act. The chapter
finishes by reviewing the implementation and communication of monetary policy over the
1970s. Because changing personalities in leadership roles at the Federal Reserve and in the
Congress have parts to play in our story, the chairmen of the FOMC and of the relevant
congressional committees during the years covered in this paper are identified for easy reference
in table 1.

Discontinuing the Memoranda of Discussion
At its meeting of May 18, 1976, the FOMC decided to discontinue the preparation of the
memorandum of discussion (MOD) after its March 15-16, 1976, meeting. The MODs were a
heavily edited but virtually complete narrative in the third person of each point made by each
named speaker in the meetings of the FOMC. Since 1970 they had been released to the public
after five years. The substance, though not the name, of MODs dated back to 1936.'

1. The Banking Act of 1935 created essentially the current makeup of the Federal Open Market Committee.
The act required the FOMC, as Allan H. Meltzer wrote, ".. . to keep a complete record of all action taken, the
reasons for the action, and the votes. The record had to be published annually in the Board's report." Allan H.
Meltzer, A History of the FederalReserve: Volume 1, 1913-1951, University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2003,
p. 486, footnote 150. To comply with the act, the Board published the record of policy actions in the Annual Report.
Starting with its first meeting on March 18, 1936, the FOMC also produced "minutes" that included initially in very
summary form the comments of individual members. In contrast to the policy record, these minutes were kept
entirely internal until 1964 (see footnote 104). They became increasingly detailed over the years, notably during the
1960s. With the passage of the Freedom of Information legislation in 1967, the FOMC decided to prepare a separate
document, called "minutes of actions," which could be released to the public in response to FOIA requests and were,
in any case, available to visitors in the Board's FOIA office. The FOMC's intent evidently was to avoid making the
expansive version of the minutes publicly available before five years (with appropriate redactions even then). The
minutes of actions were, of course, a new document, but the old expansive minutes continued to be produced, and
despite the new name ("memorandum of discussion") in mid-1967, the document was identical in content to the

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4

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Forming the Subcommittee on the Memorandum of Discussion
February 17, 1976
The FOMC's consideration of these issues had begun earlier. Indeed, the decision to discontinue
the MODs was a ramification of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Board that
was received on March 7, 1975, and brought by David R. Merrill, a student at Georgetown
University Law Center. Merrill had argued that the policy records and all parts of the MODs for
January and February 1975 had to be disclosed upon request.
When the Board turned down the request, Merrill went to court. After the District Court
argument on January 29, 1976, Judge Joseph Waddy went part of the way toward Merrill's
position regarding MODs, indicating that they were not entirely deliberative, as the FOMC had
argued, and therefore not fully exempt from prompt disclosure under FOIA. Instead, reasonably
segregable nondeliberative facts had to be disclosed upon request.² Though he issued the formal
ruling on March 9, 1976, his decision had already been clear at the hearing in late January. The
FOMC formed a subcommittee in February to consider an appropriate response:
At an FOMC meeting on February 17, 1976, during a discussion of possible
implications of a present suit against the FOMC under the Freedom of

Information Act, it was noted that the Committee might be ordered (in
connection with this or subsequent suits) to make public parts or all of its
memoranda of discussion promptly after the meetings to which they related.
This Subcommittee was appointed to make recommendations regarding the
course that should be followed with respect to the memoranda of discussion in
light of that possibility.³
previous "minutes." Although MODs were fairly thorough, they were heavily edited. Critics on the outside
suspected that some material was excluded, even beyond the redaction of sensitive information. Apparently, the
drafters did take advantage at times of the available scope for selectivity. This possibility would explain the interest
expressed by Representative Patman for any underlying transcripts (see the Prologue). The MODs continued to be
released after five years until they were discontinued after the March 15-16, 1976, meeting. Thus, the memoranda
of discussion and their identical predecessor document were produced for a period of forty years. The transcript
successor will reach that age milestone in March 2016!
Apparently the issue of retaining files of stenographic transcriptions of FOMC meetings was raised at the
beginning, in the autumn of 1935, before the first FOMC meeting in March of 1936. See Walker F. Todd,
"Summary of findings from visits to Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan," memorandum to
persons interested in FOMC transcripts, July 1, 1994, p. 1; he cites a statement made by Professor Richard Shiming,
Mankato State University, on July 1, 1994, about this issue. Todd also cites a telephone conversation with former
Governor Robert Holland in June 1976 indicating that the Board's taping system was installed in 1966 at Arthur
Broida's suggestion to William McChesney Martin, who was then Chairman (p. 3). However, that taping system
was not used at FOMC meetings until much later. Normand Bernard recalls that the taping and transcribing of
FOMC meetings did not begin until the latter part of 1973 or early 1974.
2. Stephen L. Siciliano, "Merrill v. Federal Open Market Committee, 443 U.S. 340 (1979), on remand 516 F.
Supp. 1028 (D.D.C 1981)," memorandum to Normand Bernard, October 27, 1992. As the next section will discuss,
Judge Waddy also ruled against the FOMC on the issue of whether the Committee must publish the domestic policy
directive immediately after the meeting at which it is adopted. However, unlike the first part of the case, which it
accepted, the FOMC appealed this second decision.
3. Subcommittee on the Memorandum of Discussion (Messrs. Coldwell, Mayo, Partee, and Winn),
memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee, March 15, 1976, p. 1.

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I. The Second Halfof the 1970s

Table 1
Chairmen of the FOMC and of the House and Senate Banking Committees, 1970-2003
Year and
Congress
1970 (91st)
1975 (94th)

FOMC
Arthur Burns
"

1978 (95th)

Senate Committee on Banking,
Housing, and Urban Affairs

Wright Patman (D, Tex.)

John Sparkman (D, Ala.)

Henry Reuss (D, Wis.)

William Proxmire (D, Wis.)

Fernand St Germain (D, R.I.)

Jake Garn (R, Utah)

William Miller

1979 (96th)

House banking committee

Paul Volcker

1981 (97th)
1987 (100th)

"
Alan Greenspan

"

William Proxmire (D, Wis.)

1989 (101st)

"

Henry Gonzalez (D, Tex.)

Donald Riegle (D, Mich.)

1995 (104th)

"

James Leach (R, Iowa)

Alfonse D'Amato (R, N.Y.)

1999 (106th)

"

2001 (107th)

"

2003 (108th)

"

"
Michael Oxley (R, Ohio)

"

Phil Gramm (R, Tex.)
Paul Sarbanes (D, Md.) 2
Phil Gramm (R, Tex.)
Paul Sarbanes (D, Md.)
Richard Shelby (R, Ala.)

NOTE. Entries appear for each year in which the chairmanship of any of the three panels changed.
1. In the 107th Congress, the name of the House banking committee became the Committee on Financial
Services; the earlier names of the committee, beginning with the 91st Congress, are as follows:
91st-93rd: Banking and Currency
94th: Banking, Currency and Housing
95th-103rd: Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs
104th-106th: Banking and Financial Services.
2. At the convening of the 107th Congress, on January 3, 2001, the membership of the Senate was evenly divided
by party, but the Democrats controlled the Senate because the Democratic President and Vice President were still in
office (and the latter, as President of the Senate, was able to break tie votes in that chamber); at that time the
Democrats named Paul Sarbanes to head the banking committee. On January 20, 2001, when the Republican
President and Vice President were sworn in, control of the Senate shifted to the Republicans, who named Phil
Gramm to head the committee. On June 6, 2001, Senator James Jeffords, of Vermont, changed his affiliation from
Republican to Independent and voted with the Democratic Caucus; the Democrats thus regained the majority in the
Senate and again named Senator Sarbanes to head the committee.

Supporting the Memorandum of Discussion
March 15, 1976
The Subcommittee on the Memorandum of Discussion finished its report just before the March
15-16 FOMC meeting. Out of concern about a possible requirement for prompt release of some
or all of the MODs, the subcommittee recommended two changes: (1) cutting back substantially
on detail about the projections and other assessments by the staff, and (2) providing each

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

member with the chance to edit the transcript of his or her remarks in the "go-around." The
subcommittee decided against proposing several other changes. Among other things, the
subcommittee thought eliminating the MODs and expanding the record of policy actions by two
or three paragraphs to better capture members' views would be "undesirable, both because the
memorandum is a useful document and because so sharp a change from current practice would
probably lead to charges of 'coverup,' " in a topical phrase (p. 3). During the FOMC discussion
on March 15, "the sentiment of the Committee clearly was that with certain kind[s] of
modifications that recommendations of their [subcommittee] be adopted." 4 The FOMC deferred
a decision until the next meeting to allow time for further thought.
Reversing Field on the Memorandum of Discussion
March 29, 1976
So why did the FOMC reverse field quickly thereafter and discontinue the MODs? The answer
is related to the increasing perception of a possible threat from, as well as the effort required by,
Judge Waddy's ruling in the Merrill Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the FOMC.
The Committee discussed these matters at a special meeting on March 29, in which Chairman
Burns said he was giving serious thought to discontinuing the MODs.5 He was concerned about
the chance of premature disclosure of at least some parts of future MODs. He must have thought
that future FOIA requests could be common and that deciding on what were "segregable facts"
could be burdensome and, in light of the inevitable follow-up questions, potentially
embarrassing. 6 In contrast, Governor Phillip Coldwell wondered whether separating segregable
facts of requested MODs would really turn out to be all that time consuming; whether
appreciably increasing the length of the policy record wouldn't augment staff time and member
debate; whether ending MODs wasn't "overreacting to a potential mischief which might be
down the road;" and whether it might be better to "wait until the mischief shows up"
(pp. 19-20).
The day before the regularly scheduled April 20 meeting, Chairman Burns circulated a
memorandum recommending that the MODs be dropped. 7 He expressed concern about adverse
implications for the work of the FOMC of premature disclosure even of only "segregable facts."

4. Chairman Burns summarized the March 15-16 FOMC conversation with these words on March 29, 1976,
according to the unedited transcript of the executive session of the March 29, 1976, "Special Meeting" of the
FOMC, tape 1, p. 13. Also see the memorandum of discussion for the March 15-16 meeting of the FOMC, pp.
1-11.

5. It is fair to say that the FOMC was circumspect in its public acknowledgment of its consideration of the
discontinuation of MODs. The March 15 memorandum from the subcommittee to the FOMC had a cover note
requesting that the memorandum be returned to the secretary after the executive session on March 15 ended. The
agenda for the March 29 meeting mentions as the first item only "Executive Session. Report on status of Freedom
of Information suit." The Annual Report contains no policy record for that meeting because no vote was taken,
whereas the policy record for the regularly scheduled March 15-16, 1976, meeting briefly mentions the March 29
meeting only in connection with a separate issue (p. 205 of the 63 rd Annual Report for 1976).
6. Unedited transcript of the executive session of the March 29, 1976, "Special Meeting" of the FOMC, tape 1,
p. 15.

7. Chairman Burns, "The FOMC memorandum of discussion and policy record," memorandum to Federal Open
Market Committee, April 19, 1976.

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I. The Second Half of the 1970s

He viewed adverse consequences as especially worrisome given the potential for a future court
to second-guess the FOMC's selection of excluded material. Furthermore, complying with the
recent court order had taken "a tremendous amount of time by our senior staff and a considerable
amount of my own time" (p. 1). He went on to agree with a staff proposal to beef up the policy
record so that the public would be "better informed" than under then-current procedures (p. 2).
He also suggested shortening the delay in the release of the policy record from forty-five days to
thirty days (p. 2).
The FOMC discussed these matters the next day, and Chairman Burns reiterated these reasons
for discontinuing the MODs. Governor Coldwell again resisted, arguing for delay
of the decision until the Merrill case was resolved. He also thought the MODs had been
"marginally... helpful as a track record of the Committee." 8 Nonetheless, the voting members
of the FOMC reached a consensus in principle to discontinue the MODs and expand and
accelerate release of the policy record.
Discontinuing the Memorandum of Discussion
May 18, 1976
The Committee arrived at its official decision to drop the MOD in favor of an enhanced policy
record at its next meeting, on May 18, 1976, with Governor Coldwell, the chairman of the
subcommittee, casting a lone dissenting vote. He abstained from the vote to release the policy
record on the Friday after the next Tuesday FOMC meeting.
On May 24, Chairman Burns held a press conference and announced the discontinuation of the
MODs, saying they had proved to be of little use, as the press or students of economics had not
consulted them with any frequency. The Committee's policy record for the May 1977 meeting
stated the following:
This action was taken against the background of the Committee's decision to
speed up publication of the records of policy actions, and of its understanding
that the policy records would be expanded to include more information
concerning members' views on longer-run and current policy. ...
The decision to discontinue these memoranda reflected the Committee's
judgment that the benefits derived from them did not justify their relatively
high costs, particularly in light of the changes made in the policy record.
This was the stated reason for its vote. In the years that followed, others have offered alternative
reasons:
But "that [stated reason] was a public position that obscured the real reason,"
recalled Washington banking lobbyist Kenneth A. Guenther, a special
assistant to Burns at the time.

8. Unedited transcript of the April 20, 1976, executive session II of FOMC meeting, tape 9, p. 1.

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

The real reason? "We did it for the fear that Congress [and others] would
request access" quite promptly, recalled Robert P. Black, a former president
of the Richmond Reserve Bank who served on the FOMC from 1973-92. And
that, Black said, raised the threat of legislative efforts to overturn FOMC
decisions. 9
Whatever the reason, the decision roused the ire of several important critics of the Federal
Reserve System.
Testifying before the Joint Economic Committee
June 30, 1976
At a Joint Economic Committee hearing on June 30, 1976, Senator William Proxmire and
Representative Henry Reuss, chairmen of the respective congressional banking committees,
strenuously objected to eliminating the MODs.
Chairman Burns argued that the Memoranda of Discussion were hardly being
used and the policy record was being followed very closely, and the FOMC
had decided to put more effort into the monthly policy report.
Reuss said that the policy record was sanitized, bland and uninformative, and
complained that no names were mentioned[, w]hereas he and Sen. Proxmire
found the Memoranda of Discussion "invaluable." He felt that the FOMC had
taken a great step backward and he repeated his request that the FOMC
0
reconsider its actions.1
During the June 30 JEC hearing, the following exchange occurred:
RepresentativeReuss. Let me ask you, under the decision of May 18, to
discontinue the "Memoranda of Discussion," does that mean that the Open
Market Committee is discontinuing its practice of keeping a record of
discussion which, as I understand it, is done both by a stenographic reporter
and by electronic methods? Is there any change in that?
Dr. Burns. I should know the answer to that. At the moment I am simply not
sure.

9. Paul Starobin, "The Fed Tapes," NationalJournal,LEGI-SLATE Report for the 10 3 rd Congress, December
17, 1993, p. 4; the bracketed words in the first paragraph are mine, but those in the second paragraph are in the
original.
10. From Don Winn, draft memorandum on "a history of the Congressional consideration of the release of
detailed minutes of the FOMC after a lag of three or more years," October 5, 199[3], p. 1 of attachment. The
FOMC did revisit the issue at its July 19-20, 1976, meeting but reaffirmed its previous decision with an identical
vote.

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I. The Second Halfof the 1970s

9

RepresentativeReuss. Would you be good enough to supply that for the
record?
Dr. Burns. I will.
The following information was furnished for the record by Chairman Burns:
The discussions at meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee are
recorded electronically. No stenographic reporter is present. A few members
of the staff take some long-hand notes during the meeting, primarily to help
the typists who transcribe the tapes to identify those speakers whose names
are not called before they speak.
These procedures were not changed at the time the Committee decided to
discontinue the memorandum of discussion.
The transcriptions are used by the Secretariat in drafting records of the
meetings, and are routinely disposed of after they have served their purpose.
The tapes are reused in recording subsequent meetings.
This is a passage that bears parsing. The words of the next-to-last sentence in the quotation echo
Chairman Burns's April 18, 1975, reply to Representative Patman quoted in the
Prologue-"routinely disposed of" in the letter's third paragraph and "they have served their
purpose" in the letter's fourth paragraph. Of course, no longer could Chairman Burns mention
MODs explicitly since the FOMC had just discontinued them. But he probably hoped that
congressional efforts to craft statutes to protect MODs or lightly edited transcripts from
premature disclosure would bear fruit. In fact, the Congress did attempt over the next seven
years to protect such information from premature disclosure. Had the Congress been successful,
Chairman Burns would have known that unedited transcripts would be invaluable in preparing
either alternative, and until the Congress could craft such statutes, the transcripts would not
"have served their purpose." Chairman Burns's use of the word "are" in "are routinely disposed
of" in his response to Representative Reuss is harder to understand because, as we now know,
the transcripts were preserved. Possibly he assumed when he sent the response that Arthur
Broida (the secretary of the FOMC) would continue to destroy the transcripts after the policy
records had been published (they had by then been published for the April and May meetings of
1976). If so, he and the drafter of the response would have assumed that such a procedure was
taking place, without checking with Broida to learn that these transcripts in fact had not been
(and never were) discarded. Or perhaps Broida, if indeed he was asked, responded that he just
had not gotten around to disposing of the two transcripts but intended to do so soon enough.
Only later, on either alternative interpretation, would Chairman Burns and Broida have decided
to keep them. In any event, Chairman Burns decided to retain them.
[T]he current record-keeper, Normand R.V. Bernard, who was assistant to
Arthur L. Broida in 1976, said Broida told him that "Burns made that
decision" to keep the transcripts. "It was a more important decision than a

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

10

staffer would undertake to make," Bernard said. "Burns knew," [Murray]
Altmann [Deputy Secretary of the FOMC] seconded.11
According to [Joseph] Coyne and Stephen H. Axilrod, an FOMC economist in
1976 who shortly thereafter became its staff director, transcripts were kept
because of the possibility that Congress would order revival of the
memorandum of discussion with an explicit FOIA exemption. 12
Why didn't Chairman Burns subsequently take the initiative to state publicly that the transcripts
existed? The answer probably was that he soon forgot about the issue. But he may have realized
that, if the existence of the growing store of unedited transcripts in the Secretariat's files had
been publicly appreciated before passage of protective legislation, then they would have been
subject to FOIA requests. Similar FOIA requests had eaten up time in the Merrill case, even
though in that instance the FOMC had had to release only "segregable facts." Still, fulfilling the
request had been time-consuming, and no one could be sure that, without such a statutory
safeguard, another court in the future would not require immediate full disclosure. Alternatively,
a Congress that knew of the transcripts' existence could demand or, with more certainty that they
would have to be relinquished, subpoena them.
The Congress did show considerable interest in preserving detailed minutes. Representative
Stephen Neal (Democrat from North Carolina) had been chairman of the House Subcommittee
on Domestic Monetary Policy in 1976 and
had initiated a survey on September 17, 1976, of 122 persons including
former Fed Governors, Reserve Bank Presidents, Class C Directors, and
prominent business and academic economists.
Neal reported that "We received 81 responses, of which the vast majority
were opposed to the discontinuation of the FOMC's detailed minutes.["] (The
final tabulation was 55 opposed, 15 in favor, 2 undecided and 9 no comment.)
According to Neal, among the 55 individuals who opposed the FOMC's
decision were six former top level Federal Reserve officials--Governors
Maisel, Daane, Bucher and Robertson, and two former Presidents of the New
York Federal Reserve Bank, Sproul and Hayes.
"Through reading their letters," said Neal, "as well as the thoughtfully
considered responses of the other respondents, it became clear to me that we
should reinstate the practice of keeping detailed minutes of FOMC meetings
and publish them after a lag of no more than three years."

11. Paul Starobin, "The Fed Tapes," p. 3.
12. Paul Starobin, "The Fed Tapes," p. 5.

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I. The Second Halfof the 1970s

11

Neal's statement... is filled with quotes from responses to the survey
addressing such issues as the timing of disclosure; whether verbatim minutes
are needed or will detailed memoranda serve; the pros and cons of attributing
individual remarks; the importance of detailed minutes for research, and their
importance to Congressional oversight.
(With respect to Verbatim transcripts or Memoranda of Discussion,
"Overwhelmingly, they favored reinstating the Memoranda of Discussion (38
for Memoranda, 9 for Verbatim minutes, 8 ambivalent between the two).")
(With respect to the appropriate time lag before release: "Of those who
commented on this question, 19 preferred 5 years or more, 5 preferred 3 to 5
years, 2 preferred 2 to 3 years, 4 preferred 2 years, 2 preferred 1 to 2 years and
12 preferred one year or less." So a majority preferred 3 or more years.)13
Encouraging Congressional Efforts to Protect Memoranda of Discussion
1976-84
The Congress also took several actions from 1976 into 1984 to try to legislate adequate
protection against the premature release of mandatory detailed minutes in the form of either
MODs or lightly edited transcripts. Indeed, the House Domestic Monetary Policy Subcommittee
held hearings and acted on bills on four different occasions: 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1983
extending into 1984. The House Banking Committee approved the legislation in 1979 and
1983-84. Such legislation passed the House of Representatives in 1979, when it also was
approved by the Senate Banking Committee, but it did not pass the Senate.
In testimony on several occasions, Board members supported or at least did not oppose these
bills, with Chairman Volcker offering the last statement on October 18, 1983:
In our judgment, the detailed minutes in question would not add substantively
to the information now being made available to the public about the nature of
our policy decisions, but the Board understands the desire to establish a more
detailed record that might be of future interest to historians, economists, and
other close students of monetary policy. Accordingly, the Board has no
objection to the preparation and eventual release of such minutes provided a
suitable period of time has elapsed.14
But the legislative efforts ceased after no bill made it through the Ninety-eighth Congress. In the
end, no legislation was passed.

13. Don Winn, draft memorandum, October 5, 199[3]; the underlining is in the original.

14. Paul A. Volcker, "Statement," before the Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy of the Committee on
Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, October 18, 1983, FederalReserve Bulletin,
November 1983, p. 841.

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Communicating Can't Be in the Ear of the Listener
1976-93
The existence of the unedited transcripts going back to late March 1976 was revealed in
testimony by Chairman Greenspan in October 1993. In the event, members of the Congress and
academics were especially troubled. Representative Stephen Neal, for example, was
widely regarded as one of the Fed's best friends on Capitol Hill.
But when asked about the Fed's failure to disclose that transcripts of the
meetings were being kept, he said: "They should have told me. We should
expect people to tell us the truth .... I don't appreciate it."

Neal joins a growing crowd of people who say that revelation of the
transcripts' existence raises questions about the Fed's integrity...
"What the Fed has always had, even in the minds of its harshest critics, is a
sense of integrity about how it goes about its business," said Donald F. Kettl,
author of Leadership at the Fed (Yale University Press, 1986). Disclosure of
the transcripts' existence "tarnishes some of the special images that the Fed
has spent 80 years trying to create," he said.
Kettl's book, which was based on extensive interviews with Fed officials,
asserted that the FOMC had "ended its transcripts" when it stopped preparing
the memorandum of discussion. Now, the historian has harsh words for the
Fed. "If they didn't lie to me, they clearly allowed me to proceed on the false
assumptions that they planted themselves," he said...
In an interview, [Chairman G. William] Miller said he was aware the Fed kept
FOMC transcripts but never gave the matter much thought.
"I didn't start the policy," he said, and thus if historians, economists and
others now feel misled, "they weren't misled by me ....

It sounds to me like

academicians who are outraged because they weren't let in on the inside." ...
But [Joseph] Coyne said there was "no conspiracy" to keep the transcripts
secret. Their existence was unknown only because "nobody asked for them,"
he said, adding that they would probably put readers to sleep .... 15
A former aide to the House Banking Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy added: "We
never asked the question, 'Do you make a written copy of the tape?' so nobody ever lied to us."16

15. Paul Starobin, "The Fed Tapes," pp. 1-6. I have reordered some of the paragraphs.
16. Paul Starobin, "The Fed Tapes," p. 6.

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I. The Second Halfof the 1970s

Chairman Bums, whose term expired in 1978, gave his papers covering his years at the Federal
Reserve Board to the Gerald R. Ford Library on October 30, 1981, with the following
agreement:
Materials which have been placed under seal as herein provided shall be
reviewed by the Archivist from time to time and the seal removed from any
papers which, because of the passage of time or other circumstances, no
longer require such restrictions. The confidential materials of the Federal
Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve System shall not be made
available for research until January 1, 2000 unless permission is granted by
the Donor or, in his absence, by Arthur L. Broida....17
In the course of research on his 1986 book, Donald R. Kettl studied the publicly available Bums
papers at the Ford Library, according to the book's preface (pp. x-xi). Presumably after his visit
there, and perhaps stimulated by that visit, a summary description was "completed and placed in
[the Ford Library's] research room" in September 1985 and revised in July 1987, "as the first
portions of the collection were released to the public ... 18 The series description read in part:
".
G-I Federal Open Market Committee Files (3 series). 1971-78. (23 linear feet)
Minutes of actions, memoranda of discussion, transcripts of meetings, and
background material compiled for FOMC meetings. Unprocessed and
closed.19
This description implies the existence of two years of transcripts of FOMC meetings-from late
March 1976 through March 1978, the end of Chairman Burns's collection. (Chairman Burns's
store of transcripts could not have started before late March 1976 because, under the previous
policy, the transcript was destroyed once an MOD had been prepared.) Even though this
information was in the public domain, no one connected the dots. Meanwhile, the transcripts
gathered dust-until January 14, 1994, that is, when the boxes were opened at the discretion of
the archivist of the Ford Library six years before they were due to be opened. Chairman Bums
and Arthur Broida had died, and so the archivist apparently decided to accede to the request of
the House Banking Committee staff, even though the premature opening was at odds with the
intent of the written agreement with Chairman Burns, the donor. The staff of the House Banking
Committee thus gained access to transcripts. 20

17. "Gift of Papers and Other Historical Materials of Arthur F. Burns to the Gerald R. Ford Library," p. 1.
18. David A. Horrocks, Supervisory Archivist, Gerald R. Ford Library, letter to Gary P. Gillum, January 28,
1994.

19. "Summary Description," prepared by Sandra Rauf Mitchell, September 1985, and revised by Karen Rohrer,
July 1987, p. [5].

20. Walker F. Todd, "Summary of findings from visits to Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Ann Arbor,
Michigan," memorandum to persons interested in FOMC transcripts, July 1, 1994, p. 3.

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A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Two questions remain unanswered: Why did Chairman Burns take photocopies of unedited
transcripts with him when he left the Board, an action that was contrary to FOMC regulations?
And why did he donate them in 1981 to the Ford Library along with his other papers? The grave
has closed the possibility of learning the answers.

Releasing the Directive with a Delay and Altering Its Content
The other issue that the Committee confronted was whether it would be able to release its
directive, along with the entire policy record, with a substantial delay.
Shortening the Delay in the Release of the Policy Record
March 18, 1975
The January 20-21, 1975, policy record that Merrill requested, along with the one for February,
ended with the following two paragraphs, in which the FOMC added the new reference to
"developments in domestic and international financial markets":
In light of the foregoing developments, it is the policy of the Federal Open
Market Committee, while resisting inflationary pressures and working toward
equilibrium in the country's balance of payments, to foster financial
conditions conducive to cushioning recessionary tendencies and stimulating
economic recovery.
To implement this policy, while taking account of the forthcoming Treasury
financing, developments in domestic and international financial markets, and
the Board's action on reserve requirements, the Committee seeks to achieve
bank reserve and money market conditions consistent with more rapid growth
in monetary aggregates over the months ahead than has occurred in recent
months.
When Merrill made his FOIA request for the January and February 1975 policy records and
MODs, which was received at the Board on March 7, 1975, the FOMC's practice was to wait
ninety days to release the abbreviated policy record, which included the directive. A letter from
Chairman Burns to Senator Proxmire on August 17, 1972, had introduced the reasons for the
delay with the following words:
The decision to release the record approximately 90 days after each FOMC
meeting was made in 1967, and was thoroughly reviewed in February of
1971. The reasons for deferred publication set forth in the FOMC's rules
regarding availability of information are that earlier disclosure might-Before quoting from the FOMC rules to give the reasons, as this letter from Chairman Burns to
Senator Proxmire proceeded to do, it is worth noting the last word- "might"-in the preceding
quotation from the letter. Just below is the exact quotation from the FOMC's rules regarding

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I. The Second Half of the 1970s

15

information, with the introductory sentence as it actually appeared, ending in the word
"would".21
(B) Reasons for deferment of availability-Publication of, or access to,
certain information of the Committee may be deferred because earlier
disclosure of such information would--

(1) interfere with the orderly execution of policies adopted by the
Committee in the performance of its statutory functions;
(2) permit speculators and others to gain unfair profits or to obtain
unfair advantages by speculative trading in securities, foreign
exchange, or otherwise;
(3) result in unnecessary or unwarranted disturbances in the securities
market;
(4) make open market operations more costly;

21. Karl Brunner advanced an analysis from the empiricist perspective originally propounded by the
philosopher Karl Popper of the Federal Reserve's proclivity to use "weasel words" like "might" that render theories
so stated impossible to disconfirm. In his review ofLyle E. Gramley and Samuel B. Chase, "Time Deposits in
Monetary Analysis," FederalReserve Bulletin, October 1965, Brunner wrote in "Monetary Analysis and Federal
Reserve Policy," in Karl Brunner, ed., Targets and Indicators ofMonetary Policy, 1969, Chandler Publishing Co:
San Francisco, pp. 271-72:
Most of the propositions stated by the authors use qualifying modality terms such as "maybe," "it is
possible that," or "possibly." The judicious use of these terms conveys a sense of balanced realism. The
truth is that possibility or maybe statements possess little information value from a logical and
nonpragmatic point of view. Frequently, the application of possible or maybe to a given sentence S or its
denial -S yields equally valid sentences in all cases where S is an empirical sentence. The pragmatic
situation differs radically, however. The way a modality term is used by an author exerts a strong
suggestive force on the reader. For instance, most readers would feel that "maybe S" assigns more
relevance to S than to its denial, -S. It conveys a suggestive force of meaningfulness and empirical content
where none exists. The judicious exploitation of modalities thus enables a writer to formulate sentences
that cannot be falsified, but induce a response in the reader that attributes content to the particular
application of the modality term.
Our critical examination of the authors' arguments, developed earlier, proceeds on the assumption that the
application of the qualifier "maybe" reflects an attitude assigning significance to the sentence selected. Of
course, the writers have an opportunity to retreat on the purely logical status of modality and argue that the
criticism is really beside the point; they did not actually assert the proposition--they only indicated a
possibility. The reader will note that all statements we quoted, with one exception, are "maybe" sentences.
And of course, maybe it is so, but of course again, maybe it is not so. On logical grounds the authors can
plead complete safety from our criticisms. But if this is their plea, then they should pay the associated
price, namely to have said nothing.

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(5) interfere with the orderly execution of the objectives or policies of
other Government agencies concerned with domestic or foreign
economic or fiscal matters; or
(6) interfere with, or impair the effectiveness of, financial transactions
with foreign banks, bankers, or countries that may influence the flow
of gold and of dollar balances to or from foreign countries. 22
Chairman Burns's August 12, 1972, letter did raise the possibility of a shorter delay in release of
the policy record, including the directive (p. 2):
The FOMC might at some point decide that a lag somewhat shorter than 90
days would be serviceable as a regular matter; but I believe that release within
a few hours or a few days after each meeting would seriously hinder the
Federal Reserve in carrying out its policies.
On March 11, 1975, four days after Merrill's request arrived, the staff sent a memorandum to the
FOMC for its March 18 meeting, recommending a reduction in the lag for publishing the policy
record from ninety days to about forty-five days. 23 At its meeting, the Committee then agreed
with this recommendation, and on March 24, 1975, it announced the shortening of the lag to
forty-five days. 24
In the second of the two-pronged decision in District Court on March 9, 1976, Judge Waddy
agreed with Merrill and mandated a release of the domestic monetary policy directive
immediately after the FOMC meeting. The FOMC appealed this part of the ruling.
Shortening Furtherthe Delay in the Release of the Policy Record
May 18, 1976
When the FOMC discontinued the MODs, it also altered the timing and content of the policy
record.
The changes in the policy record approved at the meeting involved shortening
the publication lag from 45 days to "shortly after the next regularly scheduled
meeting." In 1976 the Committee was meeting on a monthly schedule and the
22. Rules Regarding Availability of Information (12 CFR 271), Section 271.5--Deferment of Availability of
Certain Information, as amended effective March 24, 1975, p. 6. In a couple of historical ironies, the words
surrounding the double dash punctuation ("--")will reappear in our story in Chairman Greenspan's hearing before
Representative Gonzalez on October 19, 1993, as will the distinction between "would" and "might" in the "tilt"
wording of the directive from November 15, 1983, to December 22, 1998.
23. The [Federal Reserve Board] Staff, "Proposed reduction in lag for FOMC policy records," memorandum to
Federal Open Market Committee, March 11, 1975.
24. According to the FederalReserve Bulletin, April 1975, p. 261, the announcement noted:
A delay of approximately 90 days had been in effect since mid-1967 when the rules were changed to
comply with the Freedom of Information Act. Prior to 1967, the records of policy actions were published
only in the Board's Annual Reports to Congress.

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I. The Second Halfof the 1970s

17

new rule had the effect of shortening the publication lag to about 30 days or
occasionally to around 35 days, depending on whether this intermeeting
interval was 4 weeks or 5 weeks. At this meeting, the FOMC also decided
that "policy records would be expanded to include more information
concerning members' views on longer-run and current policy." As a result,
the length of the typical policy record was more than doubled. 25
Introducing Two-Month Monetary Tolerance Ranges and a Permissible Funds Rate Band
in the Operational Paragraph
February 15, 1977
Although the FOMC had specified in the policy record two-month ranges for growth of money
and, for a time, the bank credit proxy, throughout much of the 1970s these items were omitted
from the directive. The FOMC made a major change in the wording of the last part of the
directive in mid-February 1977.
Beginning with the February 1977 meeting, the Committee modified the
operating instructions to the Manager in the directive to include specific twomonth growth rates for M1 and M2 consistent with the annual growth ranges
reported to Congress. The directive also stated the permissible range . . and

the conditions that would give rise to changes in the federal funds rate. 2 6
This directive ended with the following language:
The Committee seeks to encourage near-term rates of growth in M and M2
on a path believed to be reasonably consistent with the longer-run ranges for
monetary aggregates cited in the preceding paragraph. Specifically, at
present, it expects the annual growth rates over the February-March period to
be within the ranges of 3 to 7 percent for M1 and 6½ to 10½ percent for M2.
In the judgment of the Committee such growth rates are likely to be
associated with a weekly average federal funds rate of about 4%/to 4¾
percent. If, giving approximately equal weight to M1 and M2, it appears that
growth rates over the 2-month period will deviate significantly from the
midpoints of the indicated ranges, the operational objective for the federal
funds rate shall be modified in an orderly fashion within a range of 4¼ to 5
percent.
If it appears during the period before the next meeting that the operating
constraints specified above are proving to be significantly inconsistent, the
Manager is promptly to notify the Chairman who will then decide whether the
situation calls for supplementary instructions from the Committee.
25. Normand Bernard, "Reasons for Discontinuing Memorandum of Discussion in 1976 and Later
Congressional Efforts to Reinstate It," memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee, October 28, 1992, p. 2.
26. Bonnie Garrett, "The FOMC Directive as a Guide to Intermeeting Adjustments to the Operations of the
Account Manager," memorandum to Governor Ferguson, September 28, 1999, p. 4.

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18

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

The sense of these last two paragraphs, and even many of the words themselves, stayed the same
until the meeting of October 6, 1979, and the width of the specified funds rate range varied
between 1/4 percentage point and 1 percentage point during that time.
Noting the Inapplicability of the Government in the Sunshine Act
February 15, 1977
Following an extended debate, the Government in the Sunshine Act was enacted into law on
September 13, 1976. The policy record for the February 15, 1977, FOMC meeting also
contained the following exemplar of belated understatement:
From time to time at recent meetings the Committee had discussed the
applicability of the Government in the Sunshine Act to its meetings. At this
meeting the Committee concurred in an opinion of counsel that the act would
not apply because the Committee did not come within the definition of
"agency" contained in the act. The Committee further agreed that its present
procedures and disclosure policy were already conducted in accordance with
the intent and spirit of the act and that its current practices in that regard
would be continued.
One such previous discussion had taken place at the May 18, 1976, meeting of the FOMC. The
unedited transcript, despite its rough edges, makes abundantly clear the reason for not publicly
mentioning this act until it had become law (see exhibit 1, the reproduced transcript, on pp.
20-21).27
Assessing the Impact of Immediate Release on the Directive
December 14, 1977
On November 10, 1977, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in Merrill's
favor, mandating immediate release of the directive. Then in mid-December 1977, the
Subcommittee on the Directive sent a memorandum to the FOMC considering "what changes, if
any, should be made in the FOMC's directive in the event that the Court's order requiring
immediate publication becomes effective." 28 The memorandum gave the pros and cons of nine
alternatives, but in the end it recommended (pp. 1-2) that if the directive had to be released right
away, then the Committee should retain

27. Unedited transcript of the executive session of the May 18, 1976, FOMC meeting, tape 1, pp. 4-5. (CB is
Chairman Burns, MacLaury is President Bruce MacLaury of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and TJOC is
Thomas J. O'Connell, General Counsel of the FOMC.) This meeting is the first not to have a memorandum of
discussion prepared. Therefore, the unedited transcript presumably has been available to the public in its current
unedited state since January 14, 1994, at the Ford Library, as discussed above. The lightly edited version will be
released by the Board to the public when the process of light editing going back in time is completed. As of May
2003, lightly edited transcripts back to 1981 have been released to the public.
28. Subcommittee on the Directive (Messrs. Eastburn, Gardner, Partee [Chairman], and Volcker), "Implications
for Directive of Immediate Publication on Adoption," memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee, December
14, 1977.

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I. The Second Halfof the 1970s

the present procedure for the time being. The subcommittee recommends,
however, that an instruction to take account of financial market conditions be
added to the penultimate paragraph of the directive to provide the flexibility
the Manager may need in the new environment created by immediate
publication. Also, the subcommittee suggests that, at least initially, the width
of the funds rate range ordinarily be held to about ½of a percentage point,
recognizing this could increase the likelihood of inter-meeting telephone or
telegraphic modification. (The funds rate range has in practice been ½
percentage point wide in recent directives.)
To avoid publication of the long-run ranges before the Chairman's semiannual testimony should
the directive be immediately released, the subcommittee (pp. 13-15) advocated that the
Committee delay the final decision on them until a conference call just before the Chairman's
testimony.
Finally (p. 15),
[t]he subcommittee considered the procedure that might be follow[ed] for
revealing votes of individual Committee members if prompt publication of the
directive is mandated. Counsel for the Committee has advised that an
affirmative response would be required for any request for identification of
individual votes on the directive properly submitted under the Freedom of
Information Act (Section 552 (a) (5)). While the FOIA grants a maximum
period of 10 days within which to respond to a request for agency records,
there would appear to be no logical reason to defer for 10 days the
identification of votes on the Committee's directive when the directive itself
was released on the day of its adoption. There is little doubt that there would
be immediate requests for the votes.
At the Committee meeting of December 19-20, 1977, a couple of members took in stride the
prospect of immediate disclosure of the policy record.
Mr. Eastburn. ... I happen to feel that we not only can live with the kind of
solution that this report recommends but we may actually improve the
functioning in the open market operations... 29
Mr. Volcker [then president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York] ....
[P]resumably the ... decision [to make public the federal funds rate] would
come at a time when we would have otherwise changed the federal funds rate
anyway and they would have seen it in the market, now they will see it out of

29. Unedited transcript of the executive session of the December 19-20, 1977, FOMC meeting, tape 1, p. 25.

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

5/18/76

Exhibit 1

Exec. Ses.
Tape 1

-4-

questions
to address specific/that members of the Committee may have. The questions may be
directed to Mr. Broida,

to Mr. O'Connell, or to me.

CB

Yes, Mr. MacLaury.

Maclauary

xxxxxxxxxxx

Is there any questions?

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

I've been thinking about

Sunshine in Government today and in that context my wonder is

that were the bill

pass as it presently is being proposed, am I correct in thinking that we would be
rqquired to keep a verbatim transcript and if so, wouldn't that make ^moot^ [DEL: mute]
this
question of whether we drop the memorandum of discussion? That's my question.
CB

I'm going to turn this over to Mr. O'Connell.

TJOC

Mr. Chairman, in the present wording of the bill, we hope to

be able by liberal interpretation of that language, if
present wording of both Senate and House version
MacLaury,
CB

it

isn't changed from

of the Sunshine Bill, President

to assert that the Sunshine legislation is not applicable to the FOMC.
Let me just interrupt.

should be kept to ourselves.

I think this is

a statement that literally

We should not--no member of the Committee should

discuss that x with any of his aids or anyone else at any time because we run the

risk of amendment that might make life a good deal more difficult for us.
TJOC

Yes sir.

At this time it has not been discussed by anyone.

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I. The Second Half of the 1970s

21

Exec. Ses.

5/18/76

Tape 1

Exhibit 1 continued
-5-

There had been many xx allusions, I think perhaps loosely used, Mr. MacLaury to
Some in defense of our position that it should not be

applicable to the FOMC.
covered.

We haven't asserted applicability to the FOMC.

Board's
been the/trouble with this bill.
FOMC.

Our position has always

Others have converted that to use xx of the term

Assume for a moment thoughx, that it is held to be applicable

amendment in the language if that occurs or by Court decision, and
thus this Committee is
finally passed, if it

subjected to the provisions of the xxxx

either by an
xxxxxxxxxxx

if

Sunshine Bill xx has

is in any form parralleling that of its present language,

meetings the Committee would be subject to the transcript requirements of verbatim
transcript with the requirement that the portion that is not exempt xxx under
one of the ten exemptions now in the bill, if they follow through, be made immediately
available to the public.

The balance, if it fits any of the exemptions can be

deleted and withheld by the Committee, but the verbatim transcript would be required.
Broida

different document

May I add.

The memorandum of discussion, of course, is a rather

xxxx from a verbatim transcript that's condensed and written in

the
the third person and presumably a more efficient record of/meeting.
the verbatim transcript under the bill as I understand it,

But, and also

the parts that are not

made public need be held only for 2 years and need never be made public.

Whereas,

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22

our mouths as well as in the market which changes it somewhat, but I don't
think it changes it from night to day. 30
Mr. Roos . . . What is the dangerous consequence of having a free movement

of interest rates[?]...
One salutary effect of this Merrill decision ... is ... forcing us to actually

consider some fundamental policy questions such as the relative weight that
we place on targeting ... interest rates, vis à vis the weight that we give to
achieving the ranges of aggregate growth.31

The consensus of the Committee, though, was that gradual interest rate moves, which would
result from central bank probing in financial markets, were preferable to abrupt changes. The
Committee thought that this outcome would be more likely with a delayed release of the
directive.
Asking for Legislative Relief
January 13, 1978
After the decision of the Court of Appeals on November 10, 1977, and the discussion at the
FOMC meeting on December 19, Chairman Burns asked Senator Proxmire for legislative relief
from the requirement for immediate disclosure of the directive. A letter dated January 13, 1978,
said (p. 3):
Specifically, the FOMC respectfully requests that there be introduced in
Congress a bill that would require deferral of any public release of the
FOMC's Domestic Policy Directive including its tolerance ranges, until
approximately one month after adoption--that is, until shortly after the next
regular meeting of the FOMC.
We would suggest the following language:
Section 10, paragraph 10 of the Federal Reserve Act (12 U.S.C. 247a)
is amended by inserting at the end of the first sentence the following:
Provided, however, that the Domestic Policy Directive issued by the
Committee for the guidance of System open market operations, and
amendments thereto, shall be withheld by the Board, the Committee
and the Federal Reserve Banks from disclosure to the public until
three days after the next regular meeting of the Committee.

30. Unedited transcript of the executive session of the December 19-20, 1977, FOMC meeting, tape 2, pp. 5-6.
31. Unedited transcript of the executive session of the December 19-20, 1977, FOMC meeting, tape 2, pp. 15,
16-17.

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I. The Second Halfof the 1970s

Upon enactment of such legislation, the FOMC would be in a position
to rely upon exemption (3) of the Freedom of Information Act, 5
U.S.C. 552(b) (3), which provides that an agency may withhold from
public disclosure matters that are "specifically exempted from
disclosure by statute . .. provided that such statute (A) requires that
the matters be withheld from the public in such a manner as to leave
no discretion on the issue, or (B) establishes particular criteria for
withholding or refers to particular types of matters to be withheld." 32
The letter also enclosed a memorandum defending the request. It contended:
Implementation of the court's order would have two seriously adverse

consequences: it would create frequent opportunities for large speculative
profits by sophisticated market operators, and it would often impair the ability
of the Federal Reserve to carry out the monetary policy it deems to be
necessary in the national interest. 33

Winning the Merrill Case
June 28, 1979
The issue of the timing of the directive release was resolved in the Committee's favor after a
decision by the Supreme Court on June 28, 1979, and consideration of the facts by the District
Court on remand on June 9, 1981.
The Supreme Court held that the Committee may continue to enforce its
policy of deferring release of the domestic policy directive until the meeting
next succeeding the one at which the directive was adopted--provided the
Committee could establish that some harm would result from immediate
disclosure. This harm could consist of either (1) an impairment to the
monetary policy process; or (2) financial costs to the Government. On
remand, Judge Oliver Gasch ruled in the Committee's favor. 34
Although the FOMC received a favorable majority ruling in the Supreme Court, a dissent by
Justice Stevens, with whom Justice Stewart joined, is of interest: 35
On the practical level, it seems to me that the operation of an "open" market
committee should be open to all--not just to a selected few.

32. The letter to Senator Proxmire was also sent to the FOMC with a cover note, dated January 16, 1978, from
Arthur L. Broida.
33. "Memorandum concerning Federal Reserve open market operations and recent court decision," enclosure to
letter from Chairman Burns to Senator Proxmire, January 13, 1978.
34. Stephen L. Siciliano, "Merrill v. Federal Open Market Committee, 443 U.S. 340 (1979), on remand 516 F.
Supp. 1028 (D.D.C. 1981)," memorandum to Normand Bernard, October 27, 1992, p. 1.
35. Syllabus, 443 U.S., Federal Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve System v. Merrill, Stevens J.,
dissenting, p. 365.

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24

A footnote to this sentence reads:
As Professor Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago stated: "May I say
that I have long been in favor of the immediate release of the records of policy
actions of the FOMC. .. ."

Two years after the Supreme Court ruling, the FOMC no doubt was pleased to hear of Judge
Gasch's decision:
Admittedly, in reaching this conclusion, the FOMC was required to choose
between competing economic theories and competing economic policies.
While Congress has entrusted the FOMC with making such determination, it
is at once apparent that this Court is an inappropriate forum for weighing the
wisdom of the FOMC's choice.... This is particularly true in the context of
this FOIA case. 36

Complying with New Legislative Goals and Reporting Requirements
Congressional activity focused on the Federal Reserve's communication policy especially
intently in the mid-1970s, starting with House Concurrent Resolution 133 in 1975, which set
down reporting requirements for money and credit ranges. The Congress next passed the
Federal Reserve Reform Act of 1977, which specified legislative goals. In 1978, it enacted the
Humphrey-Hawkins Act, which refined monetary reporting requirements and established
numerical economic objectives for the nation. After reviewing these congressional initiatives,
this section concludes by characterizing the implementation and communication of monetary
policy in the 1970s.
Adapting to the Congressional Resolution on Reporting 12-Month-Ahead Ranges
March 24, 1975
A memorandum from Diane Werneke, a staff member in the Federal Reserve Board's
Congressional Liaison Office, covered the relevant congressional developments:
Until the mid-1970s, there were only limited attempts by Congress to legislate
monetary policy actions or to provide general guidance to the Federal Reserve
on what should be its economic goals. In the mid-1960s, Representative
Patman introduced a series of bills to direct interest rate policy, but these
efforts did not galvanize attention as economic policy was largely perceived
to be in the domain of fiscal actions.

36. Stephen L. Siciliano, "Merrill v. F.O.M.C., D.D.C. No. 75-0736," Julyl9, 1981, p. 8 of the attached opinion
by Judge Gasch.

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I The Second Halfofthe 1970s 	

Several developments seem to explain why the focus of Congressional interest
grew to encompass monetary policy: the secular rise in inflation beginning in
the late 1960s, the advent of monetarism with its emphasis on the direct
linkage between monetary policy and inflation, and more generally, the
economic turbulence of the late 1960s and 1970s, characterized by a major
recession, oil shocks, and accelerating inflation.
The first systematic Congressional oversight of the Federal Reserve's
monetary policy activities began in 1975 with the passage of House
Concurrent Resolution 133 on March 24, 1975. The Resolution was the direct
precursor of the subsequent Federal Reserve Reform Act of 1977 and the
Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978. The Resolution stated:
"That it is the sense of the Congress that the Board of Governors of the
Federal Reserve System and the Federal Open Market Committee-­
(I) 	

pursue policies in the first half of 197 5 so as to encourage
lower long-term interest rates and expansion in the monetary
and credit aggregates appropriate to facilitating prompt
economic recovery; and

(2) 	

maintain long run growth of the monetary and credit
aggregates commensurate with the economy's long run
potential to increase production, so as to promote effectively
the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and
moderate long-term interest rates."

Further, the resolution called for the Board to consult with Congress at
semiannual hearings before the House and Senate Banking Committees about
monetary policy plans and objectives regarding "the ranges of growth or
diminution of monetary and credit aggregates in the upcoming twelve
months." Recognizing that economic conditions could change, the resolution
stated that "nothing in this resolution shall be interpreted to require that such
ranges of growth or diminution be achieved if the Board of Governors and the
Federal Open Market Committee determine that they cannot or should not be
achieved because of changing conditions." The reasons for such a
determination were to be explained to Congress during the subsequent
semiannual hearing.
H. Con. Res. 133 was introduced Feb. 20, 1975, by Democratic House
Banking Committee Chairman Henry Reuss. Senate Banking Committee
Chairman William Proxmire, a Democrat, had introduced a similar resolution,
S. Con. Res. 18, earlier in that month and the House-Senate conference report
was agreed to a month later. The conference report was signed by both House
and Senate Democrats and Republicans. That report emphasized the necessity

25

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26

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

of lower long-term interest rates. However, it added that "the choice of
policies pursued to encourage lower long-term rates is an administrative
matter more properly left to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve
System and the Federal Open Market Committee," thereby establishing a
model for congressional oversight: a general directive for monetary policy-­
maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate rates to be brought about
by Federal Reserve policies to expand or decrease the monetary and credit
aggregates--leaving flexibility for the Federal Reserve to adjust policies to
changes in economic conditions. As the Conference Report stated, "the
conferees agreed on the need for a provision ... to assure the Federal Reserve
flexibility in adapting to changing conditions."
The resolution passed amid an economic environment of high interest rates,
inflation, and unemployment ... and reflected a growing sentiment in
Congress to reaffirm its Constitutional authority over the Federal Reserve:
"by enactment of House Concurrent Resolution 133, the Congress will be
discharging its duty under the Constitution which directs Congress to ' ***
coin money and determine the value thereof. This will be accomplished by
directing the Federal Reserve, as a creature and agent of Congress, to direct
monetary policy so as to reduce long-term interest rates--the rates most
important as far as capital investment, housing, and other large, long-term
investments are concerned." (House Report No. 94-20 accompanying H. Con.
Res. 133). 37
In May 1975, Chairman Bums testified before the House and Senate Banking Committees. For
the first time, he presented and discussed ranges of growth in the monetary and credit aggregates
selected by the FOMC for March 1975 to March 1976. Senator Proxmire commended Chairman
Bums for being responsive to the resolution's request for consultation with the Congress about
the System's objectives and plans for money and credit. In July, Chairman Bums presented
ranges from June 197 5 to June 197 6, but for his next appearance, the FOMC had switched to a
four-quarter growth rate from 1975:Q2 to 1976:Q2. Thereafter, the FOMC presented moving
four-quarter growth rates to the Congress in complying with the resolution.

Chairman Bums similarly testified on four occasions in both 197 6 and 1977. Before the early
February 1976 hearing, Representative Reuss wrote a letter asking for the Federal Reserve's
estimates of GNP, unemployment, inflation, and interest rates that would likely accompany the
specified money ranges. Chairman Bums responded at the hearing.
Dr. Burns . ... There is no way of my giving you numerical projections by 

Board or committee members, other than my own, because they are not 

known to me. 


37. Diane Wemeke, "H. Con. Res. 133 and Monetary Policy and Subsequent Congressional Actions,"
memorandum to Don Winn, September 1, 2000, pp. 1-2.

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I. The Second Halfofthe 1970s

27

I could, of course, make available the projections by our staff. But there are
several reasons--and to my mind, they are decisive--why I don't think this
would be a wise thing to do.
In the first place, there would be a confusion in the public's mind between the
projections by our staff and the projections of the Board or the committee;
that is, these would be taken by very many people, in spite of all of the
interpretation that I might supply, as being projections or forecasts which
were made by the Board or by the Federal Open Market Committee. That is
one difficulty.
Second, our staff follows a procedure that I believe is unique. They revise
their projections every month--sometimes the revisions are very large--and
they discipline themselves by making available to the Board once a month not
only their projections as of that date, but their earlier projections, going back a
year or a year and a half. That is a wonderful exercise in humility. It serves
to remind everyone of how fallible these projections are.
Any projections by our staff that 1 might give you today might no longer be
relevant, because they were now developing another one. And that would
create a lot of confusion.
There is still a third difficulty. 1 am a little afraid--I have discussed this with
members of my staff, and it is their opinion as well as mine--that if their
projections were made public, they would be less prone, less willing, less
inclined to revise the projections drastically from month to month, as they do
at times. Therefore, the guidance and the assistance that we get from the staff
would no longer express, to the same degree, their uninhibited, purely
professional judgment. 38
Receiving Multiple Objectives in the Federal Reserve Reform Act of 1977
November 16, 1977
The Federal Reserve Reform Act of 1977 became law on November 16. It amended section 2A
of the Federal Reserve Act by codifying the language of House Concurrent Resolution 133,
which did not have the force of law. The act established in law the multiple objectives that
remain in force to this day: "maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term
interest rates." Furthermore, it added
for the purposes of semiannual reports to Congress, which heretofore only
required reports on the objectives and plans with respect [to] the monetary

38. Hearings before the Commtttee on Banking, Currency and Housing, House of Representatives, February
2-3, 1976, p. 74.

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28

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

aggregates, the phrase "taking account of past and prospective developments
in production, employment, and prices. " 39
A new section, "Congressional Review," was inserted immediately after section 2 in the law:
SEC. 2A. The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the
Federal Open Market Committee shall maintain long run growth of the
monetary and credit aggregates commensurate with the economy's long run
potential to increase production, so as to promote effectively the goals of
maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.
The Board of Governors shall consult with Congress at semiannual hearings
before the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs of the Senate
and the Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs of the House of
Representatives about the Board of Governors' and the Federal Open Market
Committee's objectives and plans with respect to the ranges of growth or
diminution of monetary and credit aggregates for the upcoming twelve
months, taking account of past and prospective developments in production,
employment, and prices. Nothing in this Act shall be interpreted to require
that such ranges of growth or diminution be achieved if the Board of
Governors and the Federal Open Market Committee determine that they
cannot or should not be achieved because of changing conditions.
Chairman G. William Miller testified several times in 1978. In March, Representative Reuss
asked him about base drift and the relationship of previous monetary control misses to upcoming
ranges for monetary growth. In April, he asked about the positions of individual members of the
FOMC at the March meeting. Their exchange is instructive:
Mr. Miller . ... I understand the procedure has been such that, in order to
provide full freedom for discussion and to avoid the possibility of inhibition
of expression of viewpoints, the names of members who express those
viewpoints are generally not made available. They were made available in the
fuller records that were released many years later.

Those memorandum [sic] of discussion, of course, have been suspended
recently; I hope that they will be reinstated so that there will be a historical
base for analyzing decisions.
The Chairman [Reuss] . ... I do not see why a board, five members of which
are not even democratically selected, should have the cloak of anonymity
thrown over it until we are all dead. So, I want to record myself as completely
out of sympathy with the secrecy cloak of the Fed.

39. Diane Wemeke, "H. Con. Res. 133 and Monetary Policy and Subsequent Congressional Actions,"
memorandum to Don Winn, September 1, 2000, p. 5.

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I. The Second Ha(f ofthe 1970s

Accepting the Humphrey-Hawkins Act
October 27, 1978
The Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978-or the Humphrey-Hawkins Act for
short-became law on October 27. The relevant section of the act, which further amended
section 2A of the Federal Reserve Act, follows:
1. General Policy: Congressional Review
The Board of Governors ofthe Federal Reserve System and the Federal Open
Market Committee shall maintain long run growth of the monetary and credit
aggregates commensurate with the economy's long run potential to increase
production, so as to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment,
stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates. In furtherance of the
purposes ofthe Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978, the
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System shall transmit to the
Congress, not later than February 20 and July 20 of each year, independent
written reports setting forth (1) a review and analysis of recent developments
affecting economic trends in the Nation; (2) the objectives and plans of the
Board of Governors and the Federal Open Market Committee with respect to
the ranges of growth or diminution of the monetary and credit aggregates for
the calendar year during which the report is transmitted, taking account of
past and prospective developments in employment, unemployment,
production, investment, real income, productivity, international trade and
payments, and prices; and (3) the relationship of the aforesaid objectives and
plans to the short-term goals set forth in the most recent Economic Report of
the President pursuant to section 3(a)(2)(A) of the Employment Act of 1946
and to any short-term goals approved by the Congress. In addition, as a part
of its report on July 20 of each year, the Board of Governors shall include a
statement of its objectives and plans with respect to the ranges of growth or
diminution of the monetary and credit aggregates for the calendar year
following the year in which the report is submitted. The reports required
under the two preceding sentences shall be transmitted to the Congress and
shall be referred in the Senate to the Committee on Banking, Housing and
Urban Affairs, and in the House of Representatives to the Committee on
Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs. The Board shall consult with each such
Committee on the reports and thereafter, each such Committee shall submit to
its respective body a report containing its views and recommendations with
respect to the Federal Reserve's intended policies. Nothing in this Act shall
be interpreted to require that the objectives and plans with respect to the
ranges of growth or diminution of the monetary and credit aggregates
disclosed in the reports submitted under this section be achieved if the Board
of Governors and the Federal Open Market Committee determine that they
cannot or should not be achieved because of changing conditions: Provided,
that in the subsequent consultations with, and reports to, the aforesaid

29

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30

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Committees of the Congress pursuant to this section, the Board of Governors
shall include an explanation of the reasons for any revisions to or deviations
from such objectives and plans.
Like the Federal Reserve Reform Act of 1977, the Humphrey-Hawkins Act directed the FOMC
to establish ranges for money and credit. In a new twist, it also required the Federal Reserve to
show the relationship ofFOMC objectives to the short-run projections ofthe Administration.
The macroeconomic goals in the act, however, were not directly applicable to the Federal
Reserve.
The Act did specify interim goals of 4 percent unemployment and 3 percent
inflation that were to be achieved by the end of 1983. It also specified
ultimate goals of full employment (undefined), a balanced federal budget, and
0 percent inflation, with the inflation goal to be achieved by 1988. The Act
required a five-year path in the Economic Report of the President, starting in
1979, of expected progress toward the goals. The five-year paths were to be
divided into short-term goals for the next two years and medium-term goals
for three years after that.
The Act did require the Federal Reserve to set growth ranges for money and
credit aggregates, taking account of past and prospective developments in key
macroeconomic variables. In addition, the central bank had to show the
relationship of its objectives to the President's short-term goals. The Act did
not commit the Federal Reserve to achieving the President's short-term or
medium-term goals, nor to achieving the interim or ultimate goals specified in
the Act. The legislative history suggests that the Congress did not want the
Federal Reserve and the President to pull strongly in opposite directions, but
there was never any requirement that their objectives should match.
Over time, the nature of the Administration's short-term projections changed
from being a path toward the numerical goals specified by the Act to being
just a forecast for the economy. The Federal Reserve still follows the letter of
the Act and includes in each Monetarv Policy Report to the Congress a table
and brief discussion comparing FOMC forecasts for key macroeconomic
variables with those ofthe Administration [when available]. 40
Before the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, the FOMC reported to the Congress moving twelve-month
or four-quarter growth ranges for money and bank credit (see table 2). The Humphrey-Hawkins
Act addressed the problem of intra-yearly base drift by requiring growth ranges for money and
credit over calendar years, rather than over the next twelve months.

40. Dennis Farley, "Numerical Goals under the Humphrey-Hawkins Act," memorandum to Governor Meyer,
April 11, 2000, pp. 1-2. The bracketed phrase is mine.

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31

/. The Second Halfofthe 1970s

Table 2 

Money and Bank Credit: 

Growth Ranges Adopted by the FOMC Pursuant to 

House Concurrent Resolution 133 and the Federal Reserve Reform Act of 1977, 1975-78 

(Percent)
Date of
FOMC
meeting

Interval covered

Ml

M2

M3

Bank
credie

1975
Apr. 14-15

Mar. 1975 to Mar. 1976

5 to 7''h

8 1 to 10Yz
/2

10 to 12

6 1 to 9Yz
/2

June 16-17

June 1975 to June 1976

5 to 7Yz

8Y2 to

10~

10 to 12

6~ to9~

July 15

1975:Q2 to 1976:Q2

5 to 7Yz

8Yz to

10~

10 to 12

6Yz to 9Yz

Oct. 21

1975:Q3 to 1976:Q3

5 to

7~

to

10~

9 to 12

6 to 9

1976
Jan. 20

1975:Q4 to 1976:Q4

4'12 to

7~

to 10'12

9 to 12

6 to 9

Apr. 20

1976:Q1 to 1977:Q1

4Yi to 7

7'12 to 10

9 to 12

6 to 9

July 19-20

1976:Q2 to 1977:Q2

4~

7Yz to 9Yz

9 to 11

5 to 8

Nov. 8

1976:Q3 to 1977:Q3

4Yz to 6Yz

7'12 to 10

9to11Yz

5 to 8

1977
Jan. 17-18

1976:Q4 to 1977:Q4

4Yz to

6~

7 to 10

8Yzto11Yz

7 to 10

Apr. 19

1977:Ql to 1978:Ql

4Yz to 6Yz

7 to 9Yz

8Yzto11

7 to 10

July 19

1977:Q2 to 1978:Q2

4 to

6~

7 to 9Yi

8'12 to II

7 to 10

Oct. 17-18

1977:Q3 to 1978:Q3

4 to 6Yi

6Yi to 9

8'12 to IOYi

7 to 10

1978
Feb.28

l977:Q4 to 1978:Q4

4 to 6Yz

6Yz to 9

7Yz to 10

7to 10

Apr. 18

1978:Ql to 1979:Ql

4 to 6Yi

6Yz to 9

7Yz to 10

7Yz to 10Y2

July 18

1978:Q2 to 1979:Q2

4 to 6Yz

6Yz to 9

7Yz to 10

8Yz to 11 Yz

Oct. 17

l978:Q3 to 1979:Q3

2 to 6

6~

7Yz to 10

8~

7~

7~

to 7

to 9

to 11 Yz

1. Through the meeting of April 19, 1977, bank credit was represented by the bank credit proxy-a
measure of the funds that member banks had available for lending.

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32

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Picking the First Calendar-Year Money and Credit Ranges
February 6, 1979
In light of the calendar-year focus of the new Humphrey-Hawkins Act, the FOMC at its
February 1979 meeting selected money and credit ranges from the fourth quarter of the base year
to the fourth quarter of the next year. The Committee picked growth rate ranges over 1979 of
11 to 4lf2 percent for M1, 5 to 8 percent for M2, 6 to 9 percent for M3, and 7'12 to 1OV2 percent
h
for bank credit. It reaffirmed these ranges in July as well. However, over much of the second
half of 1979, the FOMC internally used a higher, 3 to 6 percent range for Ml that year, owing to
a smaller-than-expected drag from recently authorized accounts outside that aggregate. The
Committee did not yet collect macroeconomic forecasts from Board members or Reserve Bank
presidents.
Chairman Miller's testimony in February 1979 indicated that the money and credit ranges for the
current year called for a marked slowing from the paces of recent years. The report of the House
Banking Committee on monetary policy proposed greater discipline by suggesting a 1
percentage point deceleration in the annual growth rate of Ml each year until 1982.

In additional views, printed separately in the Committee's report,
Representative Gonzalez went further in critiquing the Fed's report. He
believed that its report should explain "in plain terms what the policy it
endorses will do to interest rates ... [and] the rate of employment, and how it
will affect overall economic performance, including the rate of inflation....41
Compiling the First Semiannual Macroeconomic Forecasts
July 11, 1979
At its July meeting, the Committee reaffirmed for 1979 the money and bank credit ranges
adopted in February and established "tentative" ranges for 1980 that were the same as those set
for 1979. The Federal Reserve's July 1979 Humphrey-Hawkins report took a crucial step in
fuller communication. It did so by providing for the first time the ranges of the projections by
individual members of the FOMC of four-quarter growth for nominal and real GNP and for the
rate of GNP inflation, as well as the fourth-quarter unemployment rate, for 1979 and 1980. Only
the Board members contributed projections, and no central tendencies of the projections were
supplied. The full ranges of the projections for 1979 specifically were 8 to 10 percent for
nominal GNP, -2 to -'h percent for real GNP, 9'12 to 11 percent for the implicit deflator, and 61;4
to 7 percent for the civilian unemployment rate. For 1980, the ranges of projections were 8'h to
11 'h percent for nominal GNP, -'h to 2 percent for real GNP, 8'12 to IO'h percent for the implicit
deflator, and 6% to 8'12 percent for the unemployment rate. Nonetheless, in the context of ever­
mounting inflationary pressures, the House Banking Committee's report on monetary policy
admonished the FOMC for its stop-and-go policies and for not fostering sufficiently steady Ml
growth.

41. Diane Wemeke, "H. Con. Res. 133 and Monetary Policy and Subsequent Congressional Actions,"
memorandum to Don Wino, September 1, 2000, p. [12].

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I. The Second Half ofthe I 970s

33

Implementing Monetary Policy

1969-79
To understand fully how monetary policy was implemented from the mid-1970s on, it is
necessary to go back even further in time and describe the procedures in the late 1960s and their
subsequent evolution. In 1969, the Committee had for four years been directing the Manager to
seek specified money market conditions, with the explicit proviso in the directive for some
modification if bank credit deviated significantly from recent or anticipated behavior. According
to Governor Wallich and Peter Keir:
For the four years that the Federal Open Market Committee qualified its
operating directive with proviso clauses, the operations of the Manager were
actually modified in accordance with such clauses on only a few occasions-­
and then only slightly. Thus, ... money market conditions continued to be
dominant operating targets for open market policy during those years, and
there was no explicit linkage of the proviso clause to any view of a desired
longer-run trend in the aggregates. 42
At its January 15, 1970, meeting, the Committee added "money" to "bank credit" and, at its
February 10, 1970, meeting, importantly switched its main focus from money market conditions
to the expansion of the aggregates, as Wallich and Keir write (p. 685):
At the beginning of 1970 the Federal Open Market Committee began to
change its emphasis. During the succeeding two to two and one-half years,
operating directives usually stressed bank credit and money as primary
targets, subordinating money market conditions to a proviso. Average growth
ranges were specified for both the bank credit proxy and the money supply.
The time span chosen for this specification became the two-month period
encompassing the current and succeeding meetings. These target growth
ranges were to be achieved provided that in the process key money market
rates, chiefly the federal funds rate, did not move outside their own stated
ranges. Even with this general emphasis on money and credit as primary
targets, actual growth in these measures often continued to deviate
significantly from the Committee's specified ranges. Since the Committee
remained reluctant to authorize wide ranges for possible change in money
market rates, the Manager was constrained in moving to counter deviations in
money growth rates; moreover, as noted earlier, the aggregates responded to
his actions with a lag.
Despite imposing its own limitations on funds rate variation, the FOMC was somewhat
dissatisfied with the effectiveness of monetary control yielded by these procedures; so as the
1970s progressed well into the second half, the FOMC sponsored some abortive shadow

42. Henry C. Wallich and Peter M. Keir, "The Role of Operating Guides in U.S. Monetary Policy: A Historical
Review," Federal Reserve Bulletzn, September 1979, p. 685.

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34

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

experiments with reserve targeting, as recommended by the Subcommittee on the Directive.
Because these efforts revealed that as targets the reserve measures chosen had certain flaws, the
FOMC "soon concluded that money market conditions were preferable as its immediate
operating target" (p. 685). 43
The ranges for the monetary and credit aggregates were chosen with an eye toward restraining
inflation while sustaining expansion. The Federal Reserve reported on these ranges, and on
monetary policy and the economy more generally, to the Congress first at quarterly and then,
starting in 1979, at semiannual intervals, as the evolving legislation called for. Governor
Wallich and Peter Keir (p. 686) described the operating procedures used to attain these ranges
that by September 1979 had been extant for some time:
At each of its monthly meetings the Federal Open Market Committee sets
two-month ranges oftolerance for growth in M-1 and M-2. These shorter-run
ranges are intended to be broadly consistent with the calendar-year targets
reported semiannually to the Congress; ... but they are not completely
constrained by those targets and may exceed or fall short of them. Since the
Committee can change its calendar-year ranges in light of the economic
outlook, it retains considerable discretion to adjust the two-month ranges at its
monthly meetings .... Actions linked to these short-run ranges thus continue
to be the focus of open market policy.
When the performance of the money supply appears to be deviating from the
Committee's stated two-month ranges, the Manager of the System Account is
still constrained in his efforts to offset these deviations by a federal funds rate
proviso. He can initiate countering open market purchases or sales only so
long as these operations, or other market factors, do not push the weekly
average federal funds rate outside its specified range, generally 50 to 100
basis points wide. If growth rates for M-1 and M-2 (occasionally weighted
unequally to minimize the impact of known distortions in the series) appear to
be remaining outside the Committee's desired ranges, and the Manager's
actions to counter this deviation have moved the funds rate to the upper or
lower limit of its range, he must request new instructions from the Committee.
So long as the funds rate remains within its specified range, the Manager has
leeway to respond to evidence that weighted growth rates for M-1 and M-2
are approaching or moving outside the limits of their ranges. The FOMC may
instruct him to begin offsetting market action when the aggregates move

43. This conclusion seems to have been something of a non sequitur in light of subsequent experience with
targeting the perfectly adequate concept ofnonborrowed reserves, which naturally needed "multiplier adjustments"
to offset unpredicted movements in currency, government demand deposits, and time and savings deposits. A total
reserves concept, like reserves against private nonbank deposits (RPDs), whose targeting necessitates offsetting
unexpected variations in borrowed reserves, is, of course, an entirely different story. After some unsatisfactory
simulated results with RPDs, the Committee settled on nonborrowed reserves for its shadow experiments.

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I. The Second Half ofthe 1970s

35

substantially into the upper or lower halves of their ranges. Alternatively, the
Committee may instruct him to take action only when growth rates for M-1
and M-2 are already close to or exceeding the limits of the ranges. In either
case, these operating procedures encourage the Manager to respond more
sensitively to deviations in growth of the aggregates from desired rates than
was the case in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Of course, the full effect on
M-1 and M-2 of a change in the funds rate occurs, not within the one-month
intermeeting period, but cumulatively over a period of roughly six months.
A description, written in the mid-1980s, of how those procedures were supposed to work is
pertinent:
Through these procedures the Federal Reserve sought to influence directly the
quantity of money demanded by the public. It tried to select a level of the
funds rate that would make the public want to hold an amount of money equal
to the targeted value. When the Trading Desk raised the funds rate, other
short-term interest rates tended to rise in sympathy. The public then found
market instruments more attractive relative to money balances, which were
subject to interest rate ceilings or outright prohibitions on the payment of
interest. The resulting transfer of funds from monetary to other financial
assets was reflected in a reduced stock of money. Over time, as well, the
higher interest rates and accompanying tighter credit conditions tended to
damp spending and hence transactions demands for money. In practice, when
money demand strengthened, the Committee did not always alter the funds
rate promptly enough or sufficiently to keep monetary aggregates consistently
within their ranges, even over the longer run ....
The Federal Reserve's record in attaining the announced annual ranges for
Ml and M2 from 1976 to 1979 was somewhat mixed. (Along with the
monthly average federal funds rate, t]he ranges for the calendar year also are
shown by the lines in (exhibit 2] and the actual growth rates of M 1 and M2
are shown by Xs, using the definitions of these aggregates in force during
these years. Over each of these calendar years, only one of the aggregates
grew within its range, while the other expanded faster than its upper bound. 44
Governor Wallich and Peter Keir did not see these procedures as representing an optimum that
would forever stay frozen in place. Even so, they did not predict the character of the very next
step. I cannot resist quoting the last paragraph, especially the last sentence, of their article
published in the September 1979 issue of the Federal Reserve Bulletin (p. 690); it is an example
of the perils of prognostication even of near-term developments:

44. David E. Lindsey, "The Monetary Regime of the Federal Reserve System," in Colin D. Campbell and
William R. Dugan, ed., Alternative Monetary Regimes, Johns Hopkms University Press, 1985, pp. 176 and 180.
Paper delivered at a conference at Dartmouth College on August 22-24, 1984.

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36

A Modem History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Exhibit 2
Percent

l

Pe rceat dlaace,

l

Q4 to Q4

~

I

-

X

I
1­

X~

&rovth

-

I

ADOPtED aANGE S

AND AC111AL CJtO\lnt JtATES FOR

.

I

tu-'"

)(

/"

Tarcet
ttange

I

f-.

-

XI

_}(

Actual/XI

~~

iravth

l

-

l

1­

1976

s

I

Actud

f-.

8

X

X

1977

1978

4
2
12
10

8
6

4
1979

SHORT-RUN TOLERANCE RANGES AND ACTUAL LEVELS FOR FEDERAL FUNDS RA
(+ denotes average federal funds rate)

16
14
12
10

8
6

4
1976
1.
2.

1977

1978

1979 


Hl defined •• currency and demand depolits.

H2 deftued as Ml plus savings and small time deposita at commercial banks.

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I. The Second Halfofthe 1970s

37

The many practical difficulties of selecting a monetary target with predictable
links to GNP reinforces a persisting strand of Federal Reserve thought: that no
single formula or operating target can be relied on to work effectively in all
circumstances. For this reason the Federal Reserve has typically hedged its
commitment to any given operating target, constantly checking performance
of the target and other relevant economic variables to determine whether the
presumed linkage between them is working as expected. The future of
Federal Reserve monetary policy techniques is unforeseeable, depending as it
does in large measure upon developments in the economy, especially the
degree to which inflation can be overcome. But the deeply rooted practice of
eclectic choice among operating techniques and policy targets, rather than
exclusive commitment to one, is likely to continue.
One month later the FOMC switched to a virtually exclusive focus on controlling Ml through
essentially single-minded reliance on a nonborrowed reserves operating target. Over the longer
run, though, Wallich and Keir seem a bit more prescient. 45
The foregoing represents a description of the implementation of monetary policy by the FOMC
from 1969 through the summer of 1979. As for policy design, the details will be examined in
chapter VI, which shows that the FOMC seemed to rely heavily on macroeconomic forecasts in
setting the funds rate while exercising caution in adjusting that rate. The Committee appeared to
focus on the likely pressures on inflation and labor resources. Unfortunately, as the 1970s drew
to a close, the forecasts of economic weakness proved to be overdone, the implicit estimate of
the NAIRU proved to be much too low, and the movements in the policy stance proved to be
"too little-too late."
Some of the impetus to inflation also came from the misleading signals imparted by the
slowdown in Ml growth around mid-decade, given the downward shift in its demand function
relative to nominal income and short-term rates. (To be sure, reverse causation was at work as
well. Had the Federal Reserve acted to prevent the inflation that raised the opportunity costs of
transaction balances, then much less incentive to economize on M 1 through unusual innovations
would have emerged, and the demand function for M 1 would have remained much more stable.)
In addition, two separate shocks to the price of oil had adverse effects both before the middle of
and again late in the decade. The exchange value of the dollar showed sporadic weakness.

45. I am hardly in a position to make fun of people's inability to realize that the passage of one month would
refute their judgment about a htstorical inevitability. I suffered the ignominy of an even shorter delay. In the
highlight of my career, I saw myself as a mover and shaker behind the Board's adoption of contemporaneous reserve
requirements (CRR) in place oflagged reserve requirements (LRR) to slightly tmprove control ofMl under a
nonborrowed reserves operating target. The Board approved CRR on September 29, 1982, and announced the
approval on October 5, 1982, with an implementation date of February 2, 1984. The FOMC then proceeded to
abandon its virtually exclusive focus on controlling M 1 at its October 5, 1982, meeting-the very same day CRR
was announced-and shortly thereafter to drop the nonborrowed reserves operating target in favor of borrowed
reserves. The two FOMC actions rendered CRR useless for monetary control relative to LRR and vindicated
Wallich and Ketr's last paragraph after all. (The Board finally readopted lagged reserve requirements on March 24,
1998, announcing the decision on March 26, 1998, for implementation on July 30, 1998.)

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38

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

(Some portion of these last two influences likely was exogenous.) Whatever the reasons,
inflation expectations were picking up as well over those years. 46 And some observers have
further asserted that Chainnan Bums's political moves at least upon occasion produced an easier
monetary policy than otherwise. 47 Still, the most crucial source of the overly expansionary
monetary policy in the 1970s seems to have been the underestimate ofthe economy's natural
rate of unemployment.
Communicating Monetary Policy

1969-79
The Committee in the 1970s, of course, did not dress its policy setting in the modem cloth of a
forward-looking Taylor rule with an implicit target for the inflation rate and an implicit, if
considerably underestimated, estimate of the natural rate of unemployment. Instead, the
common thread running through many of the relevant FOMC communications of the period was
that the Federal Reserve was not ultimately to blame for the too-rapid secular rise in prices
because of the critical influence of other factors.
Excessive fiscal policy stimulus was a commonly referenced contributing source. The cost-push
effects of union power through wage negotiations also was regarded as playing an important
role, as was corporate discretion over administered product prices. Both perspectives had been
consistent with the experiment with wage and price controls earlier in the decade, the lifting of
which also boosted the measured inflation rate. After mid-decade, attention shifted to OPEC:
This cartel of oil producers was thought to have a permanent influence not just on relative prices
but also on overall trend inflation. By the 1970s, the economics profession had advanced
sufficiently so that most FOMC members had accepted a vertical long-run Philips curve, in
which the equilibrium unemployment rate was independent of the inflation rate. Rather, despite
rousing anti-inflationary speeches and testimony, the Federal Reserve had not really taken to
heart that the long-run inflation rate was the responsibility solely of the central bank, along with
its other responsibility for promoting sustainable real growth in the intennediate run. Thus, the
central bank alone has the long-run duty of ensuring stable prices.

46. This paragraph so far draws on Stephen H. Axilrod, "U.S. Monetary Policy in Recent Years: An
Overview," Federal Reserve Bulletin, January 1985, pp. 14-16.
47. See William Greider, Secrets ofthe Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country, Simon and
Schuster, 1987, p. 67.

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II. OCTOBER 1979 TO SEPTEMBER 1982: CONTROLLING M1 AND
OPERATING ON NONBORROWED RESERVES
41

Adopting New Monetary Control Procedures...................................

41

Replacing the funds rate with nonborrowed reserves, October 6, 1979 ......................
Adapting the Content of the Directive ..........................................
Alluding to reserve aggregates and widening the funds rate band, October 6, 1979 ............
Reintroducing quantitative short-run monetary ranges, January 8-9, 1980 ....................
Introducing a violation of the funds rate band as a signal for consultation,
........................
. .......
December 18-19, 1980 .................

44
45
45

Complying with the Legislative Initiative for Monetary Targeting .................

47

Redefining the monetary aggregates, February 4-5, 1980 .................................
Implementing credit controls, March 14, 1980 .....................................
Resisting setting annual ranges for the next year, July 9, 1980 .............................
Accounting for nationwide NOWs with shift adjustment, February 2-3, 1981 .................
Evaluating the new monetary control procedures, February 1981 ...........................
Aiming at the upper bound of a constant annual M1 range, June 30-July 1, 1982 ..............
Perceiving the need for more flexibility in policy design, July 1, 1982 .......................
..........................
Implementing monetary policy, 1980-82 ................
.........................
Communicating monetary policy, 1980-82 ................

46

..

55
. 55
56
57
57
58
60
62
62

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II. OCTOBER 1979 TO SEPTEMBER 1982: CONTROLLING M1 AND
OPERATING ON NONBORROWED RESERVES
Adopting New Monetary Control Procedures
On Saturday October 6, 1979, the FOMC held a special meeting in Washington and switched its
operating target from the federal funds rate to nonborrowed reserves. It was dissatisfied with the
old operating procedures, which had not kept the monetary aggregates under adequate control. It
also faced inflationary developments in domestic and international markets. The FOMC in
effect took responsibility for long-run inflation with this action. That evening, the Federal
Reserve announced that it had switched operating procedures "to support the objective of
containing growth in the monetary aggregates .. . [by] placing greater emphasis on the supply of
bank reserves and less emphasis on confining short-term fluctuations in the Federal funds rate."
It also announced the Board's reinforcing adjustments to the discount rate and reserve
requirements.
Chairman Volcker had returned early from an IMF conference in Belgrade, arriving in
Washington on Tuesday, October 2, with his ears still resonating with strongly stated European
recommendations for stern action. The view on Wall Street was that the new procedures were
prompted by these criticisms. In fact, the die had already been cast, as Chairman Volcker had
lined up support among the other Board members for a conversion to a reserve-based technique
even before he had left for Europe on the previous Saturday. 48
This chapter first describes this procedural change and addresses the rewording of the directive
implied by its implementation. Next, the chapter covers the way the FOMC overcame various
practical obstacles that emerged in the process of monetary targeting. The text then turns to the
daily implementation of monetary targeting. Finally, it discusses the contradictions that were
surfacing in the communication of policy to the public.
Replacing the Funds Rate with Nonborrowed Reserves
October 6, 1979
The developments in 1979 leading up to the new operating procedures have been described in a
paper by Athanasios Orphanides in a section entitled "What happened in 1979?" 49 In short,
throughout the first half of 1979, the FOMC was deterred from tightening on balance because it
was concerned about the prospect of recession; as noted in chapter I, the first semiannual
economic forecasts of Board members presented that July projected a decline in the level of real
GNP over 1979 and a sharp rise in the unemployment rate by the fourth quarter. In the event,
growth in the first half turned out to be positive in each quarter. As spring turned into summer
and temperatures rose, inflation also was heating up, leading the FOMC to undertake several
policy firmings before the fall began. As September drew to a close, the need for a new
technique for monetary operations had become compelling.

48. William Greider, Secrets of the Temple, pp. 105-18.
49. Athanasios Orphanides, "Monetary Policy Rules, Macroeconomic Stability and Inflation: A View from the
Trenches," Journalof Money, Credit and Banking, forthcoming.

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Accordingly, a special meeting was scheduled for October 6 in Washington. Stephen Axilrod,
Economist for the FOMC, and Peter Sternlight, Manager for Domestic Operations, System Open
Market Account, coauthored a background memorandum outlining the general contours of the
proposed new approach. It was sent electronically to the FOMC members on October 4. It
envisaged that the FOMC would choose a desired short-run growth trajectory for M1 and other
aggregates and that the staff would determine the associated path for total reserves. The
memorandum also suggested another point at which an FOMC decision could fit into newly
structured operations:
A method for setting the level ofnonborrowed reserves would be to take the
average level of borrowing in recent weeks and subtract them from total
reserves. Or the Committee could take a different level of borrowing--either
higher or lower--depending in part on whether it wishes to tilt money market
conditions toward tightness or ease in the period ahead. Whether money
market interest rates would tend to rise, or rise more than they otherwise
would, then depends on whether the demand for the total monetary base or
total reserves were strong relative to the FOMC's path. If strong, the funds
rate and the level of member bank borrowing would tend to rise as the Desk
adhered to the initial path level [for] nonborrowed reserves. Conversely, if
demands were weak, the funds rate, and the level of member bank borrowing,
0
would tend to decline. 5
The FOMC had a last-minute information-sharing conference call on October 5.
Chairman Volcker.... You will have very shortly, if you don't already, a
memorandum that Steve Axilrod and Peter Sternlight prepared describing a
possible approach that involves leaning more heavily on the aggregates in the
period immediately ahead. And the complement of that is leaning less heavily
on the federal funds rate in terms of immediate policy objectives. We have
had considerable discussion of that over the past couple of weeks here and
that memorandum attempts to distill some of the thinking. I want to discuss
tomorrow whether we want to adopt that approach, not as a permanent
[decision] at this stage, but as an approach for between now and the end of the
year, roughly, in any event....51
At its October 6 meeting, dubbed the "Saturday Night Special" on Wall Street, the Committee
took the decisive step:

50. Messrs. Axilrod and Sternlight, "Proposal for reserve aggregates as [a] guide to open market operations,"
memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee, October 4, 1979, p. 7.
51. Unedited transcript of the October 5, 1979, FOMC conference call, p. 1.

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II. October 1979 to September 1982

Chairman Volcker. ... I certainly conclude from all of this that we can't walk

away today without a program that is strong in fact and perceived as strong in
terms of dealing with the situation ...
[W]e are not dealing with a stable psychological or stable expectational
situation by any means. And on the inflation front we're probably losing
ground. In an expectational sense, I think we certainly are, and that is being
reflected in extremely volatile financial markets. 52
Indicating the considerable extent to which he had thought through the theory of the reforms,
Chairman Volcker in the meeting made clear that the choice of the initial borrowings assumption
in principle should be based on the same predicted level of the federal funds rate (converted to a
spread over a discount rate) that was associated with the projection of near-term M1 growth that
matched the FOMC's targeted growth path for that aggregate:
Chairman Volcker ... Suppose we happen to put a lot of weight on the

current projection of the money supply and pick figures that would closely
coincide with that. We would then provide, making some assumption on the
level of borrowing that seemed to be consistent with the level of interest rates
that presumably laid behind the projection of the money supply in the first
place--we can't avoid interest rates assumptions the way these things are
done--nonborrowed reserves along that path. 53
But Chairman Volcker's attention never seemed to stray for long from the fundamental task of
restoring price stability. He made the case first at press conferences on October 6 and in late
November 1979 and then to the Congress in February 1980. Orphanides (p. 21) quotes
Chairman Volcker's first Humphrey-Hawkins testimony (February 19, 1980):
In the past, at critical junctures for economic stabilization policy, we have
usually been more preoccupied with the possibility of near-term weakness in
economic activity or other objectives than with the implications of our actions
for future inflation. To some degree, that has been true even during the long
period of expansion since 1975. As a consequence, fiscal and monetary
policies alike too often have been prematurely or excessively stimulative, or
insufficiently restrictive. The result has been our now chronic inflationary
problem, with a growing conviction on the part of many that this process is
likely to continue ...

52. Unedited transcript of the October 6, 1979, FOMC meeting, p. 6. When Normand Bernard was cleaning
out his basement several years ago, he stumbled upon an old reel-to-reel tape. It turned out to be the recording of the
October 6, 1979, FOMC meeting, which he subsequently had transferred to three cassettes for easy listening.
53. Unedited transcript of the October 6, 1979, FOMC meeting, p. 28. In the event, the initial borrowings
assumptions were not published until the year was over. They were included in the Manager's annual report on open
market operations, which was published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, typically in April of the next
year.

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

The broad objective of policy must be to break that ominous pattern. That is
why dealing with inflation has properly been elevated to a position of high
national priority. Success will require that policy be consistently and
persistently oriented to that end. Vacillation and procrastination, out of fears
of recession or otherwise, would run grave risks. Amid the present
uncertainties, stimulative policies could well be misdirected in the short run;
more importantly, far from assuring more growth over time, by aggravating
the inflationary process and psychology they would threaten more instability
and unemployment.
The Congress reacted favorably to the FOMC's strengthened anti-inflationary resolve as
signaled by the new operating procedures.
In April of 1980, the House Banking Committee, under Democratic Chairman
Henry Reuss, was supportive of announced Federal Reserve monetary policy
and was inclined to be patient in waiting for results on inflation. Republicans
did not dissent from the Committee's views. Following are excerpts from that
report:
"Bringing rapid inflation to tolerable levels without precipitating a serious
recession requires a cautious moderation of monetary growth in 1980 and into
the future for years to come. The Committee and the Federal Reserve are
agreed on this objective." ...
The report also specifically endorsed the Federal Reserve's October 1979
change in operating procedures as "a change we applaud." The Committee
also recommended that the Fed move away from its then-current system of
lagged reserve requirements toward contemporaneous reserve requirements. 54

Adapting the Content of the Directive
The Committee's change in operating procedures was reflected in the operational paragraphs of
the directive. Although in practice the Desk's "intervention points" around the intended funds
rate at any given time were even smaller than the band in the policy record, the September 18,
1979, policy record had focused on attaining a weekly average funds rate within a band of ½
percentage point depending on tolerance ranges for M1 and M2 growth:
In the short run, the Committee seeks to achieve bank reserve and money
market conditions that are broadly consistent with the longer-run ranges for
monetary aggregates cited above, while giving due regard to developing

54. Winthrop Hambley, "Information for Governor Meyer," September 8, 2000, pp. [1-2], with a cover note
from Don Winn, "Background Materials on Congress and Monetary Policy," September 25, 2000.

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II. October 1979 to September 1982

conditions in foreign exchange and domestic financial markets. Early in the
period before the next regular meeting, System open market operations are to
be directed at attaining a weekly average federal funds rate slightly above the
current level. Subsequently, operations shall be directed at maintaining the
weekly average federal funds rate within the range of 11¼ to 11¾ percent. In
deciding on the specific objective for the federal funds rate the Manager for
Domestic Operations shall be guided mainly by the relationship between the
latest estimates of annual rates of growth in the September-October period of
M-1 and M-2 and the following ranges of tolerance: 3 to 8 percent for M-1
and 6½ to 10½ percent for M-2. If rates of growth of M-1 and M-2, given
approximately equal weight, appear to be close to or beyond the upper or
lower limits of the indicated ranges, the objective for the funds rate is to be
raised or lowered in an orderly fashion within its range.
If the rates of growth in the aggregates appear to be beyond the upper or lower
limits of the indicated ranges at a time when the objective for the funds rate
has already been moved to the corresponding limit of its range, the Manager
shall promptly notify the Chairman, who will then decide whether the
situation calls for supplementary instructions from the Committee.
Alluding to Reserve Aggregates and Widening the Funds Rate Band
October 6, 1979
In sharp contrast, the operational paragraph of the October 6, 1979, meeting mentioned right
away the Committee's desire for expansion of reserve aggregates consistent with four-quarter
growth of the monetary aggregates in accord with their annual ranges. The band for permissible
funds rate variation was widened to 4 percentage points.
In the short run, the Committee seeks to restrain expansion of reserve
aggregates to a pace consistent with deceleration in growth of M-1, M-2, and
M-3 in the fourth quarter of 1979 to rates that would hold growth of these
monetary aggregates over the whole period from the fourth quarter of 1978 to
the fourth quarter of 1979 within the Committee's longer-run ranges, provided
that in the period before the next regular meeting the weekly average federal
funds rate remains within a range of 11 to 15 /2percent. The Committee
will consider the need for supplementary instructions if it appears that
operations to restrain expansion of reserve aggregates would maintain the
federal funds rate near the upper limit of its range.
Reintroducing Quantitative Short-Run Monetary Ranges
January 8-9, 1980
Language similar to that initiated on October 6, 1979, to confine implicit near-term growth of the
monetary aggregates enough to be compatible with their announced annual ranges for the year,
was retained in operational paragraphs until the January 1980 meeting. At that time, the FOMC
specified explicit growth rates of M1 and M2 over the first quarter of 1980, that is, over the
December-to-March interval:

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46

A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

In the short run the Committee seeks expansion of reserve aggregates
consistent with growth over the first quarter of 1980 at an annual rate between
4 and 5 percent for M- and on the order of 7 percent for M-2, provided that
in the period before the next regular meeting the weekly average federal funds
rate remains within a range of 11½ to 15½ percent.
If it appears during the period before the next meeting that the constraint on
the federal funds rate is inconsistent with the objective for the expansion of
reserves, the Manager for Domestic Operations is promptly to notify the
Chairman who then will decide whether the situation calls for supplementary
instructions from the Committee.
The reference to an M -type measure in the operational paragraphs subsequently would come
and go, as we shall see. Nonetheless, the Committee would retain a short-run specification for
growth of the broader aggregates throughout the 1980s. Indeed, it would keep this specification
for broad money until February 1993, implying a thirteen-year reign for the approach.
Introducing a Violation of the Funds Rate Band as a Signal for Consultation
December 18-19, 1980
At its last meeting in 1980, the Committee changed the formal statement to liberalize the
meaning of the permissible band for the funds rate. Previously, it had been worded more as a
binding constraint, as in the operational paragraphs for the November 18, 1980, meeting:
In the short run, the Committee seeks behavior of reserve aggregates
consistent with growth of M-1 A, M-1 B, and M-2 over the period from
September to December at annual rates of about 2½ percent, 5 percent, and
7¾ percent respectively, or somewhat less, provided that in the period before
the next regular meeting the weekly average federal funds rate remains within
a range of 13 to 17 percent.
If it appears during the period before the next meeting that the constraint on
the federal funds rate is inconsistent with the objective for the expansion of
reserves, the Manager for Domestic Operations is promptly to notify the
Chairman, who will then decide whether the situation calls for supplementary
instructions from the Committee.
At its December 18-19, 1980, meeting, the Committee chose an operational paragraph making
clearer the point that funds persistently tending to trade outside the specified band would be
permissible but would trigger notification of the Chairman, who could obtain amended
instructions:
If it appears during the period before the next meeting that fluctuations in the
federal funds rate, taken over a period of time, within a range of 15 to 20
percent are likely to be inconsistent with the monetary and related reserve
paths, the Manager for Domestic Operations is promptly to notify the

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II. October 1979 to September 1982

47

Chairman, who will then decide whether the situation calls for supplementary
instructions from the Committee.
The innovation of making explicit the possibility of temporary funds trading outside the band
would last almost ten years; this wording was not dropped until November 1990.

Complying with the Legislative Initiative for Monetary Targeting
The following extended quotation lays out an analytic framework that can inform judgments
about the experience under the new operating procedures. It is taken from one of several
nontechnical explications of the principles underlying the new operating procedures that were
written while they were still being used. 55
Having established annual ranges for monetary aggregates, the ... FOMC
selects at each meeting interim money growth targets over the next several
months typically designed to return money to the longer-run objective over
time. For the upcoming intermeeting period, [the] FOMC also specifies a
relatively wide federal funds rate band that serves as a trigger for
consultations, and may also choose an initial discount borrowing assumption
used for constructing the nonborrowed reserves path. The Board staff then
derives intermeeting-period target paths for nonborrowed and total reserves
that are consistent with the Committee's decisions...
During intermeeting periods, the [T]rading [D]esk at the Federal Reserve
Bank of New York engages in open market operations designed to attain the
nonborrowed reserve target, as adjusted for incoming information. These
technical adjustments to the nonborrowed (and total) reserve targets are made
when new data indicate that certain variables are diverging from path levels in
a way that disturbs the multiplier relationship between total reserves and
money. Simply put, these technical adjustments are designed in principle so
that a divergence of the money stock from its intermeeting target gives rise,
essentially automatically, to proportional dollar changes in the gap between
total reserves demanded and nonborrowed reserves supplied; however, other
unexpected shocks altering the multiplier relationship between total reserves
and money do not affect this gap. Specifically, over the intermeeting period,
the induced movement of borrowings away from their initially assumed level
equals the assumed average required reserve ratio [o]n transactions deposits at

55. Alternatively, see Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, "The New Federal Reserve Technical
Procedures for Controlling Money," January 30, 1980, which also appeared as "Appendix B: Description of the
New Procedures for Controlling Money," appended to "Monetary Policy Report to the Congress Pursuant to the Full
Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978, February 19, 1980; Stephen H. Axilrod and David E. Lindsey,
"Federal Reserve System Implementation of Monetary Policy: Analytical Foundations of the New Approach,"
American Economic Review, Papersand Proceedings,May 1981, paper delivered at the American Economic

Association meetings, September 6, 1980.

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48

A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

member banks times the divergence of the money stock from its intermeeting
target path (but with the deposit components lagged two weeks in reflection of
lagged reserve requirements).
Thus, in principle, these operating procedures involving nonborrowed reserve
targeting automatically permit deviations of money from intermeeting targets
to produce proportional movements of discount window borrowings. An
overshoot of money, for example, will cause borrowings to rise. Given the
discount window rate structure and administrative procedures, the rise in
borrowings will tend to be associated with an increase in the federal funds rate
spread over the discount rate. This increase occurs because institutions must
be induced to overcome their heightened reluctance to borrow in response to
the stronger administrative pressure accompanying enlarged adjustment
borrowings. The higher federal funds rate, in turn, sets in motion balance
sheet adjustments on the part of the depository institutions and the public that
will tend both to raise other short-term interest rates and to reverse over time
the initial overshoot in money from the interim target.
If the money stock deviation from the intermeeting target stems from a
"permanent" movement in the money demand schedule, perhaps owing to a
strengthening of aggregate spending, then these automatic forces would not be
sufficient to reverse fully the emerging overshoot in money. This would
certainly be true within the same intermeeting period, given the distributed lag
of effects to interest rates on the quantity of money demanded. (Even over the
long run, money would not fully return to path in this case if, hypothetically
speaking, the nonborrowed reserve target were left unchanged, because the
implied money supply schedule is not vertical with respect to the short-term
interest rates, but has a positive slope owing primarily to the interest elasticity
of borrowings.)
Thus, to reduce the extent of the deviations of money from target, both in the
current intermeeting period and prospectively, additional options are available
between FOMC meetings under the operating procedures. A discretionary
policy adjustment to the nonborrowed reserve path relative to the total reserve
path-as opposed to the technical adjustments described earlier-can be made
in the direction opposite to the money stock overshoot. Or the discount rate
can be raised. Exercising the first option would raise discount borrowings for
a given discount rate and tend to raise the federal funds rate above where it
would be otherwise, given the target for nonborrowed reserves. Either policy
action would tend to speed up the process of returning money to target. In
gauging whether such actions are warranted, the size of the gap between total
reserve demands and the adjusted target for total reserves is monitored. Prior
to discretionary adjustments to the nonborrowed reserve path, this gap also
equals, by construction, the induced movement in borrowings implied by the

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II. October 1979 to September 1982

updated nonborrowed reserve target away from the initially assumed
borrowings level .... 56
The ranges for money and bank credit chosen by the FOMC from 1979 to 1982 as called for by
the Humphrey-Hawkins Act are shown in table 3. The initial borrowings assumption adopted by

Table 3
Money and Bank Credit:
Current-Year Growth Ranges Adopted under the Humphrey-Hawkins Act,
1979-82
(Percent, fourth quarter to fourth quarter)
D
Date of a t e
FOMC meeting

M

M2

M3

Bank credit

1979
Feb. 6

1'/2 to 42

5 to 8

6 to 9

7/ 2 to 10/2

July 11

1/2 to 4 21

5 to 8

6 to 9

7'/2 to 10 /2

3/2to 6 (M-A)
4 to 6/2 (M-IB)

6 to 9

6/2 to 9/2

6 to 9

3/2to 6 (M-A)
4 to 6 /2(M-1B)

6 to 9

6/2 to 92

6 to 9

3 to 5 2 (M-lA)

6 to 9

6/2 to 9/2

6 to 9

6 to 9

62 to 9/2

6 to 9

1980
Feb.4-5 2
July 9
19813
Feb. 2-3

3/2 to 6 (M-1B)

July 6-7

3 to 52 (M-IA)
3'2 to

6 (M-IB)

1982
Feb. 1-2

2/2 to 5/2

6 to 9

6/2 to 9/2

6 to 9

June 30-July 1

2/2 to 5/2

6 to 9

6/2 to 9/2

6 to 9

1. Because of an unexpectedly slow shifting of accounts in New York State into nationwide ATS
and NOWs, accounts that were not included in M1, the FOMC used an adjusted annual range for M1
of 3 percent to 6 percent over much of the second half of 1979.
2. The monetary aggregates embodied new definitions.
3. The ranges for M-1A and M-1B for 1981 applied to shift-adjusted measures of narrow money.

56. David E. Lindsey, "Nonborrowed Reserve Targeting and Monetary Control," in Laurence H. Meyer, ed.,
Improving Money Stock Control, Kluwer-Nijhoff Publishing, 1983, pp. 4-6. Paper delivered at a conference,
"Improving Money Stock Control: Problems, Solutions, and Consequences," co-sponsored by the Federal Reserve
Bank of St. Louis and the Center for the Study of American Business, Washington University, October 30, 1981.

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

50

Table 4
Initial Borrowings Assumption Adopted at FOMC Meetings,
October 1979-August 1982
(Millions of dollars)
Date of meeting

Amount

Date of meeting

Amount

1981

1979

October 6

1,500

February 3

1,300

November 20

1,700

March 31

1,150

May 18

2,100

1980

January 9

1,000

July 7

1,500

February 5

1,250

August 18

1,400

March 18

2,750

October 6

850

April 22

1,375

November 17

400

May 20

100

December 22

300

July 9

75

1982

750

February 2

1,500

October 21

1,300

March 30

1,150

November 18

1,500

May 18

800

August 24

350

September 16

the FOMC for the three years starting with October 1979 appears in table 4. This staff paper
went on to reference these concepts in describing the operating procedures in practice (pp.
6-11), using exhibits like charts 1 and 2:
which provide a bird's-eye view of monetary policy since October 1979 that
is far enough removed from the trees to bring the forest into focus. ... The
behavior of M1 and M2 levels relative to their annual ranges are shown by
monthly data in the top two panels [of chart 1]. Old definitions of M1 and M2
are shown relative to their ranges for 1979, while redefined M-1B and M2 are
shown [subsequently]. M-1B in 1981 is adjusted to remove inflows to NOW
accounts estimated to have come from sources other than demand deposits.
Levels of selected reserve aggregates are shown in the bottom panel. Except
for a temporary variation in precautionary holdings of excess reserves around
the implementation of the Monetary Control Act, total reserves track required

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51

II. October 1979 to September 1982
Chart 1

Monetary and Reserve Aggregates
M2

Billions of dollars
2000

1350 RANGE ADOPTED BY FOMC

6%-

1900

-

1800

1250
%
1150

6%

-

1700
9%
6%

1050

1600
1500

950

850

..

8%
5%

-1400

-OLD M2
I 1 I t I . I tI
J
S
N
J
M
1979

M

J
1980

I
S

I
N

J

M

I
S

Ill
M
J
1981

N

1

J

1 1 1 1 11 1 1 1 1 1
M
M
J
S
N
1982

1300

M1
-500
RANGE ADOPTED BY FOMC

480

-

-

J

S
N
1979

2.5%

- 420

.

..-----

M-18
-

440

5.5%

6%
-

460

.5%
4%

6%
3% OLD M1
I , I
1 1
11 11 11,Il, ,I,,
N
J
J
M
M
J
S
1980

M-1B SHIFT ADJ.

-

400

- 380

M

M

J
1981

S

N

I ,,
J

M

M

J
1982

S

N

360

,

RESERVE AGGREGATES*
S26
Shaded Area is Adjustment and Seasonal Borrowing
25
24
23

TOTAL RESERVES
SNONBORROWED

RESERVES"

22
21

-

20

- 19
REQUIRED RESERVES
- 18
17
J

S
N
J
M
M
J
S
N
J
M
M
J
S
N
J
M
M
J
S
N
1982
1980
1981
1979
*The reserve aggregates series have been adjusted to remove discontinuities associated with changes in reserve requirement ratios.
**Includes extended credit.

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002
Chart 2
Adjustment Borrowings and Interest Rates

ADJUSTMENT BORROWINGS*

Millions of dollars
4000

3000

2000

1000

0
M
J
S
N
J
M
1980
1979
*includes seasonal borrowing

S

J

J

N

M

M

J
1981

N

S

J

M

M

J
1982

S

FEDERAL FUNDS AND DISCOUNT RATES

N

Percent
25

FEDERAL FUNDS
RATE

.

.

.

DISCOUNT RATE PLUS
SURCHARGE RATE

20

15

10

5
J

J

S
N
1979

M

M

J
1980

N

S

J

M

M

J
1981

S

N

MM

J

J
1982

S

TREASURY BILL AND BOND RATES

N

Percent
25

3-MONTH
TREASURY BILL RATE

20

15

/

^
--

I

J

/'1'-

I
II
S
N
1979

,,
,

-'

III

J

M

I

I

M

I

J
1980

AS

r

30 Y R

.

TREASURY BOND RATE

I I

I

S

I

I

N

I

J

I

l1li

I1l

M

"

M

J
1981

l

S

Ili

N

J

10

5
M

M

J
1982

S

N

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II. October 1979 to September 1982

reserves fairly closely. The shaded area between total reserves and
nonborrowed reserves represents adjustment (and seasonal) borrowings at the
discount window....
The relationship between the amount of adjustment borrowings and the spread
of the funds rate over the discount rate is indicated by weekly data in the top
two panels of [chart 2]; the spread clearly tends to vary directly with
adjustment borrowing.
The horizontal lines in the top panel represent those levels of the initial
borrowings assumption... The figure clearly shows that induced movements
or discretionary actions have occasionally caused borrowings to differ
significantly from the level assumed in constructing the initial reserve paths.
Substantial movements in the initial borrowing[s] assumption itself from one
intermeeting period to the next also have occurred upon occasion.
The relationship--such as it is--between the federal funds rate and both the
three-month Treasury bill rate and the thirty-year Treasury bond rate may be
seen by comparing the middle and bottom panels of [chart 2].
The last financial relationship relevant to monetary control is the money
demand function. It is the final one to be examined in the context of [charts 1
and 2]. The nexus going from interest rates to money demand is captured in
the bottom panel of [chart 2] set against the top two panels of [chart 1]. Any
indirect connection going from interest rates to real income and prices and
then back to money through its demand function is, of course, only implicit in
the figures, and the independent effects of the real sector, prices, and other
factors on money demand are ignored altogether.
Unfortunately, at this stage the eyeball technique runs into trouble. Although
turning points in money are generally preceded or accompanied by
movements in interest rates in the opposite direction, as upswings in money
typically reverse downswings (and vice versa), no clearcut money demand
relationship between interest rates and money leaps out from the figures.
What impresses me in this comparison is another relationship. Money and
short-term interest rates have tended to move in the same direction, with
turning points in money leading turning points in interest rates typically by a
month or so.
What is the proper interpretation to be placed on the empirical regularity of
movements in short-term interest rates tending to follow movements in money
with only a brief delay over this period? The answer should be obvious from
our previous discussion, and yet it is rarely even noted by academic
economists making pronouncements about such relationships. The data are
essentially tracing out an upward sloping money supply function over

53

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

intervals of a month or more created by the nonborrowed reserves target
operating procedures. For example, a nontargeted rightward movement in the
money demand schedule raises total reserves demanded relative to the
nonborrowed target, which, in turn, automatically increases adjustment
borrowings and tends to push up the federal funds rate. Expectations of future
federal funds rates then are adjusted upward, also partly in response to the
publication of the unexpectedly stronger money statistics and their perceived
implications for future reserve demands and supplies; this causes other shortterm rates to come under upward pressure. On occasion, the Federal Reserve
also takes discretionary action to lower the nonborrowed reserves target
relative to the total reserves target or to raise the discount rate, thus further
boosting the interest rate impact of the initial surge in money demand....
This temporary leading relationship between money and bill rates is explained
largely, I believe, by a combination of factors that are generally ignored by
academic analysts. The factors include: (1) the two-week lag in required
reserve accounting that delays the impact of changes in deposits on required
reserves; (2) the carryover privilege, which permits depository institutions to
delay at least some of the reserve position adjustments implied by deposit
swings for an additional week beyond the time their required reserves are
affected; (3) the unavoidable delay in data collection and hence publication of
the monetary aggregates, which prevents market participants from knowing
immediately of money stock developments and simultaneously incorporating
this information into market interest rates.
The positive association, aside from this brief delay, between money and
interest rates traced out by the data implies that the downward sloping money
demand schedule (in the interest-rate-money space) has varied over a much
wider range than the upward sloping money supply schedule. Thus, there is a
prima facie case that the explanation for the observed variation in interest
rates and the money stock over this ... period should be sought primarily in
an examination of the instability of the money demand schedule. This
analysis suggests that the observed variation in short-term interest rates during
the last two years primarily represented Federal Reserve resistance through
nonborrowed targeting to shifts in the position of the money demand
schedule. Because the money supply function has a positive slope, instability
in the observed stock of money, though muted, will accompany instability in
the position of the money demand schedule.
The Federal Reserve dealt with disturbances to the demand for money, especially narrow money,
as best it could. As charts 1 and 2 indicate, for a couple of years it allowed variations in demand
to show through to an important degree in partly offsetting fluctuations in interest rates.
However, as 1982 wore on, the Federal Reserve offered less and less resistance to divergences
from targets, thus increasingly acquiescing in those developments. In so doing, and partly as a
result of the unpredictable money demand, for M1 especially, the Committee over time placed

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II. October 1979 to September 1982

55

more and more emphasis in setting its policy stance on nonmonetary factors in the economy.
The Federal Reserve discovered that pragmatic money targeting could not be done on a
computer, as Milton Friedman had advocated. Communicating the ins and outs of monetary
targeting in practice similarly was not easy.
Redefining the Monetary Aggregates
February 4-5, 1980
Early in 1980, the FOMC redefined the monetary aggregates to better capture recent
monetary developments, including innovations, "that have altered the meaning and reduced the
significance of the old measures." 5 7 The annual ranges that February were stated in terms of the
new definitions. The specified growth rate bounds for 1980 were 4 to 6½ percent for M-1B,
which was defined to include automatic transfer accounts and negotiable order of withdrawal
(NOW) accounts in the state of New York, and 6 to 9 percent for M2.
Implementing Credit Controls
March 14, 1980
At the momentous October 6, 1979, FOMC meeting, President Mayo of the Federal Reserve
Bank of Chicago asked Chairman Volcker about controls. The transcript reads:
Chairman Volcker ... My reaction--which on the basis of some earlier

discussions I think is shared by some other Board members and by people in
the Administration who at the very least would have to trigger the control
mechanism when we're talking about domestic credit controls--is that of all
the options one could think of theoretically, that is probably the most
dangerous in terms of the business situation. That's because a control
program that really bites at all might lead to [undesirable] reactions. For
instance, grave questions might be raised about whether financing was
available for some of the inventory that one would like to see financed. And
all the anticipatory effects, with people trying to protect themselves, would
[induce] a very dangerous course [for the economy] at this particular juncture
in the business cycle. The feeling is that there is some danger, which people
will [assess in terms of different probabilities] of the economy having a most
severe inventory reaction and indeed [that controls might] even inhibit
planning for capital spending that we wouldn't want to inhibit.5 8
In his Humphrey-Hawkins testimony before the House Banking Committee on February
19, 1980, Chairman Volcker said, "The problems are absolutely horrendous,. . . and I would
suggest to you that, after all is said and done, controls don't really deal with the basic causes of
inflation."

57 Thomas D. Simpson, "The Redefined Monetary Aggregates," FederalReserve Bulletin, February 1980, p.
97. This article followed up on an earlier paper, "A Proposal for Redefining the Monetary Aggregates," Federal
Reserve Bulletin, January 1979.

58. Unedited transcript of the October 6, 1979, FOMC meeting, p. 12.

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56

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Three weeks later, on March 14, the Federal Reserve Board, following the wishes of the Carter
Administration,
announced a program of emergency credit controls--supply limitations that
covered not only commercial banks but also the unregulated money-market
funds and all retail companies that issued credit cards, from Sears, Roebuck to
Mobil and Exxon. The banks, whose lending had expanded by more than 17
percent [at an annual rate] in February, would be limited to 9 percent growth
in new credit. ... 59
Board Vice Chairman Fred Schultz was quoted by Greider (p. 187):
We really didn't think we had hit the mule with a two-by-four. We thought
we were using a light switch. The idea was not to make the economy go into
the tank-it was supposed to allow the economy to grow but without the
credit excesses. Instead, the consumer got it into his head that the government
was telling him not to use credit. The darned economy just fell off a cliff.
Because bank loans tumbled, demand deposits were extinguished. Also, the spending
"scale variable" affecting the demand for transactions balances turned down sharply.
Consequently, the stock of Ml plunged. The new procedures allowed borrowed reserves to fall
to frictional levels, and the Board eliminated the discount rate surcharge and, in successive steps,
cut the regular discount rate. As a result, the federal funds rate dropped abruptly, providing
some support to the economy. Then, as the problems with the program became more generally
recognized, the Board announced on May 22 a partial phaseout and on July 3 a full dismantling,
causing these various developments to be reversed.

Resisting Setting Annual Ranges for the Next Year
July 9, 1980
Experience with the extreme volatility of desired holdings of transactions balances was fresh for
the FOMC going into its July 9 meeting. Small wonder that the Committee's initial decision was
as laid out in its Humphrey-Hawkins report to the Congress:
While there is broad agreement in the Committee that it is appropriate to plan
for some further progress in 1981 toward reduction of the targeted ranges,
most members believe it would be premature at this time to set forth precise
ranges for each monetary aggregate for next year, given the uncertainty of the
economic outlook and institutional changes affecting the relationships among
the aggregates.
Chairman Volcker's prepared testimony contained a variation on the theme:

59. William Greider, Secrets ofthe Temple, p.182. Greider also quotes the previous passage from Chairman
Volcker before the House Banking Committee.

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II. October 1979 to September 1982

57

I have emphasized the FOMC's intention to work toward the lower levels of
monetary expansion over time. In reviewing the situation this month, the
Committee felt that, on balance, it would be unwise to translate that intention
into specific numerical targets for 1981 for the various monetary aggregates at
this time. That view was strongly reinforced by certain important technical
uncertainties related to the introduction of negotiable order of withdrawal
(NOW) accounts nationwide next January, as well as by the need to assess
whether the apparent shift in demand for cash that took place in the spring
persists.
The aftennath of that decision was suggested by an intriguing passage in the policy record for
that July 9 meeting:
Subsequent to the meeting, Chairman Volcker advised the Committee that its
attempt to cut through the institutional uncertainty affecting the behavior of
and relationships among the various monetary aggregates and to describe the
broad substance of its intent with respect to monetary growth ranges for 1981
apparently has led to some misunderstanding at the monetary oversight
hearings before the Senate and House banking committees on July 22-23. In
an attempt to clear up that misunderstanding, the Chairman recommended that
the Committee indicate its general intent of looking toward a reduction in
ranges of growth for M-IA, M-lB, and M-2 for 1981 on the order of Y2
percentage point, abstracting from the institutional influences affecting the
behavior of the aggregates.
On that July 29 conference call, the Committee voted to approve the Chainnan's
recommendation. Perhaps the Congress reacted in this way because it viewed the ranges as the
primary communication device extant to inform it about plans for future monetary policy.
Accounting for Nationwide NOWs with Shift Adjustment
February 2-3, 1981
The Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act of 1980, which was enacted
on March 31, 1980, authorized nationwide NOW accounts as of year-end 1980. Staff analysis
before the Committee's February 2-3, 1981, meeting suggested an appreciable boost to M-IB,
the narrow aggregate that would include nationwide NOW accounts. At the meeting, the
Committee selected an M-1B range for the year that was adjusted for shifts into nationwide
/2
NOWs. It reduced its shift-adjusted M-1B range by 1 percentage point from the M-IB range
sought in the previous year-bringing it to 3Y2 to 6 percent. It maintained the same 6 to 9
percent specifications for the M2 range used for 1980.
Evaluating the New Monetary Control Procedures
February 1981
On the first anniversary of the change in monetary control procedures, the Federal Reserve
System staff undertook a review of the new techniques. The findings were published in

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58

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication. 1975-2002

February 1981. 60 The Federal Reserve's Humphrey-Hawkins Report to the Congress noted that
the study examined the experience in "considerable detail." 61 Milton Friedman characterized the
publication as an "excruciatingly detailed analysis of the experience since October 6, 1979 ."62
This detail did not keep the F edera/ Reserve Bulletin from offering a concise summary of the
research:
The operating procedure proved flexible enough to permit some 

accommodation in the short run to last year's unexpected shifts in money 

demand, and worked to limit the extent to which changes in demands for 

goods and services were reflected in actual money growth. 63 

The Federal Reserve gave the results a lot of play, ranging from a press conference to two
conferences for economists64 to an extended discussion in the aforementioned Humphrey­
Hawkins Report65 to a Bulletin article by Stephen Axilrod. 66 Peter Stemlight and Stephen
Axilrod vied in person with Robert Rasche and Allan Meltzer in a heralded debate at the Ohio
State University that was published in the Journal ofMoney, Credit and Banking; 67 and two of
the study's papers were published by Karl Brunner, the editor of the Journal ofMonetary
Economics. 68
Aiming at the Upper Bound of a Constant Annual Ml Range
June 30-July 1, 1982
At its June 30-July 1 regular meeting and its July 15, 1982, conference call to finalize the
ranges, the FOMC considered whether some increase in the upper and lower bounds for money
growth would be in order in light of strong liquidity demands over the first half and a more
restrictive congressional budget resolution. "However, the Committee concluded," according to
the July report to the Congress,

based on current evidence, that growth this year around the top of the ranges
for the various aggregates would be acceptable. The Committee also agreed

60. Federal Reserve Staff Study, New Monetary Control Procedures, vols. I and II, Board of Governors of the
Federal Reserve System, February 1981.
61. "Monetary Policy Report to Congress," Federal Reserve Bulletin, March 1981, p. 203.
62. Milton Friedman, "Monetary Policy: Theory and Practice," lecture delivered July 5, 1981, Journal of
Money, Credit and Banking, February 1982.
63. Federal Reserve Bulletin, April 1981, Table of Contents.
64. The conference for academic economists was April 17, 1981, with lead-off statements from Karl Brunner
and Stephen Goldfeld, and the conference for market economists was April 21, 1981.
65. Pp. 201-05 and the appendix.
66. Stephen H. Axilrod, "New Monetary Control Procedure: Findings and Evaluation from a Federal Reserve
Study," Federal Reserve Bulletin, April 1981.
67. "Is the Federal Reserve's Monetary Control Policy Misdirected?" Money, Credit and Banking Debate,
Journal ofMoney, Credit and Banking, vol. 14, no. 1, February 1982.
68. P. A. Tinsley, P. von zur Muehlen, and G. Fries, "The Short-Run Volatility of Money Stock Targeting,"
Journal ofMonetary Economics, 10, 1982, and David E. Lindsey, Helen T. Farr, Gary P. Gillum, Kenneth J.
Kopecky, and Richard D. Porter, "Short-Run Monetary Control. Evidence under a Non-Borrowed Reserve
Operating Procedure," Journal ofMonetary Economics, 13, 1984.

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II. October 1979 to September 1982

59

that possible shifts in the demand for liquidity in current economic
circumstances might require more than ordinary elements of flexibility and
judgment in assessing appropriate needs for money in the months ahead.
The Congress that received this report apparently was not in a receptive mood. By mid-1982,
the honeymoon between the Federal Reserve and the Congress that the new operating procedures
had started in early 1980 was over. Intensifying the tensions, the Democratic majority had split
from the Republican minority after Ronald Reagan's election to the White House.
The macro-economy was worsening prior to the House Banking's second
monetary policy report for 1982. The unemployment rate rose to 9.8% in
July. Monetary policy had eased early in the year, in that the rate of money
growth had accelerated. Short-term rates had eased, but long-term rates
remained high. In July, the Fed testified that it would retain the same ranges
of monetary growth for 1983 as for 1982. Paul Volcker then testified that the
Fed intended to achieve monetary growth at the top of 1982 ranges it had set
in February, and was prepared to tolerate growth above the top of the range if
warranted by stronger-than-anticipated money demand.
The second monetary policy report for 1982 by House Banking was another
partisan Democratic document; Republicans again dissented. The report
noted gleefully that "by retaining its 1982 targets into 1983, the Federal
Reserve has in effect repudiated" the "Administration's monetary theory that
monetarist targets should be reduced by some fixed amount each year and
every year." Still, the Committee was critical of the Fed: "If the Federal
Reserve had been more alert to the economic and financial risks associated
with the Administration's economic policies and had rejected a reduction in
targets last year, the American people might have been spared much of the
present distress."

In the Committee's view, while it was pleased with monetary easing, the Fed
had not been fully responsive to the Committee's April recommendation to
ease monetary targets as Congress worked to reduce budget deficits. While
the Congress had "made progress towards restoring fiscal
responsibility"-and thus, doing its part to improve the policy "mix"-the
Committee complained that "(e)very effort Congress makes to close the
budget deficit has been reversed by additional deficits stemming from the
Administration and Federal Reserve policy of reducing inflation by
depressing the economy."
The report stated that "in light of the monetary policy directive and 

substantive budget actions of the Budget Resolution, the Federal Reserve 

needs to do more to lower interest rates and facilitate economic recovery."
Further, if M 1 velocity is depressed, "the M 1 aggregate may need to be

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60

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

increased even more than the 'around the top of the ranges' proposed by the
Federal Reserve if there is to be acceptable nominal GNP growth."
The [House] Committee was concerned that changing the monetary target
from the mid-point to the upper end of an unchanged range "seriously
obscures" the Fed's intentions with regard to monetary policy. "By changing
its ostensible target without changing its target range, the Federal Reserve in
its July 20 report seriously obscures its intentions on monetary policy and
fails to act in consistency with the reporting requirements of the Humphrey­
Hawkins Act. ... Under that law, the Federal Reserve is required to report
ranges of growth of the monetary aggregates and not some obscure hybrid of
ranges and targets-within-ranges." The Committee was concerned that the
Fed's policy "could be viewed by market analysts as abandonment of any
kind of target scheme."
The report continued "(i)f changed conditions merit a change in the targets,
then a change in the ranges should be reported. If ranges are not changed,
they should be hit. The current policy of 'brinksmanship' in which the
Federal Reserve announces that it is aiming for the ceiling of its ranges, is
unsatisfactory. The Federal Open Market Committee should, at its next
meeting, correct its presentation of its targets and report either a change or no
change in its announced aggregate-growth target ranges."
Because of the instability of monetary velocity and the breakdown in the link
between monetary aggregates and nominal GNP, this report also raised
"serious questions about the continued reliability of the M 1 aggregate and
monetary aggregates in general as targets for monetary policy." The report
thus asked the Fed to report to Congress on two alternative approaches-­
adoption of a credit aggregate, or establishing targets for long term interest
rates or real interest rates. 69
Perceiving the Need for More Flexibility in Policy Design

July 1,1982
From information publicly available in the mid-1980s, as well as interviews with participants,
William Greider described monetary policy in a way that was analogous to a retaining wall
giving way in mid-1982.
On July 1, the Federal Reserve turned. Bank reserves would be supplied more
generously, the money supply would expand more rapidly and credit
conditions would be relaxed. As a result, short-term interest rates promptly
started falling. Within three weeks, the Fed Funds rate and other short-term

69. Winthrop Hambley, "Information for Governor Meyer," September 8, 2000, pp. [ 10-11 ], with a cover note
from Don Winn, "Background Materials on Congress and Monetary Policy," September 25, 2000.

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II. October 1979 to September 1982

61

rates would subside at long last to their normal level-below long-term
interest rates .... Now, one could reasonably predict, the economy [sic]
recovery would at last have a chance to begin ....
At the conclusion of debate, the policy directive adopted by the FOMC was
couched in the usual euphemistic language and only insiders would have
grasped that the Fed was executing a dramatic reversal. The short-run money
targets were raised, instead of lowered. The [C]ommittee decreed blandly that
"somewhat more rapid money growth would be acceptable."
It was a historic moment. 70

At the midyear meeting, the funds rate was about 14~ percent, and the discount rate was 12
percent. By the August 24 meeting, the funds rate had fallen to 9 percent, while the discount rate
had been reduced in three steps to 1OY2 percent. On August 27, the Board reduced the discount
rate to 10 percent, and funds subsequently traded around that level until the meeting in early
October.
Chairman Volcker expressed his evolving attitude at the August FOMC meeting:
Chairman Volcker .... We're in a very sensitive period, not just
economically, but in terms of the markets and interpretations and in fact
concern--and I'm afraid to say to some degree justified concern--about the
stability of the banking system. I am sure that this is a time to be delicate and
sensitive. How we express that and how we approach it is what is at issue.
Very technically, as Steve mentioned, we're in one of these phases when it's
hard to set a reserve path with great certainty because we're on the margin of
losing touch with rates in the market. This problem occurs if we get
extraordinary borrowing from some particular banks that have their own
problems, and that can't be considered borrowing in the ordinary way we
usually consider it. Just how it should be considered is a little hard to tell in
advance, I think, before we see it and before we see the timing and the
amounts. But it's another complication in (the way of our] being mechanical
in this process at the moment. I don't think we can afford to be overly
mechanical. 71

At the FOMC's conference call on September 24, Chairman Volcker said the following:
I think this is a situation in which I would not find a mechanical application of
the reserve provision rules suitable, given the certainty that would lead to a
decided change on the tightening side from recent money market conditions.

70. William Greider, Secrets ofthe Temple, pp. 506-07 (order of paragraphs reversed).
71. Transcript of the August 24, 1982, FOMC meeting, p. 18.

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62

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

In terms of what seems desirable, that runs against any other broader
background that we see going on. I feel that at least for this brief period
before we actually meet in a Federal Open Market Committee meeting, which
is about a week and a half off, or seven working days off, we should not
follow--and I would not intend to--a mechanical application ofthose reserve
provisions but rather stabilize market conditions somewhere close to where
they are presently or even slightly below where they have been in the last
couple ofweeks. 72

Implementing Monetary Policy

1980-82
Despite the seismic rumblings portending the eventual demise of the new operating procedures,
the daily routine of the staff engaged in the mechanics of monetary targeting remained much the
same. Based on the short-run targets for money growth and a new initial borrowings
assumption, the Board staff, as overseen by Stephen Axilrod, would first derive weekly target
paths for the monetary aggregates over a control period constituting all or one-half of the
upcoming intermeeting period. Then the staff would construct implied weekly paths for total
and nonborrowed reserves.
As the intermeeting period progressed, the staff made weekly adjustments to the targeted
nonborrowed reserves path to reflect new information. New data could require technical
"multiplier adjustments." The path also would be revised to reflect misses from the implied
weekly level of borrowed reserves. The unexpected movement in the average level of
borrowings for the control period was essentially determined by the projected divergence of
money from its target times the required reserve ratio on transaction deposits. Thus, an early
miss in borrowing would have to be made up later. The path for nonborrowed reserves was
revised each week both to attain the average level of borrowings implied by projected monetary
developments over the entire control period and to equalize the implied levels of borrowings in
each upcoming week.
These adjustments to the nonborrowed reserves path were virtually automatic. In addition, in
each week of the intermeeting period, Chairman Volcker had the opportunity to make, and at
times before mid-1982 did make, adjustments to the nonborrowed reserves path to amplify the
automatic response.
Communicating Monetary Policy

1980-82
A communications end must have been effectively served by the fanfare surrounding the
announcement of the new monetary control procedures, the testimonies by Chairman Volcker,
speeches by Board members and Reserve Bank presidents, the official explanations, the
Humphrey-Hawkins reports (including the ranges for money and credit and key macroeconomic
variables), the staff studies, and the unofficial staff papers. There can be little doubt that the

72. Transcript of the September 24, 1982, FOMC conference call, p. 1.

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II October 1979 to September 1982

63

general principles underlying the switch to a more determined and effective anti-inflationary
policy and to a nonborrowed reserves operating target to help control Ml were well explained to
any member of the public willing to listen. And the FOMC must have gotten these messages
across at least to some extent. To be sure, the FOMC did not quantify its inflation goal, but over
time it must have convinced most observers that it meant business. While the Federal Reserve
did not publish its short-run target paths for Ml or reserves, let alone the Federal Reserve's daily
balance sheet or the reserve factor forecast made by staff at the Trading Desk and the Board,
everyone on the outside certainly could see the new operating procedures working themselves
out as advertised in practice in money markets. Market participants understandably would have
been somewhat skeptical initially that real reforms would continue when the going got rough, so
they needed to see the lower inflation results before they would fully believe that a "regime
change" had occurred. But apart from a few professional "Fed watchers," who could be counted
on one's fingers and toes, everyone else on the outside did not want to know about the detailed
plumbing of the new monetary control procedures. Instead, they just wanted to be sure that
those on the inside were in fact minding the store and "doing it right."
The communications problems that did arise concerned the public's basic understanding of what
constituted "doing it right." For example, in carrying out its monetary control task,
accommodating actual M 1 growth to significant shifts in its demand function caused a problem
for communications. To be sure, not resisting demand factors other than prices, real income, or
interest rates when they exert a considerable influence on the growth ofMl would prevent
induced effects on output or inflation. But at first glance, the central bank would seem
irresponsible in doing so. Accommodating aberrant demand behavior to a casual observer looks
just like the loose monetary control that characterized the 1970s. Monetarist critics would jump
on any sizable or prolonged deviation of actual money growth from k percent as likely to induce
economic instability.
Still, monetary targeting had some clear advantages from a communications perspective. All
along, a view had been expressed-for example, by President Frank Morris of the Federal
Reserve Bank of Boston-that monetary targeting represented a convenient cover that the
FOMC used to mask its real intention of pushing up interest rates. Although interest rates did
rise appreciably in late 1979 and early 1980 as well as later on, as may be seen in chart 2, they
also fell abruptly and sharply in the spring of 1980 as Ml plunged with the impact of credit
controls on bank loans and deposits. This evidence tends to confirm what was being said at the
time by Federal Reserve officials: The FOMC was genuinely trying to control M 1 growth over
the intermediate run and was allowing short-term interest rates to fluctuate much more than
before. Interest rates were free to move as implied by the interaction of a fairly unstable money
demand with a nonborrowed reserves operating target. These automatic rate movements were
amplified importantly by reactions to M 1 deviations from the near-term target trajectory in the
form of occasional judgmental adjustments to the nonborrowed reserve path in the opposite
direction for other than de minimis induced variations in borrowed and total reserves. In
addition, the Board could make discretionary adjustments to the discount rate in the same
direction as the movement in the funds rate. As a result of these procedures, overall variations in
short-term interest rates would be the largely automatic consequence ofMI control. Thus, when
the predictable congressional criticism of high interest rates came, the FOMC could reply

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64

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

truthfully, unlike the fox, in saying "Hey, ain't nobody here but us chickens. We're not raising
interest rates. We're only targeting the money supply.'m
As the experience with Ml targeting continued, however, the frequent occurrence of large
money demand disturbances offset these advantages. Another worry began to emerge as well.
Even absent exogenous shocks to the M 1 demand function, was it the case that the lag structure
of interest rates on money demand was itself producing money cycles-perhaps even explosive
ones-in response to initial interest rate moves intended to be stabilizing? 74 In any event, as Ml
swung first above, then below, and then above its targeted annual growth range, there was some
risk that the movements reflected poorly on the Federal Reserve's competence. A related
concern was that, even if the FOMC could achieve a reasonably smooth intermediate-run path
for Ml, the consequences for the economy might not be salutary. The economy in fact could
still show instability owing to the inherent dynamics of monetary targeting itself-as the effects
of a tendency toward instrument instability caused cycles in short-term interest rates-and to the
interactions of the various relevant relationships. On the latter point, with adaptive expectations,
steady money growth would cause economic cycles in an IS-LM model with an accelerationist
Phillips curve mechanism. 75
When inflation was still public enemy number one, such concerns remained limited because the
economy needed to have shock therapy, which relegated many of the technical concerns to a
second order of importance. But as the FOMC succeeded in getting inflation under control,
these issues became more worrisome. Thus, somewhat paradoxically, the more success
monetary targeting achieved in taming inflation, the more its intellectual foundations came to be
questioned, even within the Federal Reserve itself.
This paradox held true for another reason as well, so that a significant degree of disinflation
inevitably began to shake another intellectual pillar of monetary targeting. At least this was the
case for the type of monetary targeting that could be distilled into a simple message and readily
communicated to and grasped by the public-such as Milton Friedman's k-percent growth rate
rule. Besides involving the other problems, such a simple approach ignored the following issue:
A permanent drop in the inflation rate would bring in its wake a lasting fall in the level of
nominal interest rates-both short- and long-term. But given the incomplete adjustment of
marginal own rates on transaction deposits, the marginal opportunity cost of holding Ml would
experience a once-and-for-all decline. A result would be a similar one-time boost to the quantity
of M 1 demanded, which of course would be greater with a larger interest elasticity of demand.
In the real world, though, this process would not be instantaneous but would be drawn out in

73. This characterization of the Federal Reserve apparently was originated by Charles L. Schultz, then
Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. See William Greider, Secrets ofthe Temple, p. 120.
74. Although work on instrument instability by David Jones, then an economist in the Board's Banking
Section, suggested that the induced M I cycles would have been only damped, not explosive, these results likely
would have provided small comfort to policymakers.
75. Jared Enzler and Lewis Johnson, "Cycles Resulting from Money Stock Targeting," Federal Reserve Staff
Study, New Monetary Control Procedures, vol. I. Board of Governors ofthe Federal Reserve System, February
1981.

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II October 1979 to September 1982

65

time. Consequently, the annual ranges for M l growth in a lengthy transition period would, in
principl~ need to be augmented to incorporate this effect on the transactions demand for
money. 7 Less-informed observers would see the higher growth ranges and conclude that the
Federal Reserve had lost its appetite for fighting inflation! Yet ifthe Federal Reserve kept the
original ranges unchanged, or even racheted them down further, it would be putting in place far
too much restraint. This dilemma is another example of the difficulty that complexity poses for
communication.

76. The FOMC received a discussion of these and related issues that presumably did not give much aid to the
rehabilitation of M 1, which had been de-emphasized in October 1982. See S. H. Axilrod, "Money Growth and Price
Stability," memorandum to Chairman Volcker, January 23, 1984, sent to the Federal Open Market Committee on
January 24, 1984, with a cover memorandum from S. H. Axilrod. For background see Flint Brayton and David
Lindsey, "Ml Growth along the Transitional Path to Price Stability," memorandum to Mr. Axilrod, January 13,
1984

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III. OCTOBER 1982 TO NOVEMBER 1989: DISINFLATION AND 

OPERATING ON BORROWED RESERVES 

Altering Operating Procedures ................................................. 69 

Replacing nonborrowed with borrowed reserves, Fall 1982 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69 


Adjusting the Content of the Directive .......................................... 71 

Abandoning Ml temporarily, October 5, 1982 .........................................
Converting to restraint on reserve positions, February 8-9, 1983 ...........................
Introducing the tilt, November 15, 1983 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Introducing the degree of pressure on reserve positions, January 30-31, 1984 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Introducing the ranking of policy factors, March 26, 1985 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Targeting reserve pressure flexibly, November 3, 1987 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

71 

75 

75 

75 

76 

77 


Defending the Need for Releasing the Directive with a Delay ........................ 78 

Considering the pros and cons of immediate release, November 16, 1982 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Replying to Peter Flanigan of Dillon, Read & Co., June 26, 1984 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Writing to Representative Fauntroy, August 24, 1984 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Responding to Senator Mattingly, July 18, 1985 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Eliciting a critique of the defense of delay in the Merrill case, January 1986 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

78 

82 

84 

86 

87 


Complying with Legislative Requirements in Conducting Policy ..................... 87 

Adjusting the annual M2 range for MMDAs and demoting the Ml range, 

February 8-9, 1983, and July 12-13, 1983 .........................................
Converting the internal Red Book to the public Beige Book, March 29, 1983 .................
Tightening while not tightening: The Continental Illinois episode, Summer 1984 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Dropping the annual M 1 range, February 10-11, 1987 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Eating humble pie along with the Thanksgiving turkey, November 22, 1989 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Implementing monetary policy, 1980-89 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Communicating monetary policy, 1980-89 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

88 

89 

90 

93 

93 

93 

99 


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III. OCTOBER 1982 TO NOVEMBER 1989: DISINFLATION AND 

OPERATING ON BORROWED RESERVES 


Altering Operating Procedures
By the fall of 1982, the efficacy of the "new" operating procedures had been undermined by the
increased instability in M 1 demand. Partly as a result, other influences had gained in relative
importance as indicators of real economic growth and inflation. To be sure, over the three years
that followed October 1979, the FOMC had slowed the trend ofmoney growth and essentially
halved the rate of inflation. But real economic activity had stagnated, and unemployment had
risen to a postwar record. The latter problems naturally were assuming a higher priority relative
to inflation. The pressures of high interest rates and worldwide damping effects on spending
seemed to be affecting the financial and economic health of households, businesses, and
depository institutions alike. Thus, more flexibility in monetary policy implementation as well
as design increasingly seemed warranted.
This chapter first describes the shift in operating procedures in the fall of 1982 and the revisions
to the operational paragraph that followed in its wake. Next, the chapter presents the arguments
for and against the immediate release of the directive that the Committee considered internally as
well as the more defensive position put out for external consumption. Issues that arose in policy
implementation during the 1980s are then examined. The chapter concludes by describing the
FOMC's rationale for its policy of rather opaque communication during most of the decade.
Replacing Nonborrowed with Borrowed Reserves
Falll982
The FOMC's backing away from the new operating procedures was described as follows in late
August 1984: 77
During October 1982, interpretation of M 1 movements was complicated
further by the nearly $35 billion of all savers' certificates scheduled to mature,
a portion of which was likely to be placed, at least temporarily, in Ml. ... In
addition, Congress had just authorized, effective in mid-December, the money
market deposit account (MMDA). This ceiling-free account had limited
transaction features and could be expected to attract M 1 deposits into M2,
though in uncertain amounts. In light of these circumstances, Chairman
Volcker announced on October 9 that for the time being the [C]ommittee was
placing reduced emphasis on Ml as a guide to policy relative to broader
monetary aggregates ....
The de-emphasis of M 1 in the fall of 1982, together with the more flexible
strategy that followed regarding the monetary aggregates more generally, was
mirrored in a shift in operating procedures. A nonborrowed reserves

77. Dav1d E. Lindsey, "The Monetary Regime of the Federal Reserve System," in Colin D. Campbell and
William R. Dugan, ed., Alternative Monetary Reg1mes, Johns Hopkins Umvcrsity Press, 1986, pp. 188, 190, 191,
and 193. Paper delivered at a conference at Dartmouth College on August 22-24, 1984.

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70

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

operating target is not well suited for controlling M2 and M3 because the vast
bulk of their nontransaction deposits are not subject to reserve requirements.
Beyond transaction deposits, subject to a 12 percent reserve requirement, the
only component of the broader aggregates under the new reserve requirement
structure of the Monetary Control Act of 1980 was composed of certain
nonpersonal time deposits, subject to a 3 percent requirement. ... Thus the
nonborrowed reserves operating procedure, with its automaticity deriving
mainly from variations in required reserves on transaction deposits, has to be
modified ifMl is dethroned as the primary intermediate monetary target (or if
a more judgmental approach is taken toward reacting to Ml movements).
Governor Wallich has explained that the Federal Reserve did not return to a
federal funds rate operating target: "Since the fall of 1982, the nonborrowed
reserve strategy and its automaticity have given way to a technique that allows
the funds rate to be determined by the market, through the targeting of
discount window borrowing from one reserve maintenance period to the next,
implemented by allowing a flexible nonborrowed reserves path."[?SJ Over
longer periods "the degree of restraint on reserve positions," as reflected in
the level of adjustment plus seasonal borrowings at the discount window, has
been altered more judgmentally in response to movements in monetary
aggregates relative to short-term objectives against the background of other
economic and financial developments.
[T]his shift in operating procedures weakened the earlier ... correspondence
between movements in monetary aggregates relative to their ranges, on the
one hand, and in discount borrowings and the federal funds rate on the
other.... [S]hort-term interest rates since the fall of 1982 have displayed a
much smoother pattern than they did during the previous three-year period.
Chairman Volcker made clear in his Humphrey-Hawkins testimony ofFebruary 16, 1983, that
policy reactions to movements in monetary aggregates relative to their ranges were to be more
flexible than they had been over the three years after October 6, 1979, with overall economic and
financial developments allotted a larger role in determining the policy reaction. He concluded:
I neither bewail nor applaud the circumstances that have put a greater
premium on judgment and less "automaticity" in our operations; they are
simply a fact of life. In making such judgments, the basic point remains that,
over time, the growth of money and credit will need to be reduced to
encourage a return to reasonable price stability. The targets set out are
consistent with that intent.

78. Henry C. Wallich, "Recent Techniques of Monetary Policy," Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City,
Economic Review, May 1984, p. 26.

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Jll. October 1982 to November 1989

71

Tables 5 and 6 and chart 3 present FOMC decisions made at and between regularly scheduled
meetings about the borrowings assumption beginning in October 1982 and the expected federal
funds rate beginning in May 1983, both to November 1989.

Adjusting the Content of the Directive
To some extent, alterations in the operational paragraphs of the directive incorporated these
changes in the implementation of monetary policy. Even so, aspects of the operating procedures
that the Committee had adopted during the autumn of 1982 were not laid out in detail. Also,
during the rest of the 1980s, the Committee introduced a number of innovations in the wording
of the operational paragraphs, some of which would prove to be rather durable.

Abandoning Ml Temporarily
October 5, 1982
In the operational paragraph for the meeting on August 24, 1982, the growth ofM1 over the June
to September period still shared top billing with that for M2. By contrast, given the uncertain
effects on M 1 demand of the reinvestment of funds from the maturing all savers certificate and
of the upcoming introduction of money market deposit accounts (MMDAs), M1 was
conspicuously absent in the operating paragraph for the next meeting in early October 1982:
In all circumstances, the Committee seeks to maintain expansion in bank
reserves needed for an orderly and sustained flow of money and credit,
consistent with growth ofM2 (and M3) in a range of around 8!12 to 9Yz percent
at an annual rate from September to December, and taking account of the
desirability of somewhat reduced pressures in private credit markets in light
of current economic conditions. Somewhat slower growth, bringing those
aggregates around the upper part of the ranges set for the year, would be
acceptable and desirable in a context of declining interest rates. Should
economic and financial uncertainties lead to exceptional liquidity demands,
somewhat more rapid growth in the broader aggregates would be tolerated.
The Chairman may call for Committee consultation if it appears to the
Manager for Domestic Operations that pursuit of the monetary objectives and
related reserve paths during the period before the next meeting is likely to be
associated with a federal funds rate persistently outside a range of 7 to 1OY2
percent.
M 1 was resuscitated so as to re-attain virtually normal status in the policy record by May 1983.
But owing to a renewal of aberrant demand behavior, M 1 was gradually de-emphasized again
starting in July 1985, never to return to equal status with the broader aggregates.

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72

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002 


Table 5 

Borrowings Assumption Adopted by the FOMC, 

October 1982-November 1989
(Millions of dollars)
Date of decision

Date of decision

Amount

Amount

1987 


1982 

October 5

300 


April30

400 1 


November 16

250 


May 19

500 


December 21

200 


September 3

600 1 


October 23

500 1 


October28

450 1 


November3

400 


December4

300 1 


1983 

March29

250 


May24

350 

1


June 23

400-500

July l3

600-800 


1988 


August 23

700-900 


January 28

250 1 


October4

650 


February 10

200 


March 29

300 


May7

400 1 


1984 

March 27

1,000 


October 2

750 


May25

500 1 


November?

575 


June 22

550 1 


December 18

300 


June 30

600 


November22

400 

500 


1985 

February 13

350 


December 14

March 26

400 


1989 


April25

450 1 


Early January

600 1 


May2l

350 


February 14

700 1 


August I

400 1 


March 28

500 


August 20

425 


July 6

600 


September 6

500 1 


July 27

550 1 


November 5

450 


October 19

400 1 


December 17

350 


November 6

300 1 


1986 

February 12

300 


NOTE. Excludes technical changes made by the Desk.

I. Policy setting made between meetings.

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73

Ill October I 982 to November I 989

Table 6 

Federal Funds Rate Expected by the FOMC, May 1983-November 1989 

(Percent)
Date of determination

Rate

Date of determination

Rate

1987

1983
May24

8.5-8.75

June 23

9 or slightly higher

April30

6.5 or somewhat higher 1

July 13

9 or somewhat higher

May 19

6.75 or somewhat lower

October 4

January 15

9.25-9.5

September 3

July 17
October 2

7.375

11.25

October 23

7'

10.5-10.63

October 28

6.75-6.875 1

November 7
November 21

9'

December 18

1988

9.5
8.5

January 28

6.5-6.75 1

February 10

8.25-8.5

6.5

March 29

1985
February 13

7.25 1

September 22

10-10.5

6.75-i

September 4

1984
March 27

6'

6.75

May?

February 21

8.5

April 18

8.25 1

7'

May25

1

7.25 1
7.5 1

June 22
August 9

8-8.25 1

7.75 or a shade higher'

November22

8.375 1

September 6

8'

December 14

8.625-8.75

December 17

7.75

May 17
August 1

7.75

1

1989
Early January

1986

8.875-9 1

March 7

7.25 or a shade higher'

February 14

9-9.125 1

April IS

6. 75 or slightly higher 1

February 24

9.75-9.875

June 6

9.5-9.625 1

July 6

9.25

July 27

9'

1

June 5

6.875

July 10

6.375 1

August 14

6.25-6.375

1

5.875

October 19

8.75 1

November 6

August 20

1

8.s•

NOTE. Excludes techmcal changes made by the Desk. The tenns "shade," "slightly," and "somewhat"
were used by the FOMC to represent (in ascending order of size) a range of values above or below a specific
expected value for the federal funds rate when the Committee expressed its sense of the range in words
rather than numbers.
1 Policy setting made between meetings.
SoURCE. Memorandum, Bonnie Garrett [FOMC Secretariat] to Bill Gavin [Federal Reserve Bank of St.
Louis], April 20, 2000 (the data were subsequently published in Daniel L. Thornton and David C. Wheelock,
"A History ofthe Asynunetric Pohcy Direct1ve," Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Review, Sept./Oct.
2000, table B2).

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002 


74

Chart 3 


Borrowings Assumption Adopted by the FOMC
October 1982 - November 1989 


$millions

1500

1200

900

600

300

1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

Federal Funds Rate Expected by the FOMC
May 1983 - November 1989 


1989 


0

Percent

12

10

8

6

4

2

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

1989 


0

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Ill. October 1982 to November 1989

75

Converting to Restraint on Reserve Positions
February 8-9, 1983
The operational paragraph in February 1983 made a veiled reference to the borrowed reserves
operating target with these words:
For the more immediate future, the Committee seeks to maintain the existing
degree of restraint on reserve positions.
The introduction of money market deposit accounts in early 1983 was distorting the broader
aggregates enough to preclude mention of monetary growth in the operational paragraph for the
February meeting. By the time of the policy record for the March 28-29 meeting, broad money
was back in the FOMC's good graces, though M1 was still playing only a subsidiary role, and
the phrase "degree of restraint on reserve positions" was repeated:
For the short run, the Committee seeks to maintain generally the existing
degree of restraint on reserve positions, anticipating that would be consistent
with a slowing from March to June in growth of M2 and M3 to annual rates of
about 9 and 8 percent, respectively. The Committee expects that M1 growth
of about 6 to 7 percent would be consistent with its objectives for the broader
aggregates.
Over the remainder of the year, however, M1 was brought back, as noted, and the operational 

paragraph did not mention "reserve positions;" it used the more ambiguous phrase "degree of 

reserve restraint." (This term could refer either to a borrowing concept or to an aggregate 

concept such as nonborrowed reserves.) 


Introducing the Tilt 

November 15, 1983 

In an innovation that would have a remarkable sixteen-year tenure before being usurped in early 

2000 by the balance-of-risks statement, the "tilt" first appeared in the directive of November 15, 

1983. In the following extract, the "tilt" brings in tow its constant grammatical companions, 

"would" and "might": 

Depending on evidence about the continuing strength of economic recovery
and other factors bearing on the business and inflation outlook, somewhat
greater restraint would be acceptable should the aggregates expand more
rapidly; lesser restraint might be acceptable in the context of a significant
shortfall in growth of the aggregates from current expectations.

Introducing the Degree of Pressure on Reserve Positions
January 30-31, 1984
The operational paragraph in late January 1984 began to use the following more-descriptive
phrase for borrowed reserves: "degree of pressure on reserve positions." This phrase would be
kept in place not only through the 1980s but also through much of the 1990s. It lasted until

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76

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

August 1997 and thus enjoyed a continuity of nearly thirteen years, until the explicit funds rate
target finally replaced it.
The first detailed discussion in public of the revised operating procedures was in a talk by
Governor Wallich on April 15, 1984. The talk was the basis of an article in the Economic
Review published in May 1984 by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. 79 Perhaps the
Committee members' delay in describing the new technique resulted from a reluctance to admit
switching to a reserve measure so closely akin to the concept of "free reserves" (excess reserves
minus borrowed reserves) that seemingly had been discredited in an earlier report to the
Congress by Karl Brunner and Allan Meltzer. 80 They had correctly noted that using free reserves
as an operating target essentially was akin to using "money market conditions." They had
argued instead for targeting an aggregate reserve or base concept-a procedure that the Federal
Reserve never re-adopted after the fall of 1982. The 4 percentage point band for funds rate
variation, which was not dropped until November 1990, seems especially exaggerated from this
perspective on the actual operating target because it was inoperative given the much narrower
range of funds rate variations in practice. (The operational paragraphs of the directive for the
late January meeting also noted the impending return to contemporaneous reserve requirements.)
In the short run, the Committee seeks to maintain the existing degree of
pressure on bank reserve positions, anticipating that [the] approach will be
consistent with growth of M2 and M3 each at annual rates of about 8 percent
and M 1 at an annual rate of about 7 percent during the period from December
to March. Growth in nonfinancial debt is expected to be within the range
established for the year. Lesser restraint would be acceptable in the context of
a shortfall in monetary and credit growth from current expectations, while
somewhat greater restraint might be acceptable with more rapid expansion of
the aggregates, both viewed in the context of the strength of the business
expansion and inflationary pressures.
In implementing policy in the weeks ahead, the Manager was instructed to
take account of the uncertainties associated with the introduction of the
system of more contemporaneous reserve requirements, particularly including
the possibility that depository institutions, during a transition period, may
desire to hold more excess reserves.

Introducing the Ranking of Policy Factors
March 26, 1985
The March 1985 operational paragraph saw a third innovation, one that would have a run of
almost six years. That innovation was the ranking of the various policy factors. The ranking

79. Henry Wallich, "Recent Techniques ofMonetary Policy," Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Economic
Review, May 1984.
80. Karl Brunner and Allan H. Meltzer, The Federal Reserve's Attachment to the Free Reserves Concept,
Washington D.C.: House Committee on Banking and Currency, 1964. Reprinted in Monetary Economics, ed. Karl
Brunner and A. H. Meltzer, London: Blackwell, 1989.

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III. October 1982 to November 1989

77

reflected the Committee's priorities with regard to possible adjustments in its setting of the
borrowing level during intermeeting periods. The relevant extract from the document is the
following:
Somewhat lesser reserve restraint might be acceptable in the event of
substantially slower growth of the monetary aggregates while somewhat
greater restraint might be acceptable in the event of substantially higher
growth. In either case such a change would be considered in the context of
appraisals of the strength of the business expansion, progress against inflation,
and conditions in domestic credit and foreign exchange markets ....
Targeting Reserve Pressure Flexibly
November 3, 1987
The crash of the stock market on October 19, 1987, was disastrous for many investors, but it
elicited a communications triumph from the Federal Reserve in the form of the reassuring
announcement by Chairman Greenspan the next day:
The Federal Reserve, consistent with its responsibilities as the Nation's
central bank, affirmed today its readiness to serve as a source of liquidity to
support the economic and financial system.

In a less public reaction, the Trading Desk immediately switched to targeting the federal funds
rate. The operational paragraph for the November 3, 1987, FOMC meeting indicated the new
approach through the phrase "flexibility in open market operations." An extract shows this
wording:

In the implementation of policy for the immediate future, the Committee
seeks to maintain the degree of pressure on reserve positions sought in recent
days. The Committee recognizes that the volatile conditions in financial
markets and uncertainties in the economic outlook may continue to call for a
special degree of flexibility in open market operations, depending, in
particular, on demands for liquidity growing out of recent or prospective
developments in financial markets ....
The Desk's procedures gradually returned to normal, as operating techniques increasingly
focused on the level of borrowings, though for a time an unusually elevated weight continued to
be given to the federal funds rate in light of remaining market tenderness, as was recognized in
the March 29, 1988, operational paragraph. By May 17, 1988, the subsequent meeting, the
operational paragraph finally reverted to the wording that had prevailed before stock market
prices suddenly plunged.

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78

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 197 5-2002

Defending the Need for Releasing the Directive with a Delay
During the time that the FOMC was engineering these alterations in the directive's content, the
Committee internally was reconsidering the case for and against immediate release.
Understandably, its public posture on this question remained defensive. This section first covers
the assessment by Stephen Axil rod and Peter Stemlight of the pros and cons of immediate
release ofFOMC decisions contained in a memorandum to the FOMC in late 1982. Next, the
focus shifts to the extensive defenses of the delay in the mid-1980s as illustrated in responses to
Peter Flanigan of Dillon, Read & Co., Representative Walter Fauntroy (Democrat from
Washington, D.C. and chairman of the House Banking Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary
Policy), and Senator Mac Mattingly (Republican from Georgia and chairman of the Senate
Banking Subcommittee on Economic Policy). Then the section finishes with a critique by
Marvin Goodfriend regarding the FOMC's arguments against immediate disclosure that were
advanced in the Merrill case.

Considering the Pros and Cons of Immediate Release
November 16, 1982
In November 1982, Governor Nancy Teeters advocated immediate release of the directive in a
memorandum to Chairman Volcker, which she then distributed to all Board members and
Reserve Bank presidents. In addition, in response to her suggestion, Stephen Axilrod (Staff
Director for Monetary and Financial Policy), and Peter Sternlight (Manager for Domestic
Operations, System Open Market Account) provided to the Committee in November 1982 an
assessment of the pros and cons of immediate release of the directive, incorporating the FOMC's
decisions. (The authors assumed that the Committee's vote would probably have to be made
available if the directive were released immediately.) They evenhandedly listed six points in
favor and six opposed:
Points in favor of immediate release
( 1) In a democratic society the public has a right to know as promptly as
reasonably possible the important government economic and financial
decisions that affect them. Indeed, it can be said that "information delayed is
information denied." Delay should be permitted only if there is
overwhelming evidence that immediate release would be detrimental to the
processes of policy formation and implementation, and to the over-all
workings of the nation's financial markets and the economy .... The logical
next step in [the] process [of greater disclosure] is immediate release of short­
run FOMC decisions, which would allow people to make financial decisions
with maximum available
information....
(2) Immediate release would avoid the problem of premature leaks of FOMC
decisions. Unauthorized disclosure, whether accurate or not, is not only an
embarrassment, it is inevitably unfair. Some learn of the information before
others and may profit from it. Disclosure of incomplete or inaccurate

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Ill. October 1982 to November 1989

information can be particularly damaging, setting off exaggerated reactions
that may not even be consistent with the thrust of the Committee's decisions.
(3) The first few instances of immediate release might generate special
market attention and some unwarranted reactions, but after a while it is
reasonable to expect market responses to most Committee decisions to be
fairly smooth. Interest rate movements following meetings now involve a
searching process to find the rate levels consistent with expected or perceived
policy. Immediate release would aid the search process and thus could well
improve the transmission of policy. From time to time the Desk's efforts to
produce increases or decreases in borrowings or money market pressures have
been retarded by market perceptions that no change in policy or operations
has taken place. Alternatively, the market sometimes concludes that a change
in market pressures is being implemented when this may not be the case.
Immediate release of FOMC directives would provide the market with better
information on which to base judgments about current Desk actions, thus
reducing the likelihood of misjudgments.
At times, an unexpected Committee decision could have a sizable market
impact when announced, but at least it would be an impact in the intended
direction. Moreover, under present reserve-targeting procedures it seems less
likely that decisions would generate larger reactions than in earlier days of
interest-rate targeting.
(4) Under existing publication s[ch]edules, the public learns about the Ml
and M2 objectives for a particular quarter about halfway through the quarter.
... There does not seem to be any adverse market consequence from having
this information known while the last month and a half of the quarter unfold.
The market's ability to deal with information about the quarter at the midway
point suggests that similar information early in the quarter could also be
handled satisfactorily.
(5) Large institutions now devote extensive resources to divining FOMC
policy. The average businessman, small investor, or consumer cannot devote
comparable resources to this search and they are at a consequent disadvantage
in making their consumption/savings or investment decisions.
(6) Immediate release of the directive would reduce the criticism that the
Federal Reserve tends to excessive secrecy. While the Merrill suit was
decided in favor of the Federal Reserve, it might be harder to defend delayed
disclosure in the future, in part due to the change in operating procedures.

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Arguments against immediate release
(1) Immediate release might affect the policy formation process adversely.
The glare of press attention would be quite intense before and right after the
meetings. Immediate responses to the decision would be sought from the
Administration and Congress. Decision-making would inevitably take place
in a more political environment. The announcement of decisions during the
period covered by those decisions would allow time for public and political
pressure
to build up--e.g., there could be Congressional hearings or Presidential
statements--to temper or reverse those decisions. Politically difficult
decisions would be easier to postpone. It would also be more difficult to
avoid providing information such as the staff GNP or interest rate forecasts
that might be thought to be a basis for the decisions.
(2) With its decisions so quickly known the Committee might become
reluctant to risk moves--such as a substantial change in a federal funds rate
range--that could be followed by substantial "announcement effects." Or the
Committee may become unwilling to undertake probing or tentative steps
because the possibility that some might need to be reversed would undesirably
affect the public's confidence in the System's policy process. The
implementation of policy would become less effective.
(3) Market scrutiny of Desk activity would be no less intensive with
immediate release than it now is, as commentators sought to determine
whether the activity is consistent with stated policy. Indeed, any seeming
deviation would call for explanations to reassure market participants that
announced policies were still being followed--thus inhibiting the flexibility of
policy implementation over an intermeeting period.
(4) An institutional response to these problems might be to reduce the
information content of the released Directive. Specific numbers on growth
rates might give way to vague statements about "more rapid" or "less rapid"
growth over the "near term"; the funds rate range might be eliminated or
narrowed. The Committee could develop a tendency to operate more on the
basis of unwritten understandings rather than the relatively straight-forward
directives now in use ....
(5) The market response to unexpected decisions at regular or interim
meetings could be highly exaggerated. Even if a sizable response is justified
on the basis of the decision, it may occur so abruptly as to be detrimental to
the orderly functioning of the market. With a delay in the release, there would
be time to implement decisions in a deliberate and orderly fashion, with
discretion to take account of new information as it develops during an
intermeeting period.

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81

(6) Publication of the Directive, without the background of the policy record
to put the Directive in its appropriate context, could lead to much greater, and
unwarranted, concentration on the specific numerical content of the Directive.
In its summaries of the discussion and the reasons underlying Committee
decisions, the policy record provides the background from which market
participants can make better informed judgments about the significance of the
specific content of the Directive. 81
The FOMC meeting on November 16, 1982, had the following exchange:
Ms. Teeters. I honestly don't think that [immediate release of our decisions]
will do any harm. It would solve the problem of leaks. And with a group
even as large as this one ... the idea that we can keep something a secret for
seven or six-and-a-half weeks is really a big presumption, it seems to me. The
way it's working now, if we do have these leaks--and there will be
speculation, considering all the attention that has been given to it--the
speculation may finally come down to a consensus of speculation as to what
we did or didn't do. In effect we're giving an advantage to the people who
have a little inside knowledge instead of making it available to the public
generally. And I think we're better off, even if we want to change the way we
write the directive, if we make it publicly available. That doesn't mean that
we are frozen into it. We can change our mind. We don't necessarily have to
announce those changes in our mind. I think basically the public has a right to
as much information as they can [receive] at this point. I don't think the leaks
are really going to disappear. I think that you're going to get caught as I once
did.
Chairman Volcker. If they don't, I'll disappear soon! 82
Later President Boehne of the Federal Bank of Philadelphia and others expressed their opinion:
Mr. Boehne. I suspect what the Committee would do is that it would gravitate
toward even more vague directives.
Mr. Morris. Precisely.
Mr. Boehne. And then there would be a hidden meaning, which we'd all 

understand but the directive that we'd publish would give us so much 

flexibility that we could drive a truck through it a couple of times. 


81. Messrs. Axil rod and Stemlight, "Immediate Release of FOMC Decisions: Pros and Cons," memorandum to
Federal Open Market Committee, November 12, 1982, pp. 1-5.
82. Transcript of the November 16, 1982, FOMC meeting, p. 58.

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Chairman Volcker. Again, I think it would invite a lot of probing at the 

bottom [to determine] what the real decision was. 

Mr. Boehne. Yes, that's the question I'm asking.
Chairman Volcker. Yes, I share your instinct.
Mr. Rice. Won't they do that now? ...
Mr. Gramley. Well, the whole problem would be that we would come up with
a bunch of mush that could mean anything.
Mr. Morris. And we'd get to the point where we were back in the Martin
years. 83
This FOMC thus saw itself as more transparent than its predecessors, even when it was deciding
against more disclosure.
Replying to Peter Flanigan of Dillon, Read & Co.
June 26, 1984
In late June 1984, Stephen Axilrod provided to Peter Flanigan, Managing Director, Dillon, Read
& Company, Inc., an undated document without Board staff attribution explaining several
reasons for not immediately releasing the directive. Unlike the aforementioned Axilrod­
Stemlight memorandum, in which the case against immediate disclosure had concentrated on
possible feedback on the process of monetary policy making, the stated reasons in this document
are more reminiscent of those the FOMC used in the Merrill case:
Reasons for not immediately releasing decisions governing intermeeting 

operating decisions 

1. It will risk destabilizing market speculation ....
2. It will complicate the process of arriving at decisions ....
3. Small investors will be disadvantaged relative to large investors and active
market participants ....
4. Legitimate debate about basic policy approaches will be more obscured. 84
In a revealing commentary on prevailing Federal Reserve concerns, Stephen Axilrod also
enclosed an extract from a recent Congressional Record. It quotes Representative Bill Frenzel
(Minnesota), Ranking Republican member, House Budget Committee, as follows:

83. Transcript ofthe November 16, 1982, FOMC meeting, p. 60.
84. "Why the decisions reached at regular FOMC meetings should not be released immediately," enclosure to
letter from Stephen Axilrod to Peter Flanigan, June 26, 1984.

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III October 1982 to November 1989

Three facts, however, stand out: First, the best way to reduce interest rates is
to reduce deficits; second, it would be an unwise idea for Congress to require
the Federal Reserve Board to announce immediately every operational and
tactical move it is planning in order to carry out monetary goals; and third, the
Federal Reserve has consistently handled monetary policy far more wisely
and effectively than Congress has handled fiscal policy.
Many of the Fed's more vt>cal critics would like to see Congress take a more
active role in monetary policy. The main complaint, as I believe it has been
articulated recently on this floor, is that the Federal Reserve Board, and
specifically the Federal Open Market Committee, work in a shroud of secrecy,
mysteriously raising and lowering, but mostly raising, interest rates at will.
Legislation requiring the Fed to immediately disclose all FOMC decisions
would give Congress and others a voice in directing technical Federal Reserve
operations. But I believe that politicizing the implementation of monetary
policy in this way would be a grave mistake.
Federal Reserve actions should be, and are, accountable to Congress and the
Nation. The Congress is ultimately responsible, and clearly has the authority
to manage monetary policy if it wants. Thank heavens it has not wanted to do
so.
The Humphrey-Hawkins Act requires the Chairman of the Federal Reserve to
report twice a year to the Congress on monetary policy and money targets.
While the law only asks for semiannual appearances, Chairman Volcker has
testified 26 times before the 98 1h Congress. The Chairman's predecessors did
the same. In addition, other Board Members are frequent guests here as well.
Certainly, the Federal Reserve is not an organization that is attempting to
insulate itself from congressional scrutiny or advice.
However, while Congress should be consulted through regular reports and
contacts when determining broad policy guidelines, I question whether each
operational and tactical decision by the Open Market Committee should be
subject to congressional direction and immediate review. Many needed
adjustments would be rendered ineffective, or even counterproductive, if
every action is immediately scrutinized, second-guessed and exposed before it
is implemented.
Members of the administration and Congress will inevitably be asked to
comment on the significance, if any, of each decision. One risk is that
operational decisions will become the focus of misleading political debates
that should more properly emphasize broader economic questions. The ability

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A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

to "fine tune" monetary policy would be lost, and intended goals would be 

preempted by skittish market reactions. 85 

Writing to Representative Fauntroy
August 24, 1984
Chairman Volcker sent a detailed rationale for the FOMC's disclosure practices to House
Banking Subcommittee Chairman Fauntroy in August. It is worth quoting at length, in part
because it originated the defense of keeping contingency plans from public release until they
have been supplanted by a new decision:
Based upon my experience over the years, I believe that it would not be in the
public interest to require immediate release of these implementing and
operational decisions. On the present schedule, where the directive and
accompanying record of discussion by Committee members (which is in
effect integral to the directive) are released with about a six to eight week lag,
the public is able to evaluate on a continuing basis the general approach being
taken by the Committee to policy implementation and the underlying
economic and financial factors that influence it. Immediate release would not,
in my view, add constructively to the current flow of information. (In fact,
release could not literally be "immediate" unless the record of discussion,
which takes some time to prepare and check with participants, was dropped
from the release, leaving only a "bare bones" directive, which would probably
be subject to varying market interpretations.)
Market uncertainties--with the potential at times for even greater interest rate
fluctuation--would remain because market participants will react to their
interpretation of Federal Reserve intentions looking ahead several weeks
rather than to current operations. Interpretation of the significance of open
market operating directives will be more uncertain and volatile than
interpretation of decisions that involve a discrete action--such as a discount
rate or reserve requirement change. That is because the FOMC's operational
decisions about open market operations are necessarily conditional, with the
degree of reserve pressure to be exerted over an inter-meeting interval
dependent on incoming information on the aggregates, the economy, and
financial conditions generally.
The market will certainly at times react to conditional statements that never
become operationally effective. This is most likely to occur in times of
particular uncertainty, when there should be the highest premium on orderly
market processes. The operating decision taken last December is a good
example of the potential for adverse market reactions. We directed our open
market trading desk to tighten up on reserves if the money supply began to

85. Congressional Record, House of Representatives, June 13, 1984, pp. H5790-9l.

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III. October 1982 to November 1989

grow more strongly than anticipated or if certain economic events transpired.
The conditions never transpired and no additional reserve restraint was placed
on the economy in that period. But in the atmosphere of the time--which was
not even a period of unusually great uncertainty in markets--the market would
indeed have reacted to announcement of such a conditional decision. That
appears certain because the market did in fact react to some extent several
weeks later when the decision was published, even though it was no longer
applicable.
The general point is that, since the market will react to its assessment of
Federal Reserve intentions and will generally attempt to protect itself against
the range of perceived alternatives, immediate publication of the operating
instructions may very well be counterproductive. It carries the clear potential
for more rather than less market disturbances. As those responsible for day­
to-day operations within the context of the general directive look to market
developments as one source of information, they will be seeing in part a
distorted image of the Committee's conditional decision rather than a true
reading about underlying supply-demand pressures. And discussion at FOMC
meetings will under the circumstances tend to focus as much on
"announcement" effects as substance, to the inevitable detriment of the whole
policy-making process ....
The heart of the problem, as I see it, is that markets constantly are trying to
anticipate what might happen in the future. They would like the Federal
Reserve to in effect "tell" them. But, by the nature of things, we cannot. Our
own operations in the market from day to day are dependent upon future
events--some technical, some not--that we cannot reliably forecast with
accuracy. One danger in immediate release of the directive is that certain
assumptions might be made that we are committed to certain operations that
are, in fact, dependent on future events, and these interpretations and
expectations would tend to diminish our needed operational flexibility. In the
end, the less sophisticated market participants, relying on second-hand
interpretations (even interpretations of interpretations) of conditional
directives would likely be particularly poorly served ....
If immediate release of the directive were to focus political and public
attention on essentially operational decisions, both constructive debate on the
more basic underlying issues and the internal decision-making process would
suffer in the process. At the same time, in my judgment the net result-­
recognizing that a degree of uncertainty is a fact of life in all markets because
none of us can know the future--would be to add to that uncertainty.

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Responding to Senator Mattingly
July 18, 1985
In mid-1985, Senate Banking Subcommittee Chainnan Mac Mattingly submitted a written
question after Chairman Volcker's Humphrey-Hawkins testimony asking for the Federal
Reserve's justification for the six to seven week delay of the policy record, which he considered
far too long. Chairman Volcker replied in August as follows:

This schedule is adhered to because of concern that earlier release of the
decision--while it was still controlling for open market operations--would
focus more attention on the short-run aspects of monetary tactics and foster
even more speculation about the day-to-day implementation of policy,
resulting in greater short-run swings in interest rates and market volatility.
The information in question takes the fonn of instructions to the Federal
Reserve Bank of New York specifying the criteria to be used in carrying out
open market operations in the period until the next FOMC meeting. These
instructions are necessarily conditional in nature; that is, the actual stance of
the Federal Reserve in supplying reserves will depend on the data that become
available on growth in the money stock and infonnation about the economy
and financial markets as well. The so-called "directive" therefore does not
give unequivocal instructions about how bank reserve conditions might
evolve over a span of several weeks. The danger is that market participants
would not adequately recognize the conditional and judgmental nature of the
directive. In trying, with a false sense of certainty, to outguess the Federal
Reserve, they would tend to impart even wider swings in domestic and
international market conditions than we now experience. It would be
especially difficult for the Federal Reserve to make relatively minor, probing
adjustments to its stance in supplying reserves without provoking market
over-reaction.
Immediate release of the directive would also tend to focus attention on the
short-run tactics of monetary policy, rather than the long-run strategy that is
important to achieving national objectives for output, employment, and prices.
Decisions bearing on these more important strategic questions are released
within a few days after they are made in February and July, and are
accompanied by a report to Congress and testimony spelling out fully the
Federal Reserve's assessment of the economy and the reasons for its policy
choices. Quite properly, they are the subject of intense scrutiny and debate,
both within Congress and in the public at large. Immediate release of the
FOMC's short-run decision as well could deflect needed and appropriate
attention from these more fundamental issues of monetary policy.

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111. October 1982 to November 1989

87

Eliciting a Critique of the Defense of Delay in the Merrill Case
January 1986
A critique of the FOMC's arguments in the Merrill case from an economist's perspective
appeared in a paper by Marvin Goodfriend published in January 1986. 86 In substance, the
FOMC had been successful in arguing that the decision to withhold the directive for a time was a
monetary policy choice, not a pure disclosure decision, and should be resolved by the FOMC not
by a court. Goodfriend's basic view was that the FOMC had made the wrong calculation in
terms of the efficacy of monetary policy itself. That is, Goodfriend mounted an attack on the
FOMC's economics.
His paper "consisted of a summary and critique of [the FOMC's] written defense .... The
critique, based on rational expectations reasoning" (p. 90), was of the FOMC's position that the
immediate disclosure of the directive would cause
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Unfair speculation
Inappropriate market reaction
Harm to the government's commercial interest
Undesirable pre-commitment
More difficult interest rate smoothing.

He contended that these arguments lacked theoretical rigor. In a later paper, Goodfriend
summarized his views:
Less central bank secrecy would reduce the cost of acquiring information
about central bank policy, reduce the marginal value of central bank watching,
and shrink the central bank watching industry. Less secrecy would confer
social benefits in two senses. First, it would raise the informativeness of
security prices, which could reduce forecast errors and raise everyone's
expected utility. Second, it would free resources for other uses previously
wasted from a social point of view on central bank watching. 87
His published position seems suitable for use in defense of virtually complete transparency.

Complying with Legislative Requirements in Conducting Policy
In the closing months of 1982, when the Federal Reserve was conducting monetary policy more
judgmentally, congressional sentiment also was moving still further away from its late 1970s
advocacy of monetarist reforms. In those days, the House Banking Committee, as we have seen,
had supported both the new monetary control procedures and even contemporaneous reserve
requirements. But times had changed.

86. Marvin Goodfnend, "Monetary Mystique: Secrecy and Central Banking," Journal ofMonetary Economics,
vol. 17, no. 1, January 1986, p 71.
87. Marvin Goodfnend, "Fed Secrecy and the Choice of a Rule," Cato Journal, vol. 6, no. 2, Fall 1986, p. 559.

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At the end of November 1982, Senator Robert Byrd introduced a resolution
with 41 Democratic cosponsors calling on the Fed to "achieve and maintain a
level of interest rates low enough to generate significant economic growth and
thereby reduce the current intolerable level of unemployment." The
Democratic House approved this language as part of its "jobs package" in the
year-end Continuing Resolution. The Senate version of the resolution
included a watered-down version of the Byrd language. The Senate language
also appeared in the final Continuing Resolution: "With due regard for
combating inflation so as not to have an opposite effect of driving interest
rates upward, (the Board and the FOMC) should ... take such actions as are
necessary to achieve and maintain a level of interest rates low enough to
generate significant economic growth and thereby reduce the current
intolerable level of unemployment." The underlined wording had been added
8
in negotiations with Republican Senator Jake Garn of Utah.8
Adjusting the Annual M2 Range for MMDAs and Demoting the M1 Range
February 8-9, 1983, and July 12-13, 1983
In February 1983 the Committee told the Congress in its report and testimony about its new
approach regarding its money growth ranges. The FOMC adopted a flexible base for the M2
range, given the introduction of MMDAs, and demoted the M range to monitoring status, in
light of its continued demand uncertainties as well as the structural effects of NOW accounts on
the demand sensitivity of M1 to short-term interest rates.
The Depository Institutions Deregulation Committee authorized the super
NOW account, effective in early 1983. These were NOW accounts with
balances larger than $2,500 not subject to a rate ceiling. These accounts could
be expected to pull funds into M1 from sources outside M1, although again in
an unpredictable magnitude. Within a month of their introduction, super
NOWs totaled $20 billion.
The initial shift of funds into MMDAs was even more phenomenal: those
accounts had attracted more than $250 billion by early February 1983 .. . [I]n

February 1983 the [C]ommittee chose a February and March 1983 average as
the base for the M2 range that year to get past the initial bulge in that
aggregate. Minimal impacts were expected on M3 growth for the year, as
depository institutions were thought likely to reduce their reliance on large
CDs in response to the influx of core deposits.

88. Winthrop Hambley, "Information for Governor Meyer," September 8, 2000, p. [11], with a cover note from
Don Winn, "Background Materials on Congress and Monetary Policy," September 25, 2000. Senator Garn once
underscored his credentials as an advocate of price stability by contending that putting the Congress in charge of
fighting inflation is like putting an arsonist in charge of the fire department!

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III. October 1982 to November 1989

89

Estimates by the [B]oard's staff based on survey and econometric evidence of
the impact on M1 of flows of funds into MMDAs from M1 accounts and into
super NOWs from outside M1 suggested sizeable gross effects--on the order
of $11 billion in each case over the year. But the two effects were
approximately offsetting, so there was apparently little net impact.
Nonetheless, the demand for M1 remained strong through the first half of
1983.... M1 velocity did not rebound in typical cyclical fashion during the
recovery. In July, the [C]ommittee rebased the monitoring range for M1 to
1983:[Q]2 and raised the growth bands 1 percentage point.
The strength in M1 growth in the first half of 1983 continued to be
concentrated in checkable accounts other than demand deposits and can be
attributed mainly to lagged effects of earlier declines in short-term interest
rates interacting with an altered demand for Ml function. As noted, the
growth of fixed-ceiling NOW accounts made the other checkable deposit
component, and M1 as a whole, more elastic with respect to market interest
rates than was true of demand deposits or currency. After all, using
hypothetical figures, a fall in short-term market rates from 15 percent to 10
percent represents a decline of one-third in the marginal opportunity cost of
holding a demand deposit (even one paying a positive average implicit return
via services independent of account size).
By contrast, the marginal opportunity cost of holding a NOW account paying
a 5 percent explicit rate of return is reduced by one-half. ..

89

Converting the Internal Red Book to the Public Beige Book
March 29, 1983
In a letter dated February 4, 1983, Representative Walter Fauntroy, chairman of the House
Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy, requested the Red Book at the same time the
policy record was released. After its March 29 meeting that year, the FOMC decided to make
the document public before, not after, the FOMC meeting for which it was prepared.
Regarding its history, before Arthur Burs became the Chairman of the Board
in 1970, the review of regional economic developments for the FOMC
consisted of oral reports given by each of the 12 district bank presidents
around the table at the meetings. Chairman Burns decided that it would be
more efficient to prepare and distribute those reports in advance. As a result,
the district banks formalized and expanded their information-gathering
process, and the predecessor to the Beige Book, which was called the Red
Book, was born. The Red Book was much the same as today's Beige Book in

89. David E. Lindsey, "The Monetary Regime of the Federal Reserve System," in Colin D. Campbell and
William R. Dugan, ed., Alternative Monetary Regimes, 1986, Johns Hopkins University Press. Paper delivered at a
conference at Dartmouth College on August 22-24, 1984, p. 188.

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

its content and purpose. But because it was prepared in advance of the
meetings, the writeups could be somewhat more extensive than the presidents
were able to provide in the earlier oral presentations. The members of the
FOMC thought that preparing the Red Book in advance would improve the
Committee's ability to draw on the banks' networks of regional contacts for
economic intelligence. The Red Book was prepared for each meeting from
mid-1970 until 1983 when it became the Beige Book. During that period, it
was a confidential FOMC document-not publicly available and with limited
distribution to staff at the district banks and the Board.
The public distribution of the Beige Book began in 1983 at the request of Rep.
Walter Fauntroy, who chaired the Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary
Policy of the House Banking Committee. The new publication was given a
tan or beige cover, and while the content was much the same, a few minor
changes were made. First, in order to separate it somewhat from the other
briefing materials prepared for the FOMC meetings, its release was timed to
occur about two weeks before the meeting. In addition, because it was to be a
public document, reserve banks were careful not to include any specific
references to businesses or individuals ... 90
Tightening while Not Tightening: The Continental Illinois Episode
Summer 1984
From the meeting on May 21-22, 1984, through the August 21 meeting of that year, the
borrowings assumption chosen by the Committee remained the same, at $1 billion (excluding
discount window loans to Continental Illinois necessitated by its funding problems). The
discount rate determined by the Board also was unchanged over that interval. Nevertheless, the
federal funds rate went from 10½ percent to 11¾ percent over that time span.
The policy record for the May meeting stated:
Late in the intermeeting period, market conditions also reflected a heightened
degree of anxiety and sensitivity to potential liquidity strains, and especially
the persistent rumors that a major bank was in serious financial difficulty.
The Humphrey-Hawkins report on July 25 said:
The loss of confidence in the Continental Illinois Bank and well-publicized
problems related to ongoing international debt negotiations in May led to a
widening in the spread of yields on certificates of deposit issued by depository
institutions over Treasury securities of similar maturity. Indeed, investors

90. Joyce K. Zickler, "The Beige Book: A Resource for Tracking Regional Economics," presentation to the
National Press Foundation, October 15, 2001, p. 2.

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

III. October 1982 to November 1989

increasingly seemed to show a preference for government securities relative
to private credit instruments generally.
Chairman Volcker indicated in his July Humphrey-Hawkins testimony that the FOMC had kept
its policy stance steady since the early spring, although market interest rates had risen.
Reserve pressures have not changed appreciably since [early spring], as
reflected in relatively unchanged borrowings at the discount window (apart
from those by the troubled Continental Illinois Bank). With both M1 and M2
remaining within their target ranges, and against the background of the
economic, price, and financial market developments reviewed earlier, stronger
restraining actions on money and credit growth generally have not appeared
appropriate. At the same time, the relatively rapid rates of growth in M3 and
domestic credit are flashing cautionary signals.

While pressures on bank reserves did not increase further, both long- and
short-term interest rates rose over the spring. The continued heavy credit
demands, expectations that those demands would persist against the
background of the huge federal deficit and strong economic expansion, and
fears of a resurgence of inflationary pressures as both labor and capital are
more fully employed all played a part. In more recent weeks, rates have
tended to stabilize at high levels, perhaps partly because current price trends
have, at least so far, not borne out more extreme inflationary concerns
expressed earlier. Nonetheless, markets remain volatile and apprehensive.
By the time of the August meeting, the policy record explained the increase in the federal funds
rate by noting that "banks seemed to be somewhat reluctant to borrow from the discount window
and they bid more aggressively for funds in the market."
Exhibit 3 shows how the normal function relating discount window borrowing to the spread of
the funds rate over the discount rate had been displaced in the summer of 1984 by banks'
concerns about Continental Illinois. It is taken from a later memorandum to the FOMC. 9 1 Banks
had adopted this posture out of fear that, if they were perceived to be tapping the discount
window from weakness, investors could paint them with the same brush that they had used for
Continental Illinois. Some observers suspected that the further rise in the funds rate in the
summer well suited the FOMC's purposes.

91. David Lindsey and James Glassman, "A Review of the Relation of the Funds Rate and Intended Discount
Borrowing," July 1, 1987, chart 3, sent to the Federal Open Market Committee with a cover memorandum from
Donald L. Kohn, "Attached Study of Borrowing and Federal Funds Rate," July 1, 1987.

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

The Relationship Between Borrowing and the Funds Rate Spread
(January 6, 1982 through December 18, 1985)

Federal Funs Rate
los Dmecount Rete,
percentae pebito

Maintennce Period
Average

4

3.
t.

a

-1

S1
t5-

0

2 50

500

750

1000

1250

1500

1750

2000

22 50

Discount Window Borrowing ($ millions)
*Borrowing functions jointly use data from the maintenance period ending
January 6, 1982 through the period ending June 3, 1987, allowing for two
shifts in the constant term.

2500

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

III. October 1982 to November 1989

Dropping the Annual M1 Range
February 10-11, 1987
During the mid-1980s, the FOMC became even more discouraged about the usefulness of the
M1 aggregate. M1 had an unpredictable savings component, which yielded an unstable demand
function, as well as an inordinately high interest elasticity. In July 1985, the Committee widened
the M range to an unprecedented 5 percentage points over the last two quarters of the year. The
next February, it retained the 3 to 8 percent specification over the four quarters of 1986. By
mid-1986, it went so far as to indicate that M1 growth in excess of that upper bound would be
acceptable. In February 1987, the FOMC finally dropped for good a precise range for M1. The
narrow aggregate was kept alive via the Board's H.6 statistical release each week. But the old
soldier-a distinguished veteran of the first world war against inflation-was allowed to fade
away.
Eating Humble Pie along with the Thanksgiving Turkey
November 22, 1989
Just before Thanksgiving 1989, the Manager was, as in previous months, trying to implement the
procedures geared mainly to an operating target for adjustment plus seasonal borrowings. He
had been attempting to place primary emphasis on reserve needs in Desk operations and
secondary importance on the funds rate quoted in the market at the time of Desk action. On that
Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the Desk needed to add reserves for technical reasons. Even
though the funds rate slipped from 1/16 percentage point to 1/8 percentage point below the
Committee's funds rate expectation just before the operation, the Desk still arranged a five-day
System repurchase agreement (RP). Market participants interpreted the operation as signaling a
policy move, when it in fact did not. 92 On Friday morning, the New York Times cited
"government officials" claiming (albeit erroneously) that an easing had taken place. The policy
record of the December meeting that year mentioned the episode: "Conditions in reserve markets
softened temporarily around Thanksgiving when operations to meet seasonal reserve needs were
misread as signaling a further easing of monetary policy." 93 After the incident, the Desk put top
priority on signaling the Committee's intended funds rate. And that's the story of how the
FOMC lost its borrowing procedures.
Implementing Monetary Policy
1980-89
The FOMC continued throughout the 1980s to provide the Congress semiannually with specified
ranges for money and credit growth. Table 7 gives the four-quarter growth ranges for money
and credit that were reported to the Congress during the decade. Still, as this section has shown,
these ranges lost importance after 1982. Similarly, the FOMC continued to report projections of
macroeconomic variables, but these, too, seemingly were not crucial in determining the stance of
policy. Tables 8 through 11 record the summaries of the semiannual macroeconomic projections
that were presented in the Humphrey-Hawkins reports in the 1980s. As in July 1979, only Board
92. For the Manager's account of this event, see "Monetary Policy and Open Market Operations during 1989,"
a report prepared for the Federal Open Market Committee by the Open Markets Group of the Federal Reserve Bank
of New York, March 1990, pp. 49-50.
Annual Report, 1989, p. 133.
93. Record of Policy Actions of the December 18-19, 1989, FOMC meeting, 76 th

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A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

94

Table 7
Money and Debt:
Current-Year Growth Ranges Adopted under the Humphrey-Hawkins Act,
and Actual Growth, 1980-89
(Percent, fourth quarter to fourth quarter except as noted)
M1

M2

Domestic
nonfinancial debt¹

M3

Year
Target

Actual

Target

Actual

Target

Actual

Target

Actual

198023

4-6'/2

7.3

6-9

9.8

6'/2-9'/2

9.9

6-9

7.9

4

3/2-6

2.3

6-9

9.4

6'/2-9'/2

11.4

6-9

8.85

2/ 2-5'/2

8.5

6-9

9.2

6'/2-9/2

10.1

6-9 6

7. 1

8.3

6'/2-9/2

9.7

8'/2-11/2

10.5

19812,

19822
1983

5-97

7.2

7-10 8

1984

4-8

5.2

6-9

7.7

6-9

10.5

8-11

13.4

12.7

6-9

8.6

6-9'/2

7.4

9-12

13.5

15.2

6-9

8.9

6-9

8.8

8-11

12.9

6.2

51/2-8'/2

4.0

5/2--8'/2

5.4

8-11

9.6

9

1985

3-8

1986

3-8
1
0

1987

n.s.

1988

n.s.

4.3

4-8

5.3

4-8

6.2

7-11

8.7

1989

n.s.

.6

3-7

4.6

3/2-7/2

3.3

6'/2-102

8.1

NOTE. Actual growth rates are as reported in the Monetary Policy Report to the Congress issued in February of
the next year. Subsequent revisions to historical data (not shown) have altered growth rates by up to a few tenths

of a percentage point.
1. Values for 1980-82 are for bank credit.
2. Values for M1 are for M-1B (1980) and for shift-adjusted M-lB (1981). M-1B was re-labeled M1 in
January 1982. For 1980 the target and actual growth for M-1A were 3½-6percent and 5.0 percent respectively;
for 1981 (shift adjusted) they were 3-5½ percent and 1.3 percent respectively.
3. When these ranges were set, shifts into other checkable deposits in 1980 were expected to have only a

limited effect on the growth of M-1A and M-1B. As the year progressed, however, banks offered other checkable
deposits more actively, and more funds than expected were directed to these accounts. Such shifts are estimated to
have decreased M-1A growth and increased M-1B growth each by at least ½ percentage point more than had been
anticipated.
4. Adjusted for the effects of shifts out of demand deposits and savings deposits. At the February FOMC
meeting, the target ranges for observed M-1A and M-1B in 1981 on an unadjusted basis, expected to be consistent
with the adjusted ranges, were -4 percent to -2 percent and 6 percent to 8½ percent respectively. Actual M-1B
growth (not shift adjusted) was 5.0 percent.
5. Adjusted for shifts of assets from domestic banking offices to international banking facilities.
6. Annualized growth from the December 1981-January 1982 average level through the fourth quarter of 1982.
7. Base period adopted at the July 1983 FOMC meeting is 1983:Q2. At the February 1983 meeting, the FOMC
had adopted a 1982:Q4 to 1983:Q4 target range for M1 of 4-8 percent.
8. Base period is the February-March 1983 average.
9. Base period adopted at the July 1985 FOMC meeting is 1985:Q2. At the February 1985 meeting, the FOMC
had adopted a 1984:Q4 to 1985:Q4 target range for M1 of 4-7 percent.
10. No range for M1 has been specified since the February 1987 FOMC meeting because of uncertainties about
its underlying relationship to the behavior of the economy and its sensitivity to economic and financial
circumstances.
n.s. Not specified.

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III. October 1982 to November 1989

95

members contributed economic projections in February 1980, but in July 1980 all voting FOMC
members provided their forecasts. The Board members and all the Reserve Bank presidents
were included starting in February 1981, a practice that has continued. In February 1983, central

Table 8
Nominal GNP Growth:

Range or Central Tendency of Projections
Presented in Humphrey-Hawkins Reports, 1979-89
(Percent, fourth quarter to fourth quarter)
Year for
which
which
projection
was made

July of
previous year

February of
current year

July of
current year

1979

.

...

8 to 10

9.9

1980

8% to 11/2

7/2 to 11

5 to 7/2

9.5

1981

8'/ 2 to 11'/2

9 to 12

10 to 11'/2

9.3

1982

9'/2to 12/4

8to 10/2

5% to7 12

3.3

1983

7 to9/2

8 to 9

94 to 10

10.4

1984

9 to 10

9 to 10

10/2 to 11

9.3

1985

8 to 9

7% to 8

6/2 to 7

5.8

1986

7 to 7%

6% to 7/4

43 to 5%4

4.4

1987

6to 7/2

54 to 6/2

6/4 to 7

7.2

1988

53/4 to 7

5/4 to 6

53/4 to 63/4

7.0

1989

5 to 7

6 to 7

6.4

Report in which projection was made

6/2 to 72%

MEMO
Actual,
current year¹

NOTE. In July 1979 and February 1980 the projections were those of Board members only, and in
July 1980 they were of FOMC voting members only. Afterward, all Board members and Bank
presidents contributed projections. From 1979 to 1982, only the full ranges were provided; beginning
in February 1983 the central tendencies of the projections are shown.
1. Estimates from the February Humphrey-Hawkins reports, when available, or from the February
Greenbook.
... Not applicable.

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

tendencies first joined full ranges in the Humphrey-Hawkins report. The central tendency
forecasts, as the name implies, deleted high and low outliers. (Later Michael Prell, who became
Director of the Board's Division of Research and Statistics in 1987, used a rule of thumb of

Table 9
Real GNP Growth:
Range or Central Tendency of Projections
Presented in Humphrey-Hawkins Reports, 1979-89
(Percent, fourth quarter to fourth quarter)
Year for
which
which
projection
was made

July of
previous year

February of
current year

July of
current year

1979

...

...

-2 to-/2

.8

1980

-/2 to 2

-2/2 to /2

-5 to -2/2

-.3

1981

/2 to 3

-1/2 to 1'/2

1 to 3/2

.7

1982

1 to 4

/2 to 3

'/2 to 1/

-1.2

1983

2/2 to 4

3V2 to 4'/

5 to 5%

6.1

1984

4 to 4/2

4 to 4%

1985

3 to 3/4

3/2 to 4

2% to 3

2.5

3 to 3/2

2V2 to 3

2.2

1986

Report in which projection was made

2/2 to 3

6

to 64

MEMO
Actual,
current year¹

5.6

1987

3 to 32

2/2 to 3

2/2 to 3

3.8

1988

2/2 to 3

2 to 2/2

2 3 to 3
/

2.7

1989

2 to2/

22 to 3

2 to 2/2

2.4

2

NOTE. In July 1979 and February 1980 the projections were those of Board members only, and in
July 1980 they were ofFOMC voting members only. Afterward, all Board members and Bank
presidents contributed projections. From 1979 to 1982, only the full ranges were provided; beginning
in February 1983 the central tendencies of the projections are shown.
1. Estimates from the February Humphrey-Hawkins reports, when available, or from the February
Greenbook.
...

Not applicable.

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III. October 1982 to November 1989

97

eliminating the top three and bottom three individual forecasts to derive the central tendencies
from the ranges.)
Despite the FOMC's continued semiannual provision to the Congress of the GNP and other
forecasts during the 1980s, these projections evidently did not much influence the actual federal

Table 10
GNP Implicit Deflator/CPI Inflation Rate:
Range or Central Tendency of Projections
Presented in Humphrey-Hawkins Reports, 1979-89
(Percent, fourth quarter to fourth quarter)
Year for
which
projection
was made

July of
previous year

February of
current year

July of
current year

MEMO
Actual,
current year¹

1979

...

...

9½ to 11

9.0

1980

8½ to 10/

9 to 11

9 to 10

9.8

1981

74 to 9/2

9 to 10'/2

71/2 to 9

8.6

1982

6/2 to 8/2

6/2 to 73/

43/4 6
to

6.0

1983

4 to 5/

1984

4/4to5

4

2 to5

4to 4/2

3.7

1985

5/4 to5V2

3'/2to4

3% to 4

3.1

1986

3% to 44

3 to 4

2% to 2%

2.2

1987

3 to 4

3 to 3/2

3/2 to 4

3.3

1988

34 to 4/4

3/4 to 3

3 to 3%

4.3

3 to 42

4/2to5

5 to 5/2

4.5

(deflator)

(CPI)

1989

Report in which projection was made

2

4 to 5

4/4 to 4

4.2

NOTE. In July 1979 and February 1980 the projections were those of Board members only, and in
July 1980 they were of FOMC voting members only. Afterward, all Board members and Bank
presidents contributed projections. From 1979 to 1982, only the full ranges were provided; beginning
in February 1983 the central tendencies of the projections are shown.
1. Estimates from the February Humphrey-Hawkins reports, when available, or from the February
Greenbook.
.. Not applicable.

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98

A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

funds rate at least until 1988, and perhaps not even until the next decade (see chapter VI for a
demonstration). After the de-emphasis of money in the second half of 1982, the FOMC
apparently shifted its focus to outcomes for economic growth and inflation, which had been
more implicit under M1 targeting. It had learned a lesson from the experience of the 1970s,
especially the late 1970s, when following forecasts in setting the funds rate had produced an
amount of tightening that it later judged to have remained behind the curve.

Table 11
Unemployment Rate:
Range or Central Tendency of Projections
Presented in Humphrey-Hawkins Reports, 1979-89
(Percent, fourth quarter)
Year for
which
projection
was made

July of
previous year

February of
current year

July of
current year

MEMO
Actual,
current year¹

1979

...

...

6¼ to 7

5.9

1980

6¾ to 8½

6¾ to 8

8½ to 9¼

7.5

1981

8 to 9/4

8 to 82

7/2 to 8/4

8.3

1982

7 to 82

8/4 to 92

9 to 9%

10.7

1983

8/2 to 9/2

9.9 to 10.4

About 9'/2

8.5

1984

8/4 to 8

7/2to 7/4

64 to 7

7.2

Report in which projection was made

1985

6/2 to7

6% to 7

7 to 7/4

7.0

1986

63 to 7/4
/4

About 6/2

7

6.9

1987

Around 6%

6/2 to 6%

6.2 to 6.4

5.9

1988

6 to 62

5% to 6

5/4to 53/4

5.3

1989

5/2 to 6

5/4 to 5/2

Around 5/2

5.3

NOTE. In July 1979 and February 1980 the projections were those of Board members only, and in
July 1980 they were of FOMC voting members only. Afterward, all Board members and Bank
presidents contributed projections. From 1979 to 1982, only the full ranges were provided;
beginning in February 1983 the central tendencies of the projections are shown.
1. Estimates from the February Humphrey-Hawkins reports, when available, or from the February
Greenbook.
... Not applicable.

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III. October 1982 to November 1989

99

At the July 1980 Humphrey-Hawkins hearings in the House, the following exchange occurred:
Mr. Minish. ... I want to ask a simple question. What is the outlook for the

economy?
Mr. Volcker. I have to preface that with my usual comment, about which I
feel rather strongly: We make a mistake in economic policy to put too much
money on any particular forecast. We have been fooled too often in the past.
You get yourself in more trouble by saying, "I know what the economic
outlook is; I am going to put all policies in that basket for the short run."
I think we ought to realize and recognize there is uncertainty here. We ought
to stay on a path.
That has real implications for monetary policy. .. .94

The Committee shied away as well from trying to base policy to an important degree on its
estimate of the natural rate of unemployment, or NAIRU. The Committee's implicit attempt to
maintain the economy at a level of "full employment," which in retrospect would seem to have
been grossly overestimated, was a main source of the Great Inflation of the previous decade.
Finally, the FOMC abandoned gradualism in its adjustment of the funds rate on the grounds of
avoiding excessive caution in policymaking.
In short, from 1980 through at least 1987, and perhaps for the whole decade, the FOMC in effect
overthrew the implicit "rule" that it had acted as if it was pursuing in the 1970s. Rather than
trying to forecast an employment or output gap several quarters ahead with an eye on the lagged
federal funds rate, the Committee, both during M1 targeting in the early 1980s and for much of
the rest of the decade, set monetary policy instead "as if" it were reacting to outcomes for the
economy's real output growth relative to an implicit estimated growth of potential without any
reference at all to a lagged funds rate. The only similarity between the two policy designs is that
the FOMC was implicitly targeting a low rate of inflation in both eras, though its reaction
seemed to switch in 1980 from forecasts of inflation to its outcomes.
Communicating Monetary Policy
1980-89
The FOMC could not have predicted that years later its actions would be shown to have closely
traced out a "reaction function" with only two explanatory variables: the observed values of
economic growth and inflation. Thus, the Committee could hardly have been expected to have
described publicly this specific representation of its policy design and implementation.
Nevertheless, few on the outside would have been surprised to hear one more time that the
FOMC during the 1980s was taking a hard line against inflation while trying to avoid the hubris

94. Hearing before the Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs, House of Representatives, July 23,
1980, Serial No. 96-63, p. 87

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100

A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

of its predecessors. The FOMC's mistakes in the 1970s were widely thought to have arisen from
the view that the levels of potential output or the NAIRU could be precisely estimated, that
predicted economic weakness will necessarily come true, and that policy caution always entails a
tiny adjustment to the instrument.
In general, humans have a tendency to keep fighting the last war, and monetary policy making in
the 1980s was no exception. Nevertheless, as new conditions emerge, the changing responses of
policymakers naturally will cause the structure of policy over time to gravitate away from its
starting point. Also, the personnel on the Committee continually turned over, and experience
and macroeconomic research offered new insights, while the old insights gradually faded from
memory. Accordingly, speaking hypothetically, it would be unrealistic for any FOMC ever to
announce that it has finally identified the particular structure of policymaking constituting the
"optimum optimorum," which henceforth would always remain in effect. The implicit reaction
function of the 1980s, despite its successes, could not for long avoid being subject to these dicta.
Admittedly, telling whether the transition to a new structure occurred suddenly in 1987 or in
1988 or in 1989 or whether it took place gradually throughout those years is no mean feat.
Whatever the exact timeline, by 1990 the policy structure of much of the 1980s clearly was
"gone with the wind."
The FOMC of the 1980s was guarded in its communicative detail. Indeed, the FOMC of this
period revealed its propensity for "constructive ambiguity," a term that always could be used in
polite company. A less inhibited modern observer instead might call the Committee "opaque"
or, even worse, "not transparent."
Actually, what is not so transparent to the modern observer was the Committee's motivation at
this time. An important concern, implicit or explicit in the foregoing, was to avoid criticism,
which could have resulted in political pressure, which in turn could have had an adverse effect
on the conduct of monetary policy. It is worth remembering that congressional criticism of what
would now be termed sound, anti-inflationary monetary policy was not uncommon at the time.
Committee members feared that sharp criticism of interest rate hikes by politicians, who
ultimately might be successful after all in passing legislation altering the Federal Reserve's
makeup or limiting its maneuvering room, would only render an already difficult decision to
tighten even harder to make. This attitude explains the Federal Reserve's fervent concern that
the time horizon for monetary policy needed to extend well beyond the next election as well as
its zealous defense of central bank instrument independence-which gives it the necessary
leeway to alter the stance of its policy as changing circumstances dictate.
Without transparency, a decision that likely or certainly would raise the funds rate but not the
discount rate would not be known even to the market cognoscenti at a minimum until the next
day through the signals imparted by the operations of the Trading Desk. And the action might
or might not be covered in financial news stories on the business pages of the papers on the day
after that. By then the news would be sufficiently outdated that few politicians would bother to
comment in real time.

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III.October 1982 to November 1989

101

By contrast, the Committee had some concern that with the transparency of, for example, an
immediate announcement of a change in the stance of policy, reports by the media would be
immediate. Commentators, including politicians, would give their reactions on camera the same
afternoon. The story would be covered in the television news programs that evening and then
would appear on the front page of the major newspapers the next day. In other words,
transparency would transform the action from a little noticed technical adjustment in the obscure
market for bank reserves into a big deal. The FOMC's thought was that, in the resulting goldfish
bowl, tightening would be harder to decide to do-yielding worse monetary policy and, hence,
inferior national economic results.

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

IV. THE 1990s: FURTHER DISINFLATION AND OPERATING ON THE
FEDERAL FUNDS RATE
Responding to Representative Gonzalez on Minutes and Transcripts ................
Receiving disclosure questions from Representative Gonzalez, October 5 and 8, 1992 .........
Discussing the timing and extent of disclosure, February 2-3, 1993 ..................
.....
Creating the minutes of the FOMC Meeting, March 23, 1993 ............................
Leaking the asymmetric tilt, May 18, 1993 ................
........................
Receiving Representative Gonzalez's reaction, July 6, 1993 ..............................
Sticking to their guns, July 20, 1993 ...............................................
Preparing to testify before the House banking committee, October 5 and 15, 1993 ............
Testifying before the House banking committee, October 13 and 19, 1993 ..................
Leaking makes the transcripts an issue, October 22, 1993 ................................
Deciding on the disposition of past transcripts, November 16, 1993 ........................
Letting Representative Gonzalez's staff listen to the October 15 tape, December 21, 1993 ......
Deciding on the disposition of future transcripts, February 2, 1995 ........................

105
107
108
110
110
111
112
112
115
116
120
124
127

Complying with Existing Legislative Goals and Reporting Requirements ............
Tracking M2 while being overtaken by the Four Horsemen, July 21, 1992 ..................
Downgrading broad money to information-variable status, February 2-3, 1993 ...............
Rejecting a more-distant horizon for the semiannual macroeconomic forecasts,
February 3-4, 1994 ...................................
. ....................
Rejecting an even-more-distant horizon for the semiannual macroeconomic forecasts,
July 5-6, 1994 ............................
........
. ........................
Relegating the broad monetary ranges to benchmark status, July 5-6, 1994 ..................
Rejecting multiyear inflation targets, February 1, 1995 ..................................
Considering the working definition of, and approach to, price stability,
..................
.........
July 2, 1996, andJuly 1, 1997 ...................
Implementing monetary policy, 1990-96 ..................
.........................
Communicating monetary policy, 1990-96 ................
........................

130
132
134
135
137
141
141
145
149
151

Refining the Content of the Directive and the Immediate Announcement ............
155
156
Deleting the range for the federal funds rate, November 13, 1990 .........................
Considering more automaticity in the funds rate, August 20, 1991 .........................
157
Amending the ranking of policy factors, December 17, 1991 .............................
157
Removing a quantitative short-run M2 range from the operational paragraph, February 2-3, 1993 162
Introducing the immediate announcement, February 4, 1994 .............................
162
Using immediate announcements, March 22, 1994-February 1, 1995 ......................
163
Formalizing rules for immediate announcements, February 2, 1995 .......................
164
164
Giving the funds rate target in the immediate announcement, July 6, 1995 ...................
Accelerating release of the directive by one day, February 4-5, 1997 ......................
164
165
Giving the funds rate target in the operational paragraph, August 19, 1997 ..................
Amending the tilt wording and deleting the qualitative money sentence, December 22, 1998 ....
Announcing major shifts of view without a policy change infrequently, December 22, 1998 ....

165
168

Announcing a change in the tilt immediately, May 18, 1999 .............................
Agreeing on the balance of risks and shortening the directive, December 21, 1999 ............

173
177

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IV. THE 1990S: FURTHER DISINFLATION AND OPERATING ON THE
FEDERAL FUNDS RATE
Following the market's misunderstanding of the FOMC's policy intent just before Thanksgiving
1989, the Trading Desk de-emphasized the specified amount of adjustment plus seasonal
borrowing and reemphasized its day-to-day pursuit of a single target level for the federal funds
rate, the procedure that has prevailed until the present day. Its communication of the specifics of
this operating procedure, however, evolved more slowly in the form of several revisions to all of
the following: the Committee's wording of the operational paragraph of the directive released
after the subsequent meeting; its immediate announcements initiated in early 1994; and at the
end of the decade, its replacement of its policy inclination or "tilt" with the "balance of risks."
Before reviewing these developments, however, this chapter discusses first the challenge to its
broader disclosure practices from Representative Henry B. Gonzalez, and then the FOMC's
compliance with legislative goals and reporting requirements through its implementation and
communication of monetary policy.

Responding to Representative Gonzalez on Minutes and Transcripts
Chairman Alan Greenspan's letter of September 23, 1991, to Representative Stephen Neal gave
a description of and rationale for the FOMC's disclosure practices in the early 1990s. 95
In general, monetary policy decisions are made public immediately, except
when doing so could undercut the efficacy of policy or compromise the
integrity ofpolicymaking. For example, when we change the discount rate or
reserve requirements, those decisions are announced at once. When we
establish new ranges for money and credit growth, those ranges are set forth
promptly in our reports to Congress. And when Congress requests our views,
we testify. Moreover, we publish our balance sheet every week with a 1-day
lag. What we do not disclose immediately are the implementing decisions
with respect to our open market operations. However, even these are
conveyed rather clearly to the markets and to the public at large through the
operations themselves. In practice, there is little lag between a change in
operating policy and the wide recognition of the change, despite the absence
of a formal announcement. Guidance for those operations is given to the
account manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as a Directive,
which is made public shortly after the next FOMC meeting, 6 to 7 weeks later.
At the same time, we publish a lengthy record of the policy deliberations
underlying the Committee's decisions. This way of distinguishing the nature
of policy intent may well convey information to the financial markets about
the future direction of policy better than would a formal, immediate
announcement of every policy change.

95. This single-spaced letter reached a fifth page, a fact that indicates the letter's detail About one-third has
been omitted in the following quotation.

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The immediate disclosure of all changes in our operating targets would take a
valuable policy instrument away from us by reducing our flexibility to
implement decisions quietly at times to achieve a desired effect while
minimizing possible financial market disruptions. With an obligation to
announce all changes as they occurred, the distinction between making
changes either quite publicly or more subtly, as conditions warrant, would
evaporate; all moves would be accompanied by announcement effects. If
markets always accurately assessed the implications of such announcements,
incorporating them into the structure of prices, then market efficiency might
be enhanced by making our open market objectives public immediately.
However, prices can, and do, overreact to particular announcements. ...
Markets are often prone to overreact at times when the financial system
appears fragile, and under these conditions, the requirement to publicize each
change could risk further unsettling markets....
The immediate release of the Directive also would be ill-advised. The
Directive itself cannot capture all the considerations that guide Committee
policy for the intermeeting period. It needs to be accompanied by the record
of the Committee's deliberations, which takes several weeks to prepare
properly. Moreover, early release could provoke overreactions in financial
markets to contingencies or reserve pressure alternatives mentioned in a
Directive that may not occur, or that may be superseded by intermeeting
developments and adjustments. To the extent that market participants
anticipate contingencies in the Directive that never materialize, the markets
would be subjected to unnecessary volatility.
Earlier release of the Directive would, in addition, force the Committee itself
to focus on the market impact of the announcement as well as on the ultimate
economic impact of its actions. To avoid premature market reaction to mere
contingencies, FOMC decisions could well lose their conditional character.
Given the uncertainties in economic forecasts and in the links between
monetary policy actions and economic outcomes, such an impairment of
flexibility in the evolution of policy would be undesirable....
Clearly, this line of reasoning is undermined by the selective, unauthorized,
and premature release of FOMC decisions to the press. As I indicated in
response to your question at the Humphrey-Hawkins hearings, I have found
these instances extremely distressing. I believe that the appropriate response
to this problem is not the abandonment of procedures designed to enhance the
effectiveness of policy implementation, but rather the better enforcement of
the Committee's rules regarding confidentiality.

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IV. The 199 0s

Receiving Disclosure Questions from Representative Gonzalez
October 5 and 8, 1992
About a year later, Representative Henry B. Gonzalez (Democrat from Texas), chairman, House
Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs, began to mount a frontal assault on these
disclosure practices. 96 A letter from him to Chairman Greenspan dated October 8, 1992,
criticized dropping the Memorandum of Discussion as of March 1976 and requested the Board's
views on releasing a videotape of FOMC meetings with a sixty-day lag. He had asked the
Reserve Bank presidents on October 5 about their willingness to have their comments and votes
individually reflected in detailed minutes and released "promptly." His letter of October 8 also
asserted that in 1976 the FOMC had discontinued
the practice of taking minutes at FOMC meetings. Now, the FOMC only
issues a directive the Friday after the next FOMC meeting. The directive only
contains the vote on policy matters and formal instructions for monetary
policy. It is a highly inadequate record of the FOMC deliberations.
Chairman Greenspan's initial reply on October 22 indicated that a substantive response to these
"interesting" disclosure issues, which had not been raised for some time, would have to await a
discussion among the Board members and Bank presidents. That discussion took place at the
November 17 meeting of the FOMC and continued in a December 14 conference call. 97 In these
conversations, the Committee noted the difficulty of finding the appropriate balance between the
public's right to know and the quality of deliberations and decisions. Also, as President Richard
F. Syron of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston observed, Representative Gonzalez proposed
releasing, after a short delay, information about the process in the form of the detailed
arguments behind the decision, such as making a videotape public after sixty days; this proposal
most directly threatened the deliberative process. By contrast, immediate release of the
Committee's decision itself, such as would result from a disclosure of the directive, in President
Syron's opinion would have been of more interest. 98
Chairman Greenspan said later in the meeting:
I personally see no problem in announcing decisions after the fact. We cut the
discount rate, we announce it; we move the funds rate, we announce it. That
frankly doesn't bother me very much. What does bother me is putting on the
table and in the public our deliberations about potential future [actions] and
our inclinations and the conditions that would drive [such actions]. That

96. A useful summary of the Gonzalez challenge and the FOMC response and a limited compendium of
materials can be found in Bonnie Garrett, "Part 5: Summary of FOMC Disclosure Decisions, 1993 to the Present,"
memorandum to FOMC Secretariat Files, September 16, 1999. This history has relied mostly on an exhaustive
collection of all the relevant materials on this subject-from the Federal Reserve, the Congress, and the
press-which can be found in the three-binder collection compiled by David Lindsey and Rivane Henderson. It is
entitled, in tongue-in-cheek fashion, "The War of Independence."
97. See transcripts of the November 17, 1992, FOMC meeting and of the December 14, 1992, conference call.
98. Transcript of the November 17, 1992, FOMC meeting, p. 52.

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would then, by interacting with the market, alter our decisionmaking process
and create a significant loss of flexibility in the actions that we might have
undertaken.99
Indeed, at this meeting four speakers favored, and another said he could accept, the immediate
release of information on policy actions already taken, whereas only two others opposed this
idea. 00

During the conference call in December, a subcommittee was established to discuss various
disclosure issues and to report back to the full FOMC before the February 1993 FOMC meeting.
The subcommittee was to be chaired by Vice Chairman David Mullins and to be made up of
Governor Edward Kelley and Presidents Edward Boehne and Thomas Melzer.
The final reply by Chairman Greenspan on behalf of the FOMC on December 24, 1992,
indicated that, as a general principle, the openness of public bodies is desirable without good
reasons to the contrary. But he explained the opposition of the Board members and Reserve
Bank presidents to releasing either a "literal record" or a "very detailed accounting" of FOMC
discussions because the Committee's deliberative process would be significantly impaired.
Chairman Greenspan also informed Representative Gonzalez of the extensive Federal Reserve
disclosure procedures already in place. In particular, the release of the Record of Policy Actions
after the next meeting gave the public a much more comprehensive account of Committee
discussions than the directive alone provided.
In a response on December 29, 1992, Representative Gonzalez again referenced the demise of
the Memorandum of Discussion. He cited the fifty-five letters to the Domestic Monetary Policy
Subcommittee of the House Banking Committee in the mid-1970s opposing the FOMC decision
versus only fifteen letters in favor. And, in a pattern that would be repeated, he also
characterized Chairman Greenspan's earlier answer as "evasive" and requested individual
responses about the desirability of a more detailed record of each meeting that would be released
promptly to the public. On January 7, 1993, Chairman Greenspan indicated to him that,
although his earlier letter had accurately expressed the consensus of FOMC members, he had
asked his colleagues to comply, and they did so shortly thereafter.
Discussing the Timing and Extent of Disclosure
February 2-3, 1993
The next skirmish in this protracted conflict occurred when the minutes of the February 2-3,
1993, meeting informed the public on March 26 that the Committee had discussed "various
options for apprising the public more fully or promptly of the Committee's actions" but that "no
decisions were made." The Committee discussed a "preliminary" report on disclosure issues of

99. Transcript of the November 17, 1992, FOMC meeting, p. 54.
100. Normand Bernard, "Summary of November 17 FOMC Discussion of Earlier Release of Information and
Preparation of Detailed Minutes," November 25, 1992, p. 3.

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IV. The 1990s

The following are extracts from that report
the subcommittee headed by Governor Mullins.101
giving the tentative subcommittee conclusions on alternative proposals:
Immediate release of operational paragraph of (or entire) directive ...
Possible adverse effects on policy process and market volatility probably
more than offset benefits to market of limited additional information.
Memorandum of Discussion (heavily edited version of individual
contributions at meeting in the order in which they occurred)... Problems
clearly outweigh benefits for a Memorandum to be released promptly (e.g.,
within 3 years). Even if legal protection against disclosure for several years
were available, the subcommittee would prefer not to produce and release a
memorandum, in light of the possibility of forced disclosure even with legal
protection, the substantial amount of information already made available by
the Committee about monetary policy, the cost of production, and the
potentially adverse effects on the quality of Committee deliberations.
Videotape/audiotape/literal transcription of meetings ...

Adverse effects

(especially on the policy process) clearly outweigh benefits, even if tapes
were protected and released on a delayed basis.
Expanded policy record, with views individually attributed ... Generally,

costs appear to outweigh benefits, given the amount of information already
published, the small amount and nature of additional information that would
be made available, and the possible adverse consequences of the added focus
of public attention on the policy process and individual contributions to it.
Immediate announcement of actions to change expected federal funds rate ...
Of the alternatives examined, this most merits further analysis. 102
At the meeting, Governor Mullins introduced the report by saying:
Mr. Mullins .... The way we conceptualized this whole area was to suggest

that our number one job should be to make the best monetary policy decisions
we could. That is our chief objective. In a democratic society we should do
that in a manner which is as open as possible consistent with making the best
monetary policy decisions. And to the extent the process is not public
because we feel that a more open process would adversely affect the quality

101. See Bonnie Garrett, "Summary of February 2-3, 1993, FOMC Discussion of the Release of Information
about FOMC Deliberations and Decisions," memorandum to FOMC Secretariat Files, September 22, 1995.
102. "Outline of Issues Related to Release of Information about FOMC Deliberations and Decisions," with a
cover memorandum to the Federal Open Market Committee from Donald L. Kohn, "Public Release of Information
about FOMC Deliberations and Decisions," January 27, 1993, pp. 3-8, and 10.

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of monetary policy decision making we felt that we would bear the burden for
0
making the case because there is this presumption of openness.1 3
Creating the Minutes of the FOMC Meeting
March 23, 1993
The FOMC decided on March 23, 1993, to make available to the public three days later a new
document, to be called the Minutes of the FOMC Meeting, that comprehensively covered all
aspects of its February meeting. This document combined the previous Record of Policy
Actions and the Minutes of Actions and conveyed in a single, more convenient form the same
information that had been released to the public as before and on the same schedule. Previously,
the Record of Policy Actions had been issued to the press, while the Minutes of Actions had
been made available in the Board's Freedom of Information Office, in both cases on the Friday
4
after the next meeting.10 The Committee decided against having an "executive summary" for
the minutes.
The transcript of that meeting shows how the stage was set.
Mr. Mullins....The genesis of this proposal comes from the recent Senate

Banking Committee hearing, in which two senators, Senator Mack and
Senator Riegle, stated that the Federal Reserve didn't even produce minutes
for the FOMC. I think to some of us this episode made it abundantly clear
that the public, including important public policy officials, has very little
appreciation for the quantity and detail of the material that we already
release. 05

Leaking the Asymmetric Tilt
May 18, 1993
The next salvo in the war took the form of "friendly fire" in which the Federal Reserve suffered
self-inflicted wounds. Market interest rates were buffeted by "a string of media reports on
System policy, particularly related to the choice of an asymmetric directive at the May FOMC
0
meeting as well as Chairman Greenspan's Humphrey-Hawkins testimony."1 6 For example, on

103. Transcript of the February 2-3, 1993, FOMC meeting, pp. 61-62.
104. The two documents also had been merged from 1936 to mid-1967. In the period before mid-1967, the
"minutes" included what later became known as the "memorandum of discussion." The minutes originally had not
been intended for public release, but at the strong urging of Congressman Wright Patman, then chairman of the
House Banking Committee, the FOMC in effect made the minutes available to the public by transferring those for
the years 1936 through 1960 to the National Archives in 1964, those for 1961 were transferred in 1967, and those for
1962 through 1965 in 1970. Thereafter, the minutes or, after mid-1967, the memorandum of discussion were
transferred with a five-year lag. No memoranda of discussion were produced for FOMC meetings held after midMarch 1976. See David Mullins, "Proposal Regarding FOMC Minutes," memorandum to Federal Open Market
Committee, March 17, 1993, pp. 1-2.
105. Transcript of the March 23, 1993, FOMC meeting, p. 1.
106. Vincent Reinhart, "Market Reaction to News about Monetary Policy," memorandum to Mr. Kohn, which
was sent to the Board of Governors on the same day, August 3, 1993, p. 1. For a two-page listing of this publicity,
see table 1 in that memorandum.

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IV. The 1990s

May 24, David Wessel reported in the Wall Street Journalthe shift to an asymmetric tilt toward
tightening, according to "people familiar with the Fed's deliberations"; and on May 27, CNBC
first reported a unanimous vote, then amended the story to report the two dissents-one on either
side. A sense of the effect on public attitudes can be gleaned from the headline of a Newsweek
story, "Pssst! Fed Sources Say ... The Nation's Central Bank Is Looking Mighty Leaky." 107
The leaks in May 1993 were by no means the first that had confronted the Federal Reserve in the
1990s, not to mention in earlier decades. A year before, on May 21, 1992, the Wall Street
Journalhad published a story by David Wessel reporting on the switch to a symmetric tilt at the
May meeting of that year. In mid-December 1991, Joseph Coyne, the Board's director of Public
Information, sent a memorandum to "everyone who attends FOMC meetings" on the subject of
several instances in the previous month in which confidential FOMC information had been
divulged. He addressed his memorandum to "Fed 'Sources' and Fed 'Officials'." He reiterated
that
it is against the rules of the Federal Open Market Committee to reveal
information about Committee actions or procedure which has not been
authorized for release.... The point here is that decisions and procedures
adopted at FOMC meetings are considered confidential until released by the
Committee itself in the policy record or in some other form such as testimony
before a Congressional committee. 108
And as noted previously, Chairman Greenspan's last paragraph in his September 23, 1991, letter
to Representative Neal emphasized how "extremely distressing" the earlier instances had been.
Receiving Representative Gonzalez's Reaction
July 6, 1993
Representative Gonzalez's reaction arrived at the end of the first day of the July FOMC meeting.
This letter read in part:
I have received some complaints and a great deal of evidence that the
supposedly secret Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) proceedings are
being released to a chosen few, through leaks and statements by Federal
Reserve officials, far in advance of the date by which this information is
released to everyone else. Releasing information in this manner can cause
instability in financial markets and general economic uncertainty that reduces
real investment.
I ask for your support in immediately employing a better way to disseminate
information about our nation's monetary policies. I think you should

107. Newsweek, June 28, 1993, p. 44.
108. Joe Coyne, "Leaks, etc.," memorandum to "Fed 'Sources' and Fed 'Officials', " December 11, 1991, pp. 2
and 5.

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promptly release your short summary of FOMC decisions after the meeting,
rather than waiting for six weeks as is now done. Systematic information
dispersal is much better than the system of leaks and random statements. As
you know, I have introduced legislation that requires the central bank to adopt
a prompt systematic method of information dispersal that will allow all
citizens equal access to FOMC discussion of monetary policy.
Sticking to Their Guns
July 20, 1993
Chairman Greenspan replied on July 20 that "leaks are a very serious matter" and that, at their
July meeting, FOMC members "reaffirmed the rules governing confidentiality of FOMC
information." Even so, the Committee made no change in its disclosure policies, which the
Committee viewed as "soundly based."
At his Humphrey-Hawkins testimony before the House on the same day, Chairman Greenspan
was closely questioned by Representative Paul Kanjorski about leaks and the possible prompt
release of information to avoid their unfair benefits to selected parties. Chairman Greenspan
replied that, despite the seriousness of leaks, earlier release of the directive with its references to
contingencies would significantly inhibit the efficiency of policymaking because the market
reaction would induce a feedback on decisions and curtail the use of asymmetries.
Preparing to Testify before the House Banking Committee
October 5 and 15, 1993
On September 22, 1993, Chairman Greenspan was invited by Representative Gonzalez to testify
on "The Federal Reserve System Accountability Act of 1992," H.R. 28, which Gonzalez had
introduced. He asked Chairman Greenspan to address the entire bill on Wednesday, October 13,
and all the Board members and Reserve Bank presidents to focus on the disclosure section of the
bill on Tuesday, October 19. This part of his bill would have required that the minutes of each
FOMC meeting and a transcript and videotape of the meeting be made publicly available within
sixty days and that a written description of any determination, decision, directive, or other
conclusions by the FOMC be made publicly available within one week. The letters of invitation
to the members of the Board and the Reserve Bank presidents sent on or about September 20
asked three questions concerning notes or records that "you" or "others" have made of FOMC
meetings and early, unauthorized disclosures of FOMC information.
On October 5, the Committee held a conference call to prepare for the testimony. Chairman
Greenspan indicated his intention to cover the Secretariat's procedures and to reveal the
existence of meeting transcripts.
Chairman Greenspan.... On question two, I will say ... I'm also aware that

the meetings are recorded by the FOMC Secretariat. These tapes are used to
prepare the minutes released to the public after the subsequent meeting and
are then recorded over. In the process of putting together the minutes from
the tapes, an unedited and occasionally garbled transcript is prepared as are
detailed notes adapted from the transcript. These notes and transcripts

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IV. The 1990s

generally are not seen by Committee members or by staff not involved in the
preparation of the minutes. And they are kept secure by FOMC Secretariat
staff. ...
[M]y answer to question two will reveal that raw materials still exist for
drafting [Memoranda of Discussion] going back a number of years.109
However, Chairman Greenspan's mention of the existence of transcripts apparently was too
fleeting to register on many FOMC listeners. According to later responses to Representative
Gonzalez's letters of October 22, only Governor Mullins and President Boehne, both of whom
had become aware in recent months that transcripts had been prepared, and President Melzer,
who had learned of their preparation in 1989, apparently realized that meeting transcripts had
been preserved as well as prepared. None of the other eleven FOMC members (four Board
0
members and seven presidents) listening to the conference call did so.11 (Governor Angell and
three presidents were not in attendance.)
Not until another pre-testimony conference call on October 15 that focused on the unedited
transcripts going back to March 1976 did two more Board members and nine more Bank
presidents realize the existence of an appreciable collection of these types of meeting records.
Then, in response to questions from Presidents Silas Keehn and Robert Parry, Virgil Mattingly
(general counsel of the FOMC) indicated that the other members could let Chairman Greenspan
cover the recordkeeping practices of the Secretariat.111 Moreover, as Governor Wayne Angell
remarked to Chairman Greenspan at the December 21, 1993, FOMC meeting,
Mr. Angell. ... And then even for those of us who had knowledge of what

seemed to be the Committee's [procedures] and what the Secretariat was
doing, when you said what you said it was clear and unequivocal that you had
a responsibility as Chairman to reveal that information. So the question that
was raised by individual members was: Should I put it in my testimony? Of
course, for me, I had independent knowledge and it had to be in my
testimony. But there was a discussion, as I recall, of members saying: Well,
do I need to put it in my testimony? And I think we need to set [the point] out
clearly that the individuals in asking that question never had any doubt that

109. Transcript of October 5, 1993, FOMC conference call, p. 2.
110. Indeed, according to a survey taken by the Secretariat on October 25, 1993, a month earlier the knowledge
that unedited transcripts existed back to March 1976 was limited to Chairman Greenspan and Governors Mullins and

Angell among the Board members and Bank presidents, although Presidents Jerry Jordan and Thomas Melzer did
know that transcripts were prepared. Among the staff outside the Secretariat, only David Lindsey indicated
knowledge of the history of preserved transcripts, although Thomas Simpson said he did know transcripts were
initially made. Joseph Coyne, who was in charge of public information at the Board but who was not part of the
survey, also should be included on this staff list, because he said in an interview that he learned of the history of
transcripts in the days of Paul Volcker. (Paul Starobin, "The Fed Tapes," NationalJournal,LEGI-SLATE Report for

the

10 3 rd

Congress, December 17, 1993, p. 2.) Some other staff members in the Division of Monetary Affairs also

were aware of the historical transcripts but were not included in the survey.

111

Transcript of the October 15, 1993, FOMC conference call, pp. 7-8 and 17-18.

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114

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

you and the Secretary were going to reveal fully [the existence of the tapes].
So no one, as I recall, had any view of not wanting the tapes to be out there.
2
We knew they had to be.11
Chairman Greenspan, too, anticipated that the transcripts would become an issue.
ChairmanGreenspan.... I think we can [engage in] some wishful thinking
that it might not emerge on Tuesday, and there is a possibility it might not. I
wouldn't bank on it. But if it doesn't happen on Tuesday, at some point it's
going to become an issue.113
Mr. Kohn. I was going to say--at least the way the testimony reads now--the
Chairman is not highlighting these transcripts. He's saying that the transcripts
and detailed notes are made in the process of preparing the minutes, period.
We're not waving red flags. Now, maybe we'll change our minds.
ChairmanGreenspan. Can I say something? Why don't I literally read [the
draft testimony].
Mr. Kohn. Yes, soChairman Greenspan. Okay. This is what I propose to say: "I am also aware
that the meetings are recorded by the FOMC Secretariat. These audio tapes
are used to assist in the preparation of the minutes that are released to the
public following the subsequent meeting. Thereafter the tapes are erased. In
the process of putting together the minutes an unedited transcript is prepared
from the tapes as are detailed notes on selective topics discussed in the course
of the meeting. These notes and transcripts generally are seen only by the
staff involved in preparing the minutes. And the documents are kept under
4
lock and key by the FOMC Secretariat."11

112. Transcript of the December 21, 1993, FOMC meeting, p. 46.
113. Transcript of the October 15, 1993, FOMC conference call, p. 2.
114. Transcript of the October 15, 1993, FOMC conference call, p. 18. Chairman Greenspan's entire testimony
appears in the FederalReserve Bulletin, December 1993, pp. 1107-10.

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IV. The 1990s

Testifying before the House Banking Committee115
October 13 and 19, 1993
One reader of Chairman Greenspan's first testimony reacted favorably:
Dear Alan:
I've just finished reading your October 13 testimony while at 40,000
feet over the Atlantic. The altitude has nothing to do with the fact that I am
on air.
It is a classic statement explaining and defending the organization and
modus operandi of the Fed. I have no doubt that it will become the standard
text on the question, and in the process educate a lot of people beyond your
immediate audience.
All the rest of us have to do is say "amen."
As Bill Martin always used to close every letter or conversation:
"Keep up the good work!"
With respect and thanks of all the alumni.
Paul [Volcker]
In the second appearance before the Congress, on October 19, Chairman Greenspan was joined
by those five other Board members and ten Reserve Bank presidents who were available to
testify in person. Those unavailable sent prepared statements. All said that proposals to require
more disclosure would discourage free-flowing discussion at FOMC meetings, lead to poorer
policy, and harm the economy. The various testimonies left the door open to the release of a
detailed, albeit redacted, account of the meeting with a long enough delay-say five years.116
"Well, it looks like we don't have a consensus .. . yet," quipped Representative Gonzalez.117

Concerning FOMC records, Chairman Greenspan testified that
I have suggested to the Reserve Bank presidents that they respond to your
questions regarding whatever records may be kept at their own Banks; I will
cover records made by Board staff and, in particular, by the FOMC
secretariat.118

115. The various testimonies appear in the FederalReserve Bulletin, December 1993, pp. 1100-27.
116. The New York Times, October 20, 1993, p. D1
117. The Washington Post, October 20, 1993, p. C14.
118. FederalReserve Bulletin, December 1993, p. 1109.

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Besides Chairman Greenspan's statement, prepared testimony by Governors Mullins and Angell
also divulged knowledge of the existence of the transcripts. Governor Mullins's testimony read:
As I believe Chairman Greenspan plans to discuss, I am aware that FOMC
staff do retain some detailed, though edited, notes and rough transcripts for
use in preparation of FOMC minutes."119
Governor Angell's testimony said:
Some years ago, I became aware of the existence of rough transcripts of the
meetings when I was writing a dissenting statement. The Secretary of the
FOMC made available to me a transcript of my statements, and only my
2
statements, from the previous meeting.1 0
Even so, the existence of the transcripts did not become an issue on the day of the testimony.
But the record of the hearing suggests that Chairman Greenspan may have been about to expand
on them when Representative Maurice Hinchey interrupted him with another question. The
official U.S. House of Representatives transcript, mailed on October 21, reads:
Mr. Hinchey:... First, with regard to the question that the Chairman asked of
Mr. Greenspan earlier, I just want to see if I understood the answer. As I
understand it, there are tape-recordings taken of the meetings by staff. Those
tape-recordings serve as the basis for the preparation of the minutes that are
released a month or so later after the next meeting. And in the interim, those
tapes are then taped over so that no permanent record exists in that way. Is
that correct?
Chairman Greenspan: There is no permanent electronic record. That is
correct. We obviously do have rough notes-Mr. Hinchey: You make recordings, but the recording is taped over?
ChairmanGreenspan: That is correct.
Leaking Makes the Transcripts an Issue
October 22, 1993
On October 21, Representative Gonzalez, in asking about "tape recordings, unedited transcripts,
and any other records of FOMC meetings that are maintained," cited this very exchange between
Representative Hinchey and Chairman Greenspan. 12 1 However, what would make the transcripts
119. FederalReserve Bulletin, December 1993, p. 1111.
120. FederalReserve Bulletin, December 1993, p. 1112.
121. The double-dash punctuation ("--") in the above exchange was reported correctly in the October 21, 1993,
letter from Representative Gonzalez to Chairman Greenspan (p. 1) and in an October 26, 1993, press release from
Representative Gonzalez (p. 4). However, by the time "The Federal Reserve's 17-Year Secret," prepared by the

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IV. The 1990s

an issue would not be Chairman Greenspan'sletter in reply but rather another Federal Reserve
leak. On the next day, October 22, Wires Washington, put out by Christopher Whalen, a former
staffer at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, included the following:
The latest congressional debate over the Fed's conduct of monetary policy
focused both on proposals to make available verbatim written transcripts of
the FOMC's meetings and changing the appointment process for the regional
Fed bank chiefs. The Gonzalez panel specifically examined whether the Fed
does, in fact, maintain permanent records of Federal Open Market Committee
meetings, either in taped or transcripted form.

Officially, the Fed says that it re-records over the same tape used to prepare
summary minutes of the FOMC's monetary policy sessions and that no other
electronic records are maintained. But Gonzalez and his veteran staff hear
increasingly from insider sources that, contrary to the party line from the
Fed's bureaucratic mandarins in Washington, a nearly complete set of
verbatim written transcripts does exist of the FOMC's secret deliberations.
According to one source, Fed Governor Wayne Angell has used old
transcripts when preparing for FOMC meetings. The same source claims that
the documents stretch back to the era of Fed Chairman Arthur Burns (19701978), who discontinued the original practice of releasing detailed minutes in
1976 after a lawsuit was filed against the Fed demanding immediate public
disclosure.
The existence of a body of transcripts comes as a stunning surprise to both
Fed insiders and outside academics familiar with the issue. Discovery and
public release of these transcripts was seriously contested in a series of
lawsuits against the Fed from 1975 to 1987, but the central bank has
consistently denied that any transcripts or tapes exist....
Dr. Anna Schwartz, a respected economist and one of the country's leading
authorities on the FOMC who also testified before Gonzalez, confesses to
being "confused" by Greenspan's statements. "He did not address the issue

staff of the House Banking Committee, was issued on January 27, 1994, the indication of interruption denoted by
"--" had inexplicably transmogrified into a period (p. 23). This replacement is emblematic of the general reliability
of that document. Different errors appeared in Paul Starobin, "The Fed Tapes," National Journal,LEGI-SLATE
d
Report for the 10 3 r Congress, December 17, 1993, p. 7, in which not only did Representative Hinchey's and
Chairman Greenspan's words change but also the quotation marks migrated inside the dashes:
Junior committee member Maurice D. Hinchey, D-N.Y., took a stab at the issue, asking Greenspan: "If I
understand it, there are tape recordings taken of the meeting... Those tapes are then taped over, so that no
permanent record exists in any way; is that correct?"
Greenspan replied. "There is no permanent electronic record, that's correct. Obviously, I said we have
rough notes"--at which point Hinchey asked another question.

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directly," notes Schwartz. "The Fed has been lying about the issue of
transcripts for years. Listening to Greenspan, I could not discern whether he
was talking about old transcripts or the regular meeting 'notes' that are
prepared after the FOMC meets. As far as I could tell sitting in the room at
the time, Greenspan did not clearly and explicitly disclose the existence of
written verbatim transcripts in an unambiguous and forthright fashion so that
members of the Committee understood what he said."
The significance of Greenspan's failure to focus directly on the existence of
the transcripts has drawn the House Banking Committee's further attention
and goes far beyond the present debate. A senior congressional aide on the
Banking Committee states bluntly that "Greenspan lied to the committee," but
the veteran economist, affirming Schwartz's view, also says that the Fed
Board has misled the public and Congress for many, many years over the
question of FOMC transcripts....
The Board hitherto has denied the existence of either tapes or written
transcripts, but now members of Congress believe that a reversal of the Fed's
policy of silence is inevitable and perhaps imminent. In an interview on
Friday, October 22, Coyne admitted that the "rough, unedited transcriptions"
22
do exist of FOMC meetings all the way back to the Burns era. 1
On the same day, October 22, the first of two letters from Representative Gonzalez to Chairman
Greenspan was short and to the point:
I understand that extensive records of FOMC meetings exist at the Board of
Governors. Even though I have not yet received your official reply to my
inquiry on this matter, I ask that you take all precautions necessary to assure
that none of these records are destroyed, removed, or discarded.
I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.
The second letter dated that day, along with a long list of questions, included the following text:
your previous correspondence failed to disclose the practice or existence of
recordings, transcripts or other verbatim records of any FOMC meeting. I
was therefore surprised to learn from your testimony for the first time about
the practice of recording FOMC meetings and keeping transcripts.
Most other Board members and Reserve Bank presidents also received letters dated that day,
which contained numerous questions along with the following text:

122. Wires Washington, "Greenspan Eludes Congress on Secrecy and Reserve Bank Appointments," October
22, 1993,pp. 1-3.

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119

Your testimony failed to disclose the practice or existence of any records,
transcripts or other verbatim records of any FOMC meeting. This stands in
stark contrast to the testimony of Chairman Greenspan on the very same
question. He stated that the FOMC secretariat in fact tape recorded the
meetings, and prepared and preserved an unedited transcript from the tapes. I
am disturbed about the discrepancy between your testimony and that of
Chairman Greenspan.
Only four days later, before receiving any responses from his raft of letters of October 21 and 22,
Representative Gonzalez issued a press release on October 26 indicating that he was opening an
inquiry about whether the Federal Reserve was trying to confuse the Congress on these matters.

In it he asserted initially that "not one witness, with the exception of Federal Reserve Chairman
Alan Greenspan, indicated that he or she had any knowledge that the meetings are taped and a
complete transcript kept .... Chairman Greenspan stated both in his written and oral testimony
that the meetings are taped and transcripts kept... ." Nonetheless, he "appears to have carefully

worded his response [to Representative Hinchey] so that there is no mention of unedited
transcripts. It appears he was not dealing forthrightly with the Committee." Then, contradicting
his previous assertion, but once again ignoring Governor Mullins's prepared testimony,
Representative Gonzalez claimed that, other than Chairman Greenspan, only Governor Angell
testified as to knowledge of the transcripts. "Why does Governor Angell know and everyone
else does not seem to know or fails to tell us of the existence of transcripts?"
In separate letters dated October 26 to Representatives Gonzalez and Neal in response to their
letters of October 21 and 19, respectively, Chairman Greenspan confirmed that unedited
transcripts going back to March 1976 resided in the Secretariat files. The letter to
Representative Gonzalez denied that the testimony by Federal Reserve officials could reasonably
be construed to have confused or misled the Congress. Both letters also made clear that the
unedited transcripts were used by staff to prepare the minutes, were never intended for public
release, and had not been checked by meeting participants for accuracy. The letter to
Representative Neal, which he held for a few days before releasing publicly, indicated that a
significant delay before making some form of the transcripts public would be needed to prevent
undue damage to the deliberative process. Indeed, even a delayed release would be altering the
rules under which meeting participants thought they were operating. Chairman Greenspan wrote
a more detailed letter on November 2 answering the questions asked by Representative Gonzalez
on October 22. Other Board members and Reserve Bank presidents responded to him as well.
Chairman Greenspan later noted in a letter to Representative Hinchey on November 4 that his
correspondence with Representative Gonzalez on October 22, 1992, concerned Memoranda of
Discussion, not transcripts. He also said that it was the potential public release of tapes or
transcripts, not the taping or transcribing per se, that would impair the deliberative process.
Press stories around this time portrayed the Federal Reserve as besieged by its critics. For
example, in a "Reality Check" column, Business Week asserted:

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Alan Greenspan says Federal Reserve Board policy decisions should remain
secret until the Fed chooses to unveil them six weeks later. Responding to
congressional critics who want to open up the process, the Fed boss says a
tight-lips policy helps the central bank avoid creating turbulence in the credit
markets. Plus, he says, airing details of what goes on in Fed meetings would
squelch free and frank discussion. Now, only sketchy summaries are released.
In reality, the Fed periodically leaks word of policy changes, so it has no call
to act so high-and-mighty. As a matter of fact, a recent study by two
economists at the St. Louis Fed found that early release seldom has a big
effect on the markets, because Wall Street is rarely surprised by Fed
decisions. Germany's Bundesbank frequently announces decisions at a press
conference held the day it votes. As far as doings inside the Fed, the only
things that should be kept under wraps are contingency plans for possible
future rate cuts or hikes. Otherwise, why not release full accounts of a public
body's meetings within a week? 123
Deciding on the Disposition of Past Transcripts
November 16, 1993
The Committee made its final determination about the treatment of existing transcripts at its
November 16, 1993, meeting. 124 Before that meeting, much had transpired: The Committee had
held a preliminary discussion in a conference call on October 22, staff had consulted with the
National Archives on the issue of records, and Representative Gonzalez's letter of November 9
had requested copies of all tapes and transcripts in the Secretariat's files back to 1976 and
suggested that the FOMC treat Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the transcripts
in accordance with the liberalized interpretation promulgated by President Clinton.
Before the FOMC's conference call, a memorandum from Virgil Mattingly on October 21
informed the Committee of the Administration's new FOIA policy establishing a "presumption"
for disclosure and proposed for Committee consideration again preparing and releasing with a
delay memoranda of discussion (MODs) from the transcripts. 125 On October 22, the Committee
authorized Virgil Mattingly to explore with the Justice Department whether the transcripts could
be kept confidential under FOIA. One caveat was expressed:

123. Business Week, November 8, 1993, p. 6. The paper by two economists refers to a study by Michael T.
Belongia and Kevin L. Kliesen that President Melzer decided should be published in a professional journal rather
than in the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review.
124. For a useful summary and compendium of documents, see Bonnie Garrett, "Summary of November 16,
1993, FOMC Review of Public Access to Transcripts of FOMC Meetings," memorandum to FOMC Secretariat
Files, January 17, 1999.
125. Virgil Mattingly, "Possible approach to deal with FOMC transcripts," memorandum to Federal Open
Market Committee, October 21, 1993, attachment to transcript of October 22, 1993, FOMC conference call.

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IV. The 1990s

121

Mr. Angell. Except that every day that goes by increases the likelihood that
the Congress may, in a sense, take it out of our control, and if we were
thereby seen as being reluctant-Chairman Greenspan. Well, I think we have to be careful about doing
something which makes no sense. It may be that Congress wants to take it out
of our hands. If they do, that's their prerogative.
Mr. Mullins. Pardon me again, Mr. Chairman. This is Governor Mullins. Do
you mean there's the possibility of legislative action to require us to do this? I
wasn't aware of such a strong interest in these issues in Congress, except for a
few people. I don't quite understand what has changed so dramatically in the
situation in the past couple of days to make us-Chairman Greenspan. Well, why don't we just let Virgil go up there-

126

On November 10, William Wiles, Secretary of the Board, received a letter from James W.
Moore, Assistant Archivist for Records Administration at the National Archives. The letter
indicated that, in light of the disclosures of tapes and transcripts back to 1976, the Board staff
should consult with the National Archives concerning retention of records.
Before the Committee's November 16 meeting, the conversations with the Justice Department
and the National Archives were summarized by Virgil Mattingly, and Donald Kohn outlined the
separate options for the disclosure of transcripts for past versus future meetings. 127 At the
meeting itself, Virgil Mattingly indicated that both conversations were only exploratory.
Nonetheless, he was heartened by his discussion at the Justice Department in that the FOMC's
case seemed strong enough for the exemptions still to apply in protecting highly sensitive
information and deliberative material of the FOMC against FOIA requests from the public, at
least for a period of some years. Of course, FOIA would not protect FOMC information against
a congressional request or subpoena. He also said that the tentative view of Archives staff was
that the unedited transcripts going back were "records" and, under the Federal Records Act,
would need to be turned over to the National Archives in thirty years. At that point, they would
be available to the public despite any FOMC intent to prepare memoranda of discussion, or
possibly even lightly edited transcripts instead, for release much sooner.
The Committee's primary concern was, as Chairman Greenspan put it, to avoid "premature,
detailed disclosure of our deliberations" that unduly compromised the "openness and free

126 Transcript of the October 22, 1993, FOMC conference call, p. 8.
127. Messrs. Mattingly and Kohn, "Public Release of Information about FOMC Meetings," cover
memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee, November 12, 1993, for Virgil Mattingly, "Public Access to
Transcripts of FOMC Meetings," November 12, 1993, and for [Donald Kohn,] "Alternatives for Release of
Information about FOMC Meetings," November 12, 1993. Also sent to the Committee was Normand Bernard,
"Sample unedited transcript/edited transcript/and Memorandum of Discussion," memorandum to Federal Open
Market Committee, November 12, 1993.

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8
exchange of views so essential to monetary policy."12 For past meetings, the Committee settled
on releasing redacted, lightly edited transcripts after five years. But it was split on how to handle
future meetings, and so it deferred a decision. On Representative Gonzalez's request for the
tapes and transcripts, the following discussion ensued:

Mr. Angell. Well, what I'm wondering is whether or not there would be a
possibility of your going to him and asking him if we could make them
available to him as a Committee Chairman and keep them private and still
have our five years. Do you think that's an option? I thought, Virgil, we had
to deal with the fact that he's the Chairman of the Committee and--. Are we
saying, "no" to him? Is that what we've [agreed]? Okay.
Mr. Kohn. This is very similar, Governor Angell, to what Chairman Burns
replied to Chairman Patman in 1975-Mr. Angell. I see.
Mr Kohn. --who asked for the last five years of unpublished MODs and
Chairman Burns said no.
Mr. Angell. Well, I do want to dissent from that decision.... Well, my fear is
that we will have kicked and screamed all the way, and he will end up getting
all of this [despite] our kicking and screaming and it will really put us in a
very bad light with the public. I at least wanted a discussion of the
alternatives to going that route.
Mr. Syron. What would you do? What would your approach be then?
Mr. Angell. My approach would be to authorize the Chairman to release to
[Mr. Gonzalez] whatever FOMC materials he wants to see, if he will agree
that only he and one staff person will look at them and that they will return
them to you within a reasonable period of time-Chairman Greenspan. I can't-Mr. Syron. That's a dangerous precedent.
Speaker(?). A dangerous precedent.
Mr. Angell. So that's impossible.
Speaker(?). That's impossible.

128. Transcript of the November 16, 1993, FOMC meeting, p. 6.

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IV The 1990s

123

Mr. Syron. Given the choice, I would prefer to stay here for the next two or
three days and work out what we're going to do going forward rather than do

that.
Mr. Kelley. So would I.
ChairmanGreenspan. Can I suggest this? Unless I hear something to the
contrary, the answer to Chairman Gonzalez is "no." We will release the
transcripts in lightly edited form. We will do that starting with five years
back and do the remainder as quickly as is feasible. If that is the case, and
unless I hear something to the contrary, we will now move to the next item on
the agenda.
Mr. Angell. Wonderful. 129
The minutes of the meeting also spelled out the details of the decision. 130 The lightly edited
transcripts
would retain all substantive comments but would allow for grammatical
corrections, the smoothing of some sentences to facilitate the understanding,
and the correction of obvious transcription errors. The editing would be
patterned after that done for congressional hearings: importantly no changes
would be made in the substance or the intent of the speakers. Before release
to the public, particularly sensitive materials would be redacted in accordance
with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The Committee
agreed that the FOMC Secretariat should be given responsibility for the
editing process...
With respect to the interval between a meeting and release of a lightly edited
transcript, all of the Committee members were concerned that the absence of a
substantial lag would seriously harm the Committee's ongoing deliberative
process. Many also commented that the absence of a substantial lag would be
unfair to meeting participants who had been unaware that their remarks would
be released and were unable to review the transcripts for accuracy....
It was understood that the transcripts for the meetings held during 1988 would
be edited on a priority basis and released as soon as possible ...

129. Transcript of the November 16, 1993, FOMC meeting, pp. 61-63.
130. In the event, the National Archives formally ruled on December 17, 1996, that even with the preparation
of a lightly edited transcript, the unedited transcripts for past meetings have to be turned over in unredacted form in
thirty years; this ruling applies to transcripts through 1993, which were never reviewed by individual speakers to
correct possible errors.

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Providing copies of unedited transcripts for all past meetings and available
conference calls to the Chairman or staff of the House Banking Committee in
response to a request was not approved by the Committee.
The members reviewed various options for the release of information about
the Committee's deliberations at future meetings.... The members concluded

that the complexity of the issues reflected in these alternatives warranted
further review by the Committee.
Letting Representative Gonzalez's Staff Listen to the October 15 Tape
December 21, 1993
Chairman Greenspan wrote to Chairman Gonzalez the day after the meeting enunciating the
FOMC's new procedures and their rationale. Representative Gonzalez lost no time in replying.
Also on November 17, he termed the plan "wholly inadequate," partly because it failed to
comply with his "demand" for the transcripts and tapes. On December 3, labeling this aspect of
the FOMC's decision "unacceptable," he asked the FOMC to allow his staff to review the tape of
the October 15 FOMC conference call. Then, on December 8, he told the American Banker that
the Federal Reserve reminded him of President Nixon in the Watergate scandal: "First they
stonewalled, and then they started lying."1 31 He later denied calling Chairman Greenspan a
"liar" but stood by the Watergate analogy.132
On December 16, Chairman Greenspan wrote back that
regardless of whether information about the transcripts came from all
members of the FOMC or only from three, the record obviously shows that
you and the Committee were informed of their existence. Thus, I am unable
to understand how you could suggest that we concealed this information.
I find your accusations of improper conduct by myself and my colleagues--in
the face of facts absolutely to the contrary--to be inexplicable and distressing.
Even so, Representative Gonzalez believed that the FOMC's October 15 conference call
"included a discussion of how to evade full disclosure of FOMC transcripts dating back to
1976."1 33 He had formed this impression in part by examining a set of informal notes and a
related memorandum from the call by Edward J. Stevens, Assistant Vice President and
Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. President Jerry Jordan had provided them in
response to the request from Representative Gonzalez on October 22.
The transcripts of the December 21 meeting contain the following:

131. "Now You Can Upgrade It to 'Feud'-Gonzalez Calls Greenspan a Liar," The American Banker,
December 8, 1993.
132. John M. Berry, "The Fed Feels the Heat," The Washington Post, December 12, 1993, pp. H1, H5.
133. Letter from Representative Gonzalez to Chairman Greenspan, November 15, 1993, p. 2.

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IV. The 1990s

125

Chairman Greenspan.... I think it's important that we put the notions of that
particular conspiracy behind us.... I would recommend to this Committee
that we allow Chairman Gonzalez's [staff] attorney to listen to the tape at a
meeting with several other people of our choosing...
I must say, I make this recommendation with some reluctance because of its
precedential nature. The October 15 meeting, however, was not a deliberative
meeting on monetary policy. Were a request made for any of the transcripts
or tapes of monetary policy and the deliberative processes that we go through,
I think we'd have no choice but to say "no" unequivocally.
The staff of Chairman Gonzalez and of certain other House Banking Committee members
listened to the tape. Allowing this limited access seemed to clear the air for almost all interested
parties.
Representative Gonzalez, however, continued to put a sinister interpretation on the call,
remaining convinced of FOMC culpability. On January 27, 1994, he accompanied the issuance
of the report, "The Federal Reserve's 17-Year Secret," which was prepared by the staff of the
House Banking Committee (principally Robert Auerbach), with a press release on the same day
in which he claimed that the report's evidence
shows a pattern of deception and a lack of accountability that continues
today ....
The extent to which Federal Reserve officials have collaborated in hiding the
transcripts is especially evident in the taped conference call...
One suspects the FOMC members who appeared before the Committee were
trying to downplay the significance of the FOMC transcripts and were trying
to mislead the Congress.
Another reader of the report was not favorably disposed. President Melzer wrote to Chairman
Greenspan:
As you know, the report's premise is that there has been a long-standing
conspiracy among senior officials at the Federal Reserve to mislead Congress
and the public and to conceal certain FOMC records. To support its premise
and misleading conclusions, the report takes statements made by Fed officials
out of context, distorts facts and ignores the chronology of events. The report
is a blatant advocacy piece written to justify altering the monetary

policymaking process, and it could seriously damage the reputation of the Fed
if left unanswered.. ..

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Among the reasons President Melzer gave for his proposal for the staff to prepare a response was
that, "[a]lthough the report has received scant attention from the media and the public,.. .we
have a responsibility to correct the report's allegations simply because they are false."" 34
President Melzer had prepared a draft letter on May 9, 1994, which he had considered sending
"to a senator or congressman (other than Mr. Gonzalez) for the sole purpose of having a
response 'on the record' but instead decided to recommend to [Chairman Greenspan] a broader
response." 135 Selections from that unsent draft concerning the allegations in the January 27
House Banking report follow:
I am dismayed that such allegations would be made without any reasonable
basis and appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight. I have not
participated in any effort to conceal FOMC transcripts, nor to my knowledge
has anyone else on the FOMC. The allegations in the House Banking
Committee report were supported solely by "statements" of FOMC members,
including some of my own, which were taken out of context and/or
mischaracterized. In addition, other statements which refute the allegations
were omitted from the report.
The allegations revolve principally around an FOMC conference call on
October 15, 1993, initiated by Chairman Greenspan....
Subsequently, although FOMC deliberations are considered privileged and
protected from disclosure, Chairman Greenspan let House Banking
Committee and other Congressional staff review the audio tapes and
transcripts of the October 15 call. The Chairman's intention was to put to rest
allegations that there had been a conspiracy to conceal information at the
hearings. The records were made available with the understanding that their
privileged and confidential status would be upheld. Nonetheless, a number of
statements attributed to participants during this call appear in the House
Banking Committee staff report. Those statements attributed to me were
generally taken out of context and twisted to support the report's allegations.
For example, it is stated in the report that I suggested that existing FOMC
transcripts be destroyed, when in fact I advocated nothing of the sort. My
comments related to hypothetical recordkeeping practices in the future under
the new FOIA policy. If detailed minutes fully reflecting the substance of a
meeting had been prepared and approved, I saw no need to retain transcripts
used solely in the preparation of those minutes. Furthermore, I later said, in a
statement that was omitted from the report, that the existing transcripts would

134. Letter from Thomas C. Melzer to Alan Greenspan, July 14, 1994.
135. Letter from Thomas C. Melzer to David E. Lindsey, February 15, 1995.

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IV. The 1990s

have to be released. This statement clearly contradicted the report's false
characterization of my earlier statement.
In addition, other statements from various letters and testimony were taken
out of context. For example, in January 1993, well before the hearings, I
replied to a request from Chairman Gonzalez regarding my views on public
disclosure of FOMC deliberations, as did other FOMC members. Though
current FOMC recordkeeping practices were not at all germane to this request,
the House Banking Committee staff concluded in the report that failure to
mention such practices at that time was further evidence of an effort to
conceal FOMC transcripts. I find it peculiar, to say the least, to be accused of
covering up because I failed to answer a question that was not asked or even
remotely related to what was asked...
Deciding on the Disposition of Future Transcripts
February 2, 1995
The FOMC postponed several times its discussion of how to handle future transcripts. Inactivity
at the Committee level, though, belied the ferment in the subcommittee. The subcommittee had
already sent a background list of alternatives to the FOMC before the regular December 1993
meeting with a cover note that highlighted two main options without reaching a conclusion.136
However, the FOMC discussed instead Representative Gonzalez's request about the October 15
tape. Then in March 1994, the subcommittee prepared drafts of a cover note and a background
outline of options. 137 That draft cover note did
reach a conclusion: to wit, the subcommittee was recommending that the
tapes be turned off, but that accountability and openness be enhanced by
allowing concurring statements to be filed with the Minutes and by
immediately announcing FOMC decisions to change instrument settings. (But
recall Ed Boehne's reminder at the last meeting that the subcommittee did not
feel that an announcement was desirable when instrument settings were left
unchanged at a meeting.) The subcommittee saw this as a package, in which
announcements and concurring statements would help to ameliorate any
backlash in Congress from turning off the tape and the related possibility that
Congress would mandate procedures posing a clear threat to the deliberative
process. (Mullins was no longer at the Board, but had argued very strongly
for turning off the tape: he differed with the final subcommittee
recommendation only in that he wanted to release the whole directive

136. David Mullins, "FOMC Information Release," December 6, 1993, cover memorandum to Federal Open
Market Committee for Donald Kohn, "FOMC Information Release," memorandum to FOMC Subcommittee,
December 14, 1993. The cover note did indicate a consensus of subcommittee members for an immediate
announcement of the policy setting, though it was split on whether to include the "tilt."
137. President Boehne, Governor Kelley, and President Melzer, "FOMC Disclosure Release," March 11, 1994,
[draft] cover memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee for [Donald Kohn,] "Alternatives for Release of
Information about FOMC Deliberations Decisions," March 11, 1994.

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication. 1975-2002

immediately, eliminating the chance of leaks relating to asymmetries.) I think
one factor contributing to the subcommittee's recommendation was concern
about the aggressive posture of the House Banking Committee, and the
possibility that the FOMC would not be able to resist demands for very rapid
release of transcripts.
The subcommittee recommendation and associated outline were never sent.
The Chairman was concerned about political repercussions, especially when
we were in the middle of the consolidation fight. Owing to the same concerns
(though not just related to the consolidation issue) Don Winn and Joe Coyne
strongly opposed the recommendation to turn off the tape.138
This encapsulation was intended to bring Governor Alan Blinder up-to-date; he formally
replaced Governor David Mullins as chairman of the subcommittee on disclosure issues on July
25, 1994.
The new subcommittee sent its recommendations to the FOMC in August 1994:
I. Tapes and Transcripts
ISSUE 1: On or off?
Majority recommendation: Leave the tapes on--most of the time....
ISSUE 2: How long a delay before release?
Unanimous recommendation: Five years....

ISSUE 3: How detailed?
Unanimous recommendation: Transcripts should be edited only to
enhance readability and to redact confidential materials pertaining to
businesses and foreign governments, as at present ...
II. Minutes
ISSUE: Should the minutes be fuller, including either attribution of
statements to individuals or assenting opinions on the directive?
Majority recommendation: Keep the minutes more or less as they are
now, but add concurring statements from those FOMC members who
wish to append them....

III. Announcements

138. Donald Kohn, "FOMC documents on tapes and transcripts and on announcing policies," memorandum to
Vice Chairman Blinder, July 15, 1994, pp. 2-3. The underlining is in the original.

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IV. The 1990s

ISSUE 1: Should we announce policy decisions immediately?
Majority recommendation: Make an announcement with each policy
change, including intermeeting changes. When there is no change at a
meeting, simply announce that the meeting is over.
Possible variant: Make an announcement after each meeting, even
when there is no change in policy. ...

ISSUE 2: How detailed should statements be?
Majority recommendation: Issue a few sentences of explanation with
each policy change, to be written by the Chairman. His authorship
will avoid lengthy, unproductive, and possibly contentious Committee
drafting sessions.
Variant 1 (more explanation): Make these explanations a bit fuller than
typical discount rate announcements.
Variant 2 (less explanation): Offer explanations only occasionally, not
as a standard practice....139
Another background document from the Board's Legal Division also went to the FOMC. 140 It
analyzed what rights of access members of the public and the Congress have to transcripts or
tapes of FOMC meetings.
The Committee decided to adopt all but one of the recommendations of a majority of the
subcommittee. Most of the recommendations represented Committee practices that had become
1
the "de facto status quo," in the words of Governor Blinder at the meeting. 14 The press release
on February 2, 1995, stressed this continuity. As the next section of this paper will discuss in
more detail, the Committee reaffirmed its procedures for immediate announcement of a change
in the policy stance. The press release also stated:
Transcripts of FOMC meetings for an entire year will be released with a fiveyear lag. Transcripts will be lightly edited, as they are now, to enhance
readability and redact confidential material.
The minutes later provided more information about the procedures that the Committee had
agreed would be used for transcripts.
Continuing the practice followed since the beginning of 1994, transcripts
prepared by the Committee's Secretariat will be circulated to each participant
to verify his or her comments, and only changes that clarify meaning, such as
the correction of grammar or transcription errors, will be permitted .... As

required by law, a complete, unredacted version of the transcript of each
139. Alan Blinder, Ed Boehne, Mike Kelley, Tom Melzer, "FOMC disclosure policy," August 22, 1994,
pp. 1- 5 .
140. Messrs. Mattingly and Baer, "Access to FOMC Transcripts and Tapes by the Public and Members of
Congress," memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee, January 18, 1995.
141. Transcript of the January 31-February 1, 1995, FOMC meeting, p. 3.

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meeting will be turned over to the National Archives after thirty years have
elapsed.
For the purpose of preparing the minutes and transcripts, the discussions of
monetary policy at Committee meetings will continue to be recorded. The
tape recorder may be turned off at the Chairman's discretion when the
Committee deals with issues unrelated to monetary policy, such as
organizational and personnel matters. The transcripts will indicate that the
tape recorder has been turned off and the minutes will provide a summary
description of the matters that were discussed. As permitted by the National
Records Act, the recordings and unedited transcripts will be discarded after all
the participants at the meeting have reviewed and corrected, as necessary, the
transcripts prepared by the Secretariat.142
The one subcommittee recommendation that was not part of Committee practice was to allow
concurring as well as dissenting statements. This proposal was a holdover from the original
Mullins subcommittee and predated the decision to release lightly edited transcripts. During the
discussion, two more members of the subcommittee turned against the idea as having been
overtaken by events, leaving only its chairman, Governor Blinder, in support. The FOMC as a
whole decided not to adopt the recommendation.
In its story on the decision, the New York Times concluded:
Representative Henry B. Gonzalez ... a long-time Fed critic, welcomed the

decision. "I consider the Federal Reserve's adoption of disclosure policies a
victory," he said, "and commend the Fed for embracing some of the measures
I have urged for years."1 43

Without Representative Gonzalez's dogged, if at times misdirected, uninformed, and infuriating
efforts, the transcripts to this day might not have reached the public. In fact, as Chairman Burns
argued when the MODs were discontinued, the interest in detailed minutes is only infrequent.
However, in retrospect, the availability of transcripts has informed historical assessments of the
Committee's performance-for example, as captured in the extensive quotes in Bob
Woodward's bestseller Maestro.

Complying with Existing Legislative Goals and Reporting Requirements
After a rather halting start, the economy in the 1990s hit its stride at the decade's halfway mark
and finished in a sprint, even without the aid of a rising inflationary tailwind. By the end of the
decade, the inflationary gale of the late 1970s had been transformed into a gentle summer breeze

142. On December 17, 1996, the National Archives formally ratified all the procedures followed by the
Secretariat.
143. The New York Times, "More Open Fed on Rate Moves," February 3, 1995.

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131

for prices of goods and services if not for prices of equities. The disinflation was due
importantly to stronger productivity growth in the second half of the 1990s, which represented a
powerful counterforce, while the FOMC stayed out of the way during most of this period. Over
the entire time since the 1970s, however, the Committee deserves the lion's share of the credit
for the restoration of price stability.
This section reviews the developments in the 1990s concerning the FOMC's approach to its
legislative goals and the communication of its policy implementation to the Congress, the public,
and financial markets. Perhaps a brief summary of the subjects in this section is warranted
before the discussion starts in earnest.
As the decade got under way, the Committee's response to signs of economic contraction and
then tepid expansion arguably was amplified by its reaction to weak M2 growth relative to the
announced range. By February 1993, however, the behavior of M2 velocity had become so
aberrant relative to short-term interest rates that the FOMC had to abandon communicating the
thrust of its policy in important part through its annual M2 growth ranges. At that time, the
Committee further downgraded this aggregate essentially to one among many information
variables. The Humphrey-Hawkins testimony of July 1994 reported that the Committee had
reinterpreted the monetary ranges as reflecting the behavior of the aggregates in a steady state,
assuming stable prices, sustainable economic growth, and flat M2 velocity. The Committee
retained that interpretation until the mandatory money and credit ranges died when the reporting
requirements of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act themselves expired in 2000.
In the minds of some observers, the demise of money seemed to leave monetary policy devoid of
an effective nominal anchor, leading to suggestions that the FOMC lengthen the period of its
macroeconomic forecasts or establish multiyear quantitative inflation targets. After considering
these proposals, the FOMC rejected them in 1994 and early 1995, electing instead to retain more
flexibility. And throughout the 1990s, the Federal Reserve never had to follow up its testimony
in 1989 on the Neal "zero inflation" bill by testifying on new legislation mandating long-run
price stability as its primary objective. (Representative Neal's first bill in 1989 called on the
Federal Reserve to cut the inflation rate at least 1 percentage point each year until zero inflation
was achieved. His replacement bill in the same year instead gave the Federal Reserve five years
to get to stable prices.)
The FOMC considered the working definition of price stability and the appropriate strategy for
approaching this objective at its midyear meetings in 1996 and 1997. Even without an explicit
nominal anchor, the FOMC did implement monetary policy as if it had been aiming at a low
inflation rate target while pursuing its other mandated goal of maximum employment. Indeed,
Governor Janet Yellen had made a similar case in February 1995. She said that such an
approach not only was possible in theory but also represented the essence of Committee conduct
in practice. Although the evidence through 1996 is not decisive, the Committee also seemed to
rely mainly on forecasts of inflation and economic performance rather than to look simply at
prevailing circumstances. The FOMC's communication of its design framework emphasized the
preemptive nature of monetary policy.

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Tracking M2 While Being Overtaken by the Four Horsemen
July 21, 1992
The 1990s began with a recession, which seemed to have as its proximate cause the jump in oil
prices and the hit to confidence resulting from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in early August.
M2 was growing even more slowly than nominal spending. In the summer of 1991, the Division
of Monetary Affairs sent an analytical memorandum to the FOMC on monetary weakness. 144
And the staffs research into the M2 slowdown intensified from there.

Chairman Greenspan's July 1992 Humphrey-Hawkins testimony analyzed the ongoing rise in
M2 velocity in some detail. He concluded the monetary retrospective with the following:
Thus, the weakness in the broader monetary aggregates, which has been even
more pronounced this year, can be seen as an aspect of the entire process of
re-channeling credit flows away from depositories and of restructuring the
public's balance sheets. However, the disintermediation and restructuring
forces, which have acted powerfully to depress the growth of money, have
exerted a less powerful constraint on spending; that is, slower money growth
has not tended to show through percentage point for percentage point to
reduce expansion of nominal gross domestic product. Accordingly, these
disintermediation and restructuring forces have tended to boost the velocity of
the broader aggregates. Increasing M3 velocity has been evident for some
years, but the tendency for M2 velocity to rise was obscured until recent
quarters by the opposing influence of declines in short-term market rates.
Lower short rates reduced the potential returns given up by holding liquid M2
balances, thereby providing support to demands for M2 and countering the
emerging tendency for its velocity to increase. But M2 velocity appears to
have registered an appreciable increase in the first half of this year, and the
Federal Reserve has had to take the emerging behavior of velocity into
account in deciding how much weight to place on slow M2 growth in guiding
its policy actions. 145
A condensed version reviewing the role of M2 and the emerging behavior of its velocity was
prepared shortly thereafter in the same year for a staff member's paper.
Some of the properties of M2 demand over most of the post-war period
strongly recommend it as a policy indicator. The velocity of M2 has tended to
revert over time to its historical average value (of 1.6454 to be precise). This
characteristic underlies the celebrated work of Federal Reserve Board staffers
Messrs. Hallman, Porter, and Small on P-star. Their study demonstrates that,
once accelerationist dynamics are accounted for, the statistical connection
144. Division of Monetary Affairs [drafted principally by William Whitesell], "The Weakness in M2,"
memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee, August 15, 1991.
145. Statement by Alan Greenspan before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, July
21, 1992, Federal Reserve Bulletin, September 1992, p. 677.

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IV The 1990s

between M2 and the average price level has been remarkably close in the
United States. This model's forecast of inflation to date has been quite
accurate, though in recent quarters a tendency to underpredict inflation is
surfacing, perhaps as a result of a possible uptrend in long-run equilibrium
velocity, for reasons I will turn to soon.
Causality tests extended through the 1980s suggest that M2 retained--though
perhaps to a more attenuated degree--its leading indicator properties in
predicting future nominal spending and real output. Through the 1980s as
well, a satisfactory M2 demand function could be identified that contained
only a few variables--as Milton Friedman long ago had contended in his
restatement of the quantity theory of money. Moreover, its interest elasticity
appeared neither too large nor too small to be useful for policy purposes,
although it did vary over time after a change in short-term interest rates. It
was relatively large for a while, but then declined as deposit rates gradually
caught up with the initial move in short-term market interest rates.
In the last three years, this demand function has broken down. The very
substantial decline in short-term market rates compared with the average rate
paid on M2 balances did not generate a sharp pickup in M2 growth relative to
that of nominal GDP. The reasons are varied, and for a more extensive
discussion I recommend Chairman Greenspan's July Humphrey-Hawkins
testimony and a forthcoming study by Messrs. Feinman and Porter of the
Federal Reserve Board's staff. Suffice it here to recount the main forces that
seem to have depressed the demand for M2 relative to nominal GDP and
imparted the uptrend in its velocity that has become evident in recent quarters.
The Board staff has identified four of these forces, which we have dubbed the
"Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." They are 1) Outlays of the Resolution
Trust Corporation (as well as of the bank regulatory agencies) in resolving
insolvent thrifts (and banks), which transferred a sizable amount of assets to
the government's books and lessened the need for depository funding; 2) The
so-called "credit crunch," which reduced bank loan growth and further
lessened the need for banks to aggressively price retail deposits; 3) The
process of household de-leveraging, which involved drawing upon liquid
money balances to repay or avoid debt; and 4) The steepening of the yield
curve, which made longer-term market instruments, including bond and stock
mutual funds, more attractive relative to retail deposits.

Despite the evident uptrend in M2 velocity of recent quarters, note should be
taken that weakness in M2 relative to its annual ranges in 1991 and 1992 did
turn out to portend sluggish economic growth. This was not a coincidence, as
some of the same forces depressing M2 demand also were acting to hold back
spending, though to a lesser degree. In this sense, the Federal Reserve's
continued easing of its policy stance over the last two years, which at times

133

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was prompted in part by weakness in M2 as well as by other factors, surely
seems vindicated in retrospect.
Nonetheless, confidence in the short- and intermediate-run relation between
M2 and nominal GDP, which has never been high, can only be lessened
further by the evidence of the last couple of years that the demand for M2
relative to spending is much more complex, is dependent on more variables,
and is more difficult to predict than believed previously. This emerging
characteristic would add conceptual support for Federal Reserve willingness
to tolerate shorter-run deviations of M2 growth from its anticipated path
before necessarily acting to adjust its funds rate policy instrument. 146

Downgrading Broad Money to Information-Variable Status
February 2-3, 1993
By February 1993, the FOMC must have had enough. The continued unusual increase ofM2
velocity through 1992 finally caused the Committee to demote this aggregate from its precarious
perch atop the pantheon of monetary policy guides. Chairman Greenspan expressed his
frustration with monetary relationships at the February FOMC meeting:
Chairman Greenspan .... What is the policy role of targets[?] Targets were
imposed on us in the Humphrey-Hawkins legislation and we have been
employing them ever since, first with M1 and then M2 and M3 ....
I frankly don't think that whatever targets we agree to today are going to
make the slightest difference in the way this Committee functions in the next
year because whatever is going on we will respond to it. What we decide
today will be an interesting thing to look at, but I would be very surprised if
anybody here really is driven by the fact that we are on one edge of this target
[range] or the other. I may be exaggerating for some of the people around this
table, but I'm not exaggerating for myself!
Having said all of that, I then ask myself: "What should we be doing?" Well,
we have a statute out there. If we didn't have the statute, I would argue that
we ought to forget the whole thing. If it doesn't have any policy purpose,
why are we doing it? By law [we have] to make such forecasts. And if we
are to do so, I suggest that we do them in a context which does us the least
harm, if I may put it that way. 147
After an extended analysis of the causes of recent monetary developments, Chairman
Greenspan's February Humphrey-Hawkins testimony reported:

146. David E. Lindsey, "Evaluation of Policy Indicators in the United States," November 2, 1992, l9 1h
SEANZA Central Banking Course, Bank of Japan, Tokyo, pp. 365-66.
147. Transcript of the February 2-3, 1993, FOMC meeting, pp. 38-39.

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In the past few years, the broader aggregates, in tum, have become much less
reliable guides for the conduct of policy.... The FOMC necessarily has given
less weight to monetary aggregates in the conduct of policy and has relied on
a broad range of indicators of future financial and economic developments
and price pressures ....

This use of a broad range of indicators is appropriate because achievement of
the ranges for growth of particular measures of money and credit is not, and
should not be, the objective of monetary policy. Rather, the ranges are a
means to an end. The Humphrey-Hawkins Act, incorporating this view, does
not require that the ranges be attained in circumstances in which doing so
would not be consistent with achieving the more fundamental economic
objectives. 148
Rejecting a More-Distant Horizon for the Semiannual Macroeconomic Forecasts
February 3-4, 1994
For the early February 1994 meeting, the staff had requested the 1995 projections of the
individual Board members and Reserve Bank presidents six months early because of
congressional suggestions to add another year to the coverage of the Committee members'
macroeconomic forecasts. On the first day of the meeting, Michael Prell described the results:
Mr. Prell... . In broad terms, most of you are projecting that growth will be
sufficient to achieve small to appreciable further declines in unemployment,
and no further progress toward price stability. 149
Specifically, the central tendency forecasts for CPI inflation were 2'l'2 to 3 percent for I 994 and
2Yz to 31,4 percent for 1995.
The ensuing discussion included the following:
President Jordan . ...[T]he numbers we now have for 1995 are higher than
the numbers we had for 1994 a year ago; 1993 similarly was progressively
moved up. So, it's a pattern that implies becoming accustomed to accepting
no further progress on inflation, and I find that very disturbing. If those
numbers are accurately based on current policy or the assumption about what
policy will be, then I think the conclusion would have to be one of two things:
Either we have changed our objectives with regard to inflation or we have to
change our policies. Otherwise we're going to send the wrong message to
people who look at these numbers to gauge the Committee's real intent. 150

148. Statement by Alan Greenspan before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, U.S.
Senate, February 19, 1993, Federal Reserve Bulletin, April 1993, p. 278.
149. Michael J. Prell, "FOMC Chart Show Presentation-Conclusion," appendix to transcript of February 3-4,
1994, FOMC meeting, February 3, 1994.
150. Transcript of the February 3-4, 1994, FOMC meeting, pp. 24-25.

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The next day, Donald Kohn laid out the issues regarding the suggestion of announcing these
forecasts for 1995 at the February 1994 hearing.
Mr. Kahn . ... Members of Congress and their staffs have asked whether the
Committee could supplement money ranges with other methods of explaining
important intermediate-term considerations guiding the conduct of policy.
One possibility is to stretch out the forecast period, and it was with this in
mind that we asked for your 1995 projections.

A key aspect of projections two years out is that they probably can be viewed
as representing to an important extent Committee members' desired
outcomes, within the constraints imposed by the starting point and the
structural relationships embedded in the economy. That is, the lags in policy
effects are probably not so long that if the Committee viewed the outcomes as
not the best available, it would still have time to take actions to improve the
situation. Seen in this way, the projections do contain some information about
the Committee's preferences and its view ofthe short-run tradeoffs. Your
1995 projections, for example, show no deceleration in inflation from 1994
coupled with some further decline in the unemployment rate to the
neighborhood of 6Yz percent. This suggests that, on average, you share the
staffs view of the level of the NAIRU, and hence, absent a sharp weakening
in aggregate demand in 1996, would not anticipate further disinflation. You
also have lower unemployment rates associated with roughly the same levels
of inflation as the staff, perhaps indicating a more favorable slope in the short­
run Phillips curve than assumed with staff projections.
The risks in giving long-run projections is that Congress may focus on these
as targets--especially on the real variables, such as the unemployment rate.
These forecasts tend to highlight short-run tradeoffs without focusing on
longer-term consequences of trying to exploit these tradeoffs. Without the
discipline of an explicit price stability goal for the central bank, we could find
ourselves under greater pressure on real variables over which our power is
limited over a period of years, and for which we have no authority to set
objectives. What was once an adjunct to the monetary ranges could become
the centerpiece; indeed, we would be giving projections for a year in which
we had no monetary targets. If the forecasts are used, the report and
testimony ought to emphasize both that the FOMC does not control the level
or growth of potential GDP and would welcome the lowest possible
unemployment rate consistent with sustainable growth, and that an attempt to
exploit short-term tradeoffs can be counterproductive. 151

151. Donald Kohn, "Long-run Policies," appendix to transcript ofthe February 3--4, 1994, FOMC meeting,
February4, 1994,pp.6-7.

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Because of the evident conflict between the projections and objectives for 1995, in the
Committee's discussion the extended forecasts were deep-sixed faster than a decaying corpse.

Rejecting an Even-More-Distant Horizon for the Semiannual Macroeconomic Forecasts
July 5-6, 1994
At the July 1994 meeting, when the projections for 1995 were routinely added to the report to the
Congress, Senator Donald Riegle (Democrat from Michigan and chairman of the Senate Banking
Committee) requested that 1996 be included in the central tendency forecasts-a full year sooner
than usual. This time, the out-year forecasts were not included in the chart show, which already
had incorporated the years 1994 and 1995, and so Donald Kahn's briefing introduced the topic.
He said that in February of that year some FOMC members had noted
that the projections for 1995 did not seem to match the Committee's stated
objectives, especially with regard to reducing inflation. Presumably, the
Banking Committee is interested in what emphasis you are putting on that
objective; they also seem to be trying to get your sense of the level and
growth of economic potential, which they see as important influences on
policy decisions. The central tendencies of the projections you turned in this
time for 1996 closely resemble your outlook for 1995--real growth around
trend and unemployment at recent levels, with CPI inflation at or just over 3
percent.
The information provided could be useful to Congress and the public in
gauging the objectives and strategy of the FOMC. The risk is that it would be
misunderstood--that the FOMC would be seen as having targets for variables
not under its control over the longer run, such as the sustainable level of
economic growth and unemployment. And, Congress could be tempted to
hold the FOMC more accountable for misses in these variables than in
inflation projections. The situation would be especially difficult in the case of
an adverse supply shock or should the NAIRU tum out on the high side of
current projections, particularly if the FOMC took timely action so that misses
in inflation seemed smaller or were slower to develop than deviations from
forecasts of output or unemployment. 152
Unlike the previous discussion of this issue in February, the Committee's treatment of the
extended forecasts was, well, extended. Chairman Greenspan took the baton from Donald Kohn.

Chairman Greenspan. Don, let me sort of interpolate on what you ended up
saying with respect to providing 1996 projections to Congress. I think our
public policy posture always has to be in favor of either low or declining

152. Donald Kohn, "Long-run Ranges," appendix to transcript ofthe July 5-6, 1994, FOMC meeting, July 6,
1994, pp. 6-7.

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unemployment rates or low or declining inflation. The truth of the matter is
that while monetary policy matters, it obviously can't encompass as much as
the committees up on the Hill would like to require us to accomplish. I think
we have to indicate that we will accommodate as strong a growth as comes
out of a non-inflationary environment. Indeed, we would foster such growth
but argue strenuously that long-term stability and the sustainability of
employment require that inflation be held in check. While we acknowledge
the short-term Phillips curve, we can't acknowledge, because I think it doesn't
exist, anything beyond the very short-term posture. Once we get into that, I
think we are letting ourselves be led down a road of public policy perceptions
that we can't meet and shouldn't meet. If Congress wants to impose certain
requirements on us, that's their prerogative, but for us to get out there and
make a projection, which we all do, we also have to recognize that projections
are not goals. I will make a projection that I think the inflation rate will be
"x" and I think "x" is unacceptable. That doesn't mean that I say "x" is
unacceptable, therefore I will change it. A goal and a projection are two
fundamentally different things. We don't make the distinction in our request
for your projections. We merely ask what individual members are projecting.
Some are thinking of them as goals and some are making them as forecasts.
And that's fine; it's fine in the sense that it seems to be working. But once we
get out beyond the intermediate period, I think we're in for some serious
questions. 153
Board Vice Chairman Blinder defended the extra year.

Mr. Blinder. ... I want to raise the possibility ofbeing a bit more forthcoming
about the 1996 projections than seems to be the consensus, at least based on
what we have heard around the table so far. One of the things the Federal
Reserve gets accused of by those who are looking to accuse it ofthings is
being overly mysterious and secretive. Some things have to be secret, of
course. But the kinds of numbers we were just speaking about for 1996
projections are very much in line with the consensus; they would put us right
where the Administration is, right where the CBO is, right where the central
tendency of private-sector forecasters is. I very much agree that we should
qualify it, fudge it, make sure that these are viewed as projections, not goals.
I couldn't agree with that more. But with broadening them into ranges, with
the kind of prose that goes around it, I think our interests might be well served
by saying a little more about where we think the economy is going in the
slightly longer run. The second reason is, as we know and as we always
stress, that monetary policy needs to be focused on a longer horizon than six
quarters. I think any one of us around the table would say we couldn't make
monetary policy if we closed our eyes to what was going to happen in quarters

153. Transcript of the July 5-6, 1994, FOMC meeting, p. 38.

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7, 8, 9 and 10. All of us have some ideas about what's going to happen in
those quarters, which are quite important to what we want to do about
monetary policy today--probably a lot more important than what we think is
going to happen in the next two quarters in fact. So, both in terms of
clarifying our own thoughts for the broader public that is watching us closely
in terms of meeting a little bit--this is a very small step--the request for more
openness, I think there is at least something to be said for going public, so to
speak, with these projections.

Chairman Greenspan. Let me ask you this. These numbers, if we could
make sure they are conceived of as forecasts, are benign, but releasing them
would set a precedent, which would then have to be continued in the future.
There are going to be occasions when I would suspect the judgment of this
Committee as economic forecasters, as professionals, would be to forecast a
rising unemployment rate or some other unwelcome development, and I
wonder how we would handle that at that point. You can argue that it's a
forecast, but then the response will be that the Federal Reserve should prevent
it from happening.
Ms. Minehan. Yes.
Chairman Greenspan. And we may not have the capability of doing so.
Mr. Blinder. I think that's a perfectly good question. I think it's likely--it
wouldn't necessarily always happen--that in the event that we were
forecasting a rise in unemployment over the coming two years, we would
probably be easing monetary policy; possibly we wouldn't.
Chairman Greenspan. But maybe not.
Mr. Blinder. Yes, maybe not. I don't disagree with that. 154
Presidents Robert Forrestal, Gary Stem, and Edward Boehne also spoke in the affirmative, but
the sentiment of the Committee was better captured by Governors Susan Phillips, John LaWare,
and Lawrence Lindsey, and, finally, Chairman Greenspan.

Ms. Phillips.... With respect to 1996 forecasts, I agree that more disclosure
is better. I also think that if we are going to disclose more, we ought to
disclose more but better things, and I am not sure that the numbers for 1996
would necessarily provide better information. So, I'd prefer more of a
description of direction or even goals. I know for myself that when I sit down
to do those projections and I look 2V2 years out, I just don't think that the

154. Transcript of the July 5-6, 1994, FOMC meeting, p. 48-49.

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numbers for 1996 represent quality disclosure; it's quantity but not quality.
So, I think we would do better with some description. 155
Mr. La Ware.... With regard to the Riegle request, I ask myself: In July
1992, what would I have forecast the economy to look like in July 1994? And
I can't believe that there is any real accuracy in a forecast that far out. We run
the danger of not being able to forecast accurately and then having to explain
later on why we were so far off and why we didn't do anything about it. If,
for example, the forecast says one thing and the conventional wisdom is that it
ought to be something very different, then why are we not doing something to
make the forecast different. The forecast is always going to be interpreted
however someone wants to interpret it when they've got us on the carpet. If it
was an attractive forecast, then it will be assumed to have been a goal, and if it
is an unattractive forecast, it will be assumed to be an admission of failure. I
just think we are asking for trouble if we get into something that dicey. I
doubt very much that the models that we are playing with here would have
accurately forecast in July of 1992 where we are today. So, I just think it's
dangerous to get that kind ofthing in numerical form in front of the public. 156

Governor Lindsey recounted his experience in 1982 as a staff economist on the Council of
Economic Advisers with a five-year-ahead forecast of real GDP.
Mr. Lindsey . ... Marty Feldstein, who had sort of a baseline, said let's guess
4 percent a year, starting in the second quarter of 1983. Here is the dart
thrown at the dartboard. It turned out that the 1987 real GDP forecast was off
in fact in 1987 by a total of $3 billion, which is as close to a bull' s eye I have
ever seen anyone make. But in the meantime, first it was criticized as wildly
optimistic, and then it was criticized as wildly pessimistic as the economy
went above and below the forecast. So anyone has to be crazy to make that
kind of forecast even if it turns out to be right! [Laughter] Nobody ever
remembers you were right. At the very least, I think Jerry Jordan's point is
correct, that this is going to be interpreted somehow as our wish list. For us to
put out numbers that have unemployment and inflation rising has to invite an
attack. It's worse than forecasting 4 percent growth for five years .... 157
Chairman Greenspan . ... The Riegle request gets turned down, but there is a
general view that as best we can we should be more forthcoming. There is a
sense in which Humphrey-Hawkins essentially sets the monetary aggregates
as a signal that could be objectively evaluated by the Congress with respect to
what it is we are doing. As the meaning of the aggregates falls away, there is

155. Transcript of the July 5-6, 1994, FOMC meeting, p. 53.
156. Transcript of the July S-6, 1994, FOMC meeting, p. 54.
157. Transcript of the July 5-6, 1994, FOMC meeting, p. 56.

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IV. The 1990s

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an obligation on our part to give the Congress some objective criteria. I
happen to think that the one requested by Senator Riegle is potentially
mischief-making, and I am not sure that it serves our purpose to do this in the
way in which it is requested. What I do think we ought to be saying more
about is what our goals are, what we are looking for, and what our outlook is
for 1995 and 1996 in a qualitative sense. I mean to draw the distinction
between goals and forecasts. I would judge that our forecasts as a group do
not clash violently with those of either the Administration or the CBO, as
Governor Blinder indicated. Perhaps noting that in the Humphrey-Hawkins
text without putting numbers down per se would enable us to associate
ourselves with the forecasts and still talk about broader questions such as
where we think the goals of the Committee should be without putting the
specific numbers down .... 158
Relegating the Broad Monetary Ranges to Benchmark Status
July S-6, 1994
At its July 5-6, 1994, meeting, the FOMC adopted an interpretation of the broad money ranges
that in effect converted them to benchmarks for price stability, assuming sustainable economic
growth and stable M2 velocity. The Committee selected a range for the M2 growth rate of 1 to 5
percent for the current and the next year, as had been the case since July 1993 and would
continue through the rest of the decade to satisfy the requirement of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act.

In his testimony, Chairman Greenspan initiated what would become a familiar refrain throughout
the remainder of the 1990s:
The monetary ranges ... are already low enough to be consistent with the
goal of price stability and maximum sustainable economic growth, assuming
an eventual return to more stable velocity behavior. From that point of view,
we felt that maintenance of the current monetary ranges would give the
clearest indication of the long-run intentions of policy. 159
Rejecting Multiyear Inflation Targets
February 1, 1995
The transcript of the December 1994 meeting contains the following:
Mr. Melzer . ... I must say, though, that I'm not at all convinced that we have
fully met the current challenge especially if our goal, as I think it should be, is
price stability. Therefore, I think it is important that we give serious
consideration at the February meeting as to how we might convey our long­

158. Transcnpt ofthe July 5-6, 1994, FOMC meeting, pp. 57-58.
159. Statement by Alan Greenspan before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senate,
July 20, 1994, Federal Reserve Bulletin, September 1994, p. 797.

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A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

term intentions in this regard. The question that we had from Senator Riegle
last July was indicative, I think, of the fact that perhaps on the outside there
was some confusion as to exactly what we intended.
Chairman Greenspan. There has been some discussion that the new Congress
would establish such a legislative goal.
Mr. Melzer. Yes. With regard to that issue, perhaps one thing we ought to
think about would be to provide some longer-term inflation forecasts, say
beyond 1995 or 1996, because, as an initial step in considering legislation, I
think one could say that monetary policy is going to have its principal long­
run impact on inflation. Eventually, I would be inclined to establish long-run
inflation or price level objectives as some other central banks have done.
Now clearly this is going to require a lot of further work, and I'm encouraged
by the fact that the staff is looking into that issue. I would hope that we might
have something, at least to start on, that we could talk about at the February
meeting. 160

This subject was the special topic for a preliminary Committee discussion in February
1995. 161 A staffbackground paper was distributed to the Committee laying out the pros and cons
of strict multiyear inflation targets. 162 It is worth recalling that the legislative initiatives in the
United States, as well as President Melzer's original request for a discussion of"long-term
intentions" did not embody the more eclectic concept of"flexible inflation targeting." 163 Indeed,
that phrase had not yet been coined.
At the February meeting, President Broaddus and Governor Yellen conducted an informative
debate on the issues. President Broaddus gave this overview of his remarks:
Mr. Broaddus . ... I appreciate the opportunity to make a few comments about
inflation targeting. Actually, I am going to use the term "inflation
objectives," if I may, because I think that describes and reflects more
accurately what I have in mind. To my mind, this is an idea whose time has
definitely come. Let me cover just three things .... First, I will summarize as
clearly as I can the analytical case for some kind of explicit inflation
objective. Then, I want to comment on just one of the most frequently heard
objections. Finally, I would like to say a little about what specific kinds of

160. Transcript of the December 20, 1994, FOMC meeting, p. 34.
161. Bonnie Garrett, "Summary of February 1, 1995, FOMC Discussion oflnflation Targeting," memorandum
to FOMC Secretariat Files, August 24, 1995. This document has a compendium ofusefu1 attachments.
162. David E. Lindsey, "Multi-Year Inflation Targets," memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee,
with an appendix by Richard Freeman, "Inflation Targeting in OECD Countries," January 20, 1995.
163. The bill sponsored by Senator Connie Mack, which was just starting to be discussed, could be read in its
final version as embodying some attention to real variables only during the initial transition to price stability and not
afterward.

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IV. The 1990s

143

objectives we might want to introduce and how we might proceed if the
Committee decides, and I hope it will, that this is a good idea and wants to
move in this direction.... 164
He argued that nailing down the long-term inflation goal quantitatively would have a variety of
desirable consequences for the eventual trajectory to price stability. Governor Yellen came next:

Governor Yellen. I am strongly opposed to the adoption of formal multi-year
inflation targets. I thought I would begin by outlining the case against them.
This proposal has two distinct features. The first has to do with the number of
goals we should be pursuing, a single goal or multiple goals. I am taking this
proposal to be essentially the strong one that Dave Lindsey suggested in his
memo, namely, that the inflation rate should be the sole objective of policy for
current and future years with no weight being placed on achieving competing,
ultimate goals for real variables. I am going to speak against that proposal,
and I note that it is a somewhat stronger proposal than I heard AI just support.
The second aspect of the proposal has to do with numerical as opposed to
qualitative targets. Since I am particularly opposed to the single goal, that is
what most of my remarks are going to focus on rather than the numerical
character of it. 165
One of her points was that a Taylor rule contains a specified inflation target and it responds to
the real side of the economy, consistent with what the FOMC had been doing; such a policy is
not usefully termed "inflation targeting," which implies that more priority is accorded to that
goal, both in principle and in practice.
Although the entire transcript gives the Committee's full-blown reaction to these presentations,
only Chairman Greenspan and the minutes need to be quoted to give a flavor of the discussion.

Chairman Greenspan. Let me just say what I think the purpose of this
discussion is. We do not have a Neal bill, but there clearly is going to be a
Connie Mack bill that will be very close to the Neal bill, and we are going to
be asked to comment on it. The basic purpose of this discussion is to get our
first cut as to where this Committee stands for purposes of testifying on that
legislation. My own judgment is that if we do not announce any specific
inflation targets, our policy can actually be similar to what Al Broaddus was
suggesting. If we do announce explicit inflation targets, they become in effect
a statutory obligation for this Committee to adhere to; and I am not sure by
any reading of the Humphrey-Hawkins statute that inflation targeting is
consistent with it. 166

164. Transcript of the January 31-February 1, 1995, FOMC meeting, p. 39.
165. Transcript of the January 31-February I, 1995, FOMC meeting, p. 42.
166. Transcript of the January 31-February I, 1995, FOMC meeting, p. 20.

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The minutes state:
The Committee also considered the potential advantages and disadvantages of
setting specific targets for bringing inflation down and achieving price
stability over time. Such targets might provide an alternative or supplemental
approach to the monetary growth ranges, which had been found to be
unreliable guides for monetary policy over the past several years. The
members discussed a number of aspects of inflation targeting. On the one
hand, such targeting would help to anchor the conduct of monetary policy and
progress in meeting these objectives could enhance the credibility of the
Federal Reserve and perhaps reduce the overall cost of attaining price
stability. On the other hand, close adherence to present inflation targets could
unduly constrain the Federal Reserve in its efforts to counteract the effects of
cyclical shortfalls in the performance of the economy. The members agreed
that the discussion had been helpful in outlining the issues and that the subject
should be revisited. It was noted in this connection that the Committee might
be asked to comment during the months ahead on specific congressional
proposals for inflation targeting. 167
Finally, some of the concluding comments of Chairman Greenspan are as follows:
Chairman Greenspan . ... My own view is that a general long-term view of
price stability of the Neal form is a very useful conceptual anchor for us to do
basically what we have been doing. This is essentially, as Bob McTeer
mentioned just a moment ago, that we are sort of one cycle away from being
there. But the problem is that we do not go in a straight line, to the extent that
we are even focusing on it. You may recall that a couple of years ago, we all
basically said we were going to have to move early on the upside or we will
not achieve anything resembling price stability. Now, I submit to you that is
exactly what we did. We did follow a price stability objective in a cyclical
sense, that is, one where the inflation rate is going to be lower at each
progressive cyclical peak and lower at each progressive cyclical low. But that
objective is not being implemented in a straight line because we have
recognized, and I think correctly, that the Congress would not give us a
mandate to do that. 168
Senator Connie Mack (Republican from Florida), who was chairman of the Joint Economic
Committee, and Representative Jim Saxton (Democrat from New Jersey), who was vice
chairman, initially introduced "The Economic Growth and Price Stability Act" in September
1995. It would have repealed the Humphrey-Hawkins Act and made price stability the central

167. Minutes of the January 31-February 1, 1995, FOMC meeting, 82"J Annual Report, 1995, p. 120.
168. Transcript of the January 31-February I, 1995, FOMC meeting, p. 44.

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IV The 1990s

145

focus of the Federal Reserve, requiring the FOMC to set an explicit numerical goal and
effectively promote its attainment. Senator Mack reintroduced the bill in each subsequent
Congress through 1999, and Representative Saxton reintroduced it in early 1997 and a stricter
version of price stability legislation in late 1997 and in 1999. In the end, the Federal Reserve
never formally testified on these bills, although in hearings before congressional committees,
Chainnan Greenspan was occasionally asked about the role of price stability. For example, he
indicated in 1995 that price stability should be the paramount long-run goal but that the precise
definition should be left to the Federal Reserve, as the meaning would change slightly from time
to time. 169
Considering the Working Definition of, and Approach to, Price Stability
July 2, 1996, and July 1, 1997
Despite having turned a cold shoulder to formal "inflation targeting," the Committee did look at
the precise meaning of its long-term inflation goal and the appropriate strategic approach to it on
July 2, 1996. David Stockton and John Roberts had prepared memoranda framing the issues. 170
Once again Governor Yellen and President Broaddus began the Committee discussion by
presenting differing positions in "point-counterpoint" fashion.

Governor Yellen argued that downward nominal wage rigidity is an aspect of human nature. As
a result, as recent research had suggested, an inflation rate below 2 percent or so would begin to
induce a noticeable increase in the NAIRU. In contrast, President Broaddus again defended
specifying and disclosing the Committee's choice of a particular numerical representation of its
long-tenn inflation goal. Such a deliberate step would have many advantages for central bank
credibility and discipline, as opposed to the approach of "opportunistic disinflation," a tenn that
he thought had a rather pejorative connotation. 171
In the course of Committee discussion, Chainnan Greenspan reiterated his own qualitative
definition of price stability as prevailing when households and businesses have no need to take
expectations of future inflation into account in their decisions. 172 Then President McDonough
spoke:
169. S. 1266, "The Economic Growth and Price Stability Act," Congressional Liaison Files, p. 1.
170. David Stockton, "The Price Objective for Monetary Policy: An Outline of the Issues," a report to the
FOMC, June 16, 1996; John Roberts, "Recent Differences in Measures of Consumer Price Inflation," memorandum
to Members of the Board, both with a cover memorandum from Donald L. Kohn, "Price Objectives for Monetary
Policy," memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee, June 21, 1996.
171. See Athanasios Orphan ides and David W. Wilcox, "The Opportunistic Approach to Disinflation," Finance
and Economic Discussion Series, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, May 1996. The paper
ultimately was published in International Finance, vol. 5, no. I, 2002.
172. Transcript of the July 2-3, 1996, FOMC meeting, p. 51. At Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in late August 1996,
Chairman Volcker himself pointed out that he had articulated a similar definitiOn in a speech entitled "Can We
Survive Prosperity?" before the American Economic-American Finance Association on December 28, 1983:
A workable definition of reasonable "price stability" would seem to me to be a situation in which
expectations of generally rising (or falling) prices over a considerable period are not a pervasive influence
on economic and financ.al behavior. Stated more positively, "stability" would imply that decision-makmg
should be able to proceed on the basis that "real" and "nominal" values are substantially the same over the
planning honzon--and that planning horizons should be suitably long.

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A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Vice Chairman McDonough. Mr. Chairman, I think price stability is a means
to an end, and the end is sustained economic growth, which is how I resolve
what appears to be the conflict in the Humphrey-Hawkins legislation and the
Federal Reserve Act. I define price stability exactly the way you do. First of
all, it is a very good working definition, and secondly, since you are the head
of the Federal Reserve, using your definition makes a great deal of sense for
all of us. If we each have a different definition of price stability, it certainly
confuses the body politic. Since most of the speeches that I give are on price
stability, because I think that is what we ought to be talking about, I would
also argue that it has major sociological and therefore political benefits. Since
most people can understand that more readily than the economic definition of
price stability, I think it gets the point across better.

As long as you are willing not to put a number on this purely verbal definition
of price stability, we in fact have a national consensus on it. Therefore, the
question is whether it is to anybody's benefit to define it more exactly. I am
reminded of my days at Holy Cross College studying scholastic philosophy,
which had been debating more or less the same major points for seven
centuries by the time l came along. Some of those points on which absolute
truth had not been defined are probably easier to resolve than an exact
numerical definition of price stability. I am not sure that we are ever going to
find the absolute truth here or that the search for this absolute truth is anything
other than something that would give the FOMC something to do for the next
seven centuries. [Laughter] Therefore, why would we want to have anything
other than the informal consensus that we have? 173
In subsequent Committee give and take, numerous members indicated at least an informal

preference for an inflation rate in the neighborhood of 2 percent.
Chairman Greenspan. Can I switch the subject? Since we have now all
agreed on 2 percent, my question is, what 2 percent? Let me present the issue
more specifically. You can ask the question, what is the inflation rate as
appropriately measured, which implies that we can measure it. Or you can
ask what is the appropriate inflation indicator that we should focus on,
recognizing that it is not appropriately measured and has various biases ....

Two percent of what? It is a perfectly credible argument to say, whatever the
inflation rate is now, that it should be lower. That is an unambiguous
statement. Members can have their own particular measure and say, I think it
is 4, I want to go to 3 or I think it is 1, it should go to zero. Everyone is in
agreement with that.

173. Transcript of the July 2-3, 1996, FOMC meeting, p. 53.

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IV The 1990s

Speaker(?). Instead of choosing, let's use all of them.
Chairman Greenspan. If you put a number down, the question inevitably is
raised as to what you are talking about unless you want a Jesuitical solution
that bypasses the whole question ....
My own view, as I have stated many times, is that our goal should be price
stability. But I do not think we should have a naive view as to what is
required to get there or what it means when we get there and what we do
when it is no longer rhetoric but action that we need to maintain it. I believe
that we underestimate the productivity effects that occur at those levels. The
analogy would be that as a particle moves to the speed of light, its mass
changes. My own view, which is probably going to be determined to be
correct eventually--in the year 2252--[Laughter] is that as the inflation rate
goes down, the tendency for nominal wages not to come down will enforce
cost-cutting improvements and technological changes. It is not that low or
stable prices are an environment that is conducive to capital investment to
reduce costs, but rather that it is an environment that forces productivity
enhancements. It forces people who want to stay in business to take those
actions--such as cutting down the size of the cafeteria, reducing overtime, and
taking away managers' drivers--that they did not want to take before in the
ordinary course of business in a modest inflationary environment because it
was easier then just to raise prices to maintain margins. Ifyou force the price
level down, you induce real reallocations of resources because to stay in
business firms have to achieve real as distinct from nominal efficiencies. That
phenomenon is what price stability means to me, and I see it as a very
complex issue. When we first talked about it in the context of a 10 percent or
so rate of inflation, we could just have an academic discussion.
Vice Chairman McDonough. Sure.
Chairman Greenspan. But now we are getting there and the question is
basically whether we are willing to move on to price stability. The question is
whether we as an institution can make the unilateral decision to do that. I
agree with you, Mr. Vice Chairman. I think that this is a very fundamental
question for this society. We can go up to the Hill and testify in favor of it;
we can make speeches and proselytize as much as we want. I think the type
of choice is so fundamental to a society that in a democratic society we as
unelected officials do not have the right to make that decision. Indeed, if we
tried to, we would find that our mandate would get remarkably altered. 174

174. Transcnpt ofthe July 2-3, 1996, FOMC meeting, pp. 63, 65, and 67.

147

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A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

The Committee revisited the issue of the empirical counterpart of price stability one year later,
on July 1, 1997. Board staff distributed a memorandum to the Committee summarizing the main
issues. 175 This time David Stockton's briefing led offthe FOMC's discussion. The following
extract from the transcript is notable:
Chairman Greenspan. I would like to raise a more fundamental question
about this whole issue. It is not something that we need to address in the
shorter term, but it does come up when we look beyond a 5-, 8-, or 10-year
horizon. If we start to focus on price stability now, we should try to be aware
of the problems that we may be confronting over the longer term.

First, let me raise a heretical issue. Is price stability really what we are after
or are we after financial stability? Even more generally, going back over time
we have tended to argue, I think correctly, that the objective of monetary
policy is to create maximum sustainable economic growth, and we have
argued, again I think quite correctly, that price stability is a necessary
condition to reach that goal. But price stability may indeed be a proxy for
something else, which I suspect is financial stability. 176
He proceeded to point out that the widespread decline in the prices of the output of high-tech
industries
involves very tough conceptual and measurement problems for us. It is by no
means clear exactly how we should measure price stability, given the prospect
that it will become increasingly difficult over time to define what constitutes
output and prices. I raised the issue at an earlier meeting and suggested that it
really didn't matter all that much from a policy standpoint because it may well
be that what we are endeavoring to do is to stabilize the inflation premium in
long-term interest rates. In short, as Jerry Jordan said, the question is whether
we are looking at the inflation of prices or the decline in the purchasing power
of money. In this context, even ifwe get to the point where we are not able to
define very explicitly the unit of production or bundle of goods or services
involved in particular nominal dollar sales and hence are unable to define
exactly what constitutes price, there is no question that we will still have a
nominal interest rate out there. An inflation premium is of necessity implicit
in the nominal interest rate. We may not be able to define a particular price,
but in the end we know that markets are operating on the basis of some notion
of prices. When we move into the 21st century, what we will try to stabilize
may in effect be the purchasing power of money, however that is measured.

175. David E. Lebow, Deborah J. Linder, Daniel Sichel, and Robert Tetlow, "Toward a Working Definition of
Price Stability," memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee, June 19, 1997.
176. Transcript of the July 1-2, 1997, FOMC meeting, pp. 49-50.

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IV The 1990s

149

The reason I raise these questions is not that we have to worry much about
them in the current period, as I noted. All I wish to put on the table is the
notion that, as we respond to the excellent paper by Dave Stockton and his
colleagues, we bear in mind that it is a paper that really refers to the nearer
term. The problems that we will be dealing with as we get beyond the tum of
the century are going to be increasingly difficult to resolve and in fact to
define. There is no conceptual problem involved in defining nominal GDP,
and we can in principle calculate it down to the last dollar or even the last cent
if we know how to measure it correctly. It is unambiguously defined. The
unit of production is not; price is not. So, I think the problems that we will
have to deal with in defining what we are stabilizing are going to increase in
the years ahead. What I want to suggest is that we confront the question of
whether we are trying to stabilize prices or trying to stabilize the financial
system. That is where the issue of asset prices comes in; it is in a certain
sense positioned on a continuum that begins with spot prices for units of
goods and services.

In sum, I am speculating that we are going to have problems that are quite
different from those that we have today. While I am not saying that these
involve issues that we need to resolve today, I suspect that we will start to
confront them in 5 years or certainly within 10 years, and they may very well
affect our projections going out to, say, the year 2006. I also suspect that by
around the year 2006, this very tricky question may involve what we are
endeavoring to stabilize and may be the focus of our policy actions. My own
guess is that we are going to be dealing with asset prices, the question of
nominal long-term interest rates, and probably the outlook for nominal GDP
as well. In any event, our task will surely be tougher than it is today, and the
issue will be how we should proceed. For the moment, fortunately, that is not
an issue. All this probably is violating President McTeer's view that we
should just sit and enjoy it, but I did want to mention that I have a different set
ofworries. Tomorrow, I will raise the conventional worries. 177
Implementing Monetary Policy

1990-96
The effort by the Desk to return to adjustment plus seasonal borrowing as the main guide to open
market operations was abruptly discontinued after November 22, 1989. Formally, the
Committee continued to employ a borrowed reserves operating target and in effect to vote on
changes to the borrowing assumption. But informally things had changed completely. All the
members were aware of the implied intended federal funds rate that in practice would take
precedence over the level of borrowing during the intermeeting period. In conducting daily
operations, the Manager took care to follow established precedents to the letter to make the
signals about the intended federal funds rate as unambiguous as possible to market participants.

177 Transcript of the July 1-2, 1976, FOMC meetmg, pp. 50-52.

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150

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Chart 4 shows the Committee's intended level of the federal funds rate from December 19, 1989,
through the Humphrey-Hawkins testimony of July 1996. The data used to construct the chart are
taken from the Federal Reserve Board's public web site, under "Open Market Operations." 178
The Humphrey-Hawkins ranges of money and credit growth (table 12) had, by the middle of the
decade, become unimportant as an influence on the determination of the funds rate, but the same
cannot be said of the Committee members' outlook for critical macroeconomic variables, as
captured by the semiannual projections of the Board members and Reserve Bank presidents.
Tables 13-16 show the central tendency of these projections for 1990 through 1996. As
suggested by the statistical results discussed in chapter VI, the FOMC from 1990 through 1996
focused mainly on forecasts of inflation and resource use, while gradually adjusting the federal
funds rate, in designing monetary policy. That is, through 1996, the FOMC appears to have
acted, while exhibiting a preference for gradualism, as if it had been implementing a systematic
response of its intended federal funds rate to changes in the outlook both for inflation relative to
an implicit objective and for the unemployment rate relative to an implicit estimate of the
sustainable natural rate ofunemployment.

Chart 4

Intended Federal Funds Rate
December 19, 1989 through July 18, 1996

Percent
10

8

6

4

2

1990

1991

1992

1993

178. http://www.federalreserve.gov/fomc/fundsrate.htm

1994

0

1995

1996

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151

IV The 1990s

Table 12 

Money and Debt: 

Current-Year Growth Ranges in Humphrey-Hawkins Reports 

and Monetary Policy Reports, and Actual Growth, 1990-2000 

(Percent, fourth quarter to fourth quarter) 

Ml

M2

Domestic
nonfinancial debt

M3

Year
Target

Actual

Target

Actual

Target

Actual

Target

Actual

1990

n.s.

4.2

3-7

3.9

1-5 1

1.8

5-9

6.9

1991

n.s.

8.0

2'1z-6'h

3.1

1-5

1.3

4'1z-8'h

4.5

1992

n.s.

14.3

2'h-6'12

1.9

.5
.6

4'/z-8'12
4-82

4.6

1.4

1-5
0-42

1.0

0-4

1.4

3-7

5.3

6.1

3-7

5.3

2

1993

n.s.

10.5

1-5

1994

n.s.

2.3

1-5

3

4.9

1995

n.s.

-1.8

1-5

4.2

2-6

1996

n.s.

-4.5

1-5

4.6

2-6

6.8

3-7

5.4

1997

n.s.

-1.2

l-5

5.7

2-6

8.8

3-7

5.2

1998

n.s.

1.8

1-5

8.5

2-6

10.9

3-7

6.7

1999

n.s.

1.9

l-5

6.2

2-6

7.5

3-7

6.6

2000

n.s.

-1.5

1-5

6.3

2-6

9.2

3-7

5.3

NOTE. Actual growth rates are as reported in the Monetary Policy Report to the Congress issued in February of
the next year. Subsequent revisions to historical data (not shown) have altered growth rates by up to a few tenths
of a percentage point.
1. At the February 1990 meeting, the FOMC specified a range of2'11;-6'12 percent. At the July 1990 meeting, 

this range was lowered to 1-5 percent. 

2. At the February 1993 meeting, the FOMC specified a range of 2-6 percent for M2, 'I~Yl percent for M3, 

and 4'12-8'12 percent for domestic nonfinancial debt. At the July 1993 meeting, these ranges were lowered to 1-5 

percent for M2, 0-4 percent for M3, and 4-8 percent for domestic nonfinancial debt. 

3. At the February 1995 meeting, the FOMC specified a range of 0-4 percent. At the July 1995 meeting, this
range was raised to 2-6 percent.
n.s. Not specified.

Communicating Monetary Policy
1990-96
Needless to say, as these years passed the FOMC members did not have in mind an exact
underlying structure of the Committee's implicit policymaking behavior, given that it acted only
"as if' it were implementing a particular estimate of its reaction function, and even then only up
to the error term. Still, the FOMC publicly emphasized the basically preemptive nature of its
policymaking. For example, the following are extracts from Chairman Greenspan's Humphrey­
Hawkins testimonies during the period:

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A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

152

Table 13 

Nominal GNP/GDP Growth: 

Central Tendency of Projections 

Presented in Humphrey-Hawkins Reports, 1990-96 

(Percent, fourth quarter to fourth quarter) 

Year for
which
projection
was made

Report in which projection was made
MEMO

July of
previous year

July of
current year

Actual,
current year

6~

51/2 to 6lf2

4.3

February of
current year

1990

5~

1991

5Y.. to 6Y2

3:Y.. to 5 Y..

4Yl to 5Y..

3.2

1992

5~

41/2 to 5314

51;4 to 6

5.4

5 to 5:Y..

5.1

5~

6.6

to 6:Y..

to 6~

(GNP)

1993

5~to6 114

1994

5 to 61f2

1995

5 to

1996

5~

4:Y.. to 5%

5~

to

(GOP)
5~

to 6

5Yl to 6

to 6

5 to 6

4Y.. to 4:Y..

4.2

4Y.. to 4:Y..

5 to 5Yl

5.1

NOTE. Projections are for GNP through 1991 (including projections made in July 1991 for
1992); projections thereafter are for GDP.

February 22, 1994. [M]onetary policy affects inflation only with a significant
lag. That a policy stance is overly stimulative will not become clear in the
price indexes for perhaps a year or more. Accordingly, if the Federal Reserve
waits until actual inflation worsens before taking countermeasures, it would
have waited far too long. At that point, modest corrective steps would no
longer be enough to contain emerging economic imbalances and to avoid a
buildup of inflation expectations and a significant backup of long-term
interest rates. Instead, more wrenching measures would be needed, with
unavoidable adverse side effects on near-term economic activity.
February 22, 1995. Because the effects of monetary policy are felt only
slowly and with a lag, policy will have a better chance of contributing to
meeting the nation's macroeconomic objectives if we look forward as we act-­
however indistinct our view of the road ahead. Thus, over the past year we
have firmed policy to head off inflation pressures not yet evident in the data.
Similarly, there may come a time when we hold our policy stance unchanged,
or even ease, despite adverse price data, should we see signs that underlying
forces are acting ultimately to reduce inflation--to be willing to adjust our
stance as the weight of new information suggests it is no longer appropriate.

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IV The 1990s

Table 14 

Real GNP/GDP Growth: 

Central Tendency of Projections 

Presented in Humphrey-Hawkins Reports, 1990-96 

(Percent, fourth quarter to fourth quarter) 

Year for
which
projection
was made

July of
previous year

February of
current year

July of
current year

1990

I 'h to 2

1% to 2

1'h to 2

.3

1991

1%to2V2

to 2

%to 1

.2

1992

21;4 to 3
(GNP)

I% to 2Vz
(GOP)

2V4to2%

2.9

1993

2% to 3

3 to 3'14

2'14 to 2%

2.8

1994

2V2 to 31;4

3 to 3'14

3 to 3'14

4.1

1995

2Vz to 23/4

2 to 3

lVz to 2

1.5

1996

21;4 to 2%

2 to 2'14

2V2to2%

3.1

Report in which projection was made
MEMO

3
/4

Actual,
current year

NOTE. ProJections are for GNP through 1991 (including proJections made in July 1991 for
1992); projectiOns thereafter are for GDP.

That flexibility applies to the particular stance of policy--not its objectives. 

We vary short-term interest rates to further the goals set for us in the Federal 

Reserve Act, namely promoting over time "maximum employment, stable 

prices, and moderate long-term interest rates." 


July 18, 1996. In order to realize the benefits of low and declining inflation,
Federal Reserve policy has, for some time now, been designed to act
preemptively--as I indicated earlier--to look beyond current data readings and
base action on its assessment of where the economy is headed. Policy
restraint initiated in February 1994 followed from the judgment that
unchanged policy would encourage subsequent inflationary imbalances that
would ultimately cut short the economic expansion. The three easing steps in
the past year were instituted when we anticipated that inflationary imbalances
would be less threatening and that lower rates would be compatible with
promoting sustainable economic expansion. Similarly, I am confident that the
Federal Open Market Committee would move to tighten reserve market
conditions should the weight of incoming evidence persuasively suggest an
oncoming intensification of inflation pressures that would jeopardize the
durability of the economic expansion.

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Table 15 

CPI Inflation Rate: 

Central Tendency of Projections 

Presented in Humphrey-Hawkins Reports, 1990-96 

(Percent, fourth quarter to fourth quarter) 

Year for
which
projection
was made

July of
previous year

February of
current year

July of
current year

Actual,
current year

1990

4Yl to 5

4 to 4 1h

4Yz to 5

6.3

1991

JY4 to 4Yz

3~

3~

2.9

1992

3 to4

3 to 3Y:!

3 to 3Yz

3.1

1993

2% to 3 1/.t

2Y:z to 2%

3 to 3'14

2.7

1994

3 to 3Yz

About 3

2% to3

2.7

1995

2%to3Y:z

3 to 3Y:!

31/a to 3%

2.7

1996

2% to 3Y4

2Y4 to 3

3 to 3~

3.1

Report in which projection was made
MEMO

to4

to 33/.t

February 26, 1997. Given the lags with which monetary policy affects the
economy, however, we cannot rule out a situation in which a preemptive
policy tightening may become appropriate before any sign of actual higher
inflation becomes evident. If the FOMC were to implement such an action, it
would be judging that the risks to the economic expansion of waiting longer
had increased unduly and had begun to outweigh the advantages of waiting
for uncertainties to be reduced by the accumulation of more information about
economic trends. Indeed, the hallmark of a successful policy to foster
sustainable economic growth is that inflation does not rise. I find it ironic that
our actions in 1994-95 were criticized by some because inflation did not tum
upward. That outcome, of course, was the intent of the tightening, and I am
satisfied that our actions then were both necessary and effective and helped to
foster the continued economic expansion.
The practice of announcing a change in the FOMC's policy stance right after the decision proved
to be another critical step in communication, as noted earlier. It no doubt signified the FOMC's
desire to be more transparent. To some extent, it also may have reflected responses both to the
earlier charges of "excessive secrecy" and to a climate in which stating explicitly that a rise in
the funds rate target had occurred was unlikely to foster potentially paralyzing political pressure.
Some criticism could well be heard, but without the credible threats of earlier decades of

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155

IV. The 1990s

Table 16 

Unemployment Rate: 

Central Tendency of Projections 

Presented in Humphrey-Hawkins Reports, 1990-96 

(Percent, fourth quarter) 

Year for
which
projection
was made

July of
previous year

February of
current year

July of
current year

Actual,
current year

1990

512 to 6

5Y2 to 5%

5Yz to 5%

5.9

1991

512 to 6

6Yz to 7

63/.i to 7

6.9

1992

61!4 to 612

6% to 7

7Y4 to 7Yz

7.3

1993

6Yz to 7

6% to 7

6%

6.5

1994

612 to 6%

612 to 63/.i

6 to 6 1
14

6.1

1995

6 to 6lf.a

About 5Yz

5% to 61/a

5.6

1996

5% to 6Va

5Y:! to 5%

About 512

5.3

Report in which projection was made
MEMO

legislation that would circumscribe the FOMC's makeup or scope for action. The absence of
such threats not only was good for the FOMC, of course, but it was good for the country as well.

Refining the Content of the Directive and the Immediate Announcement
Despite the change after Thanksgiving 1989 in the Desk's procedures to focus more single­
mindedly in practice on funds rate targeting, the operational paragraph of the directive continued
to refer to the Committee's selection of the "degree of pressure on reserve positions" as a
reference to the Committee's formal choice of the amount of adjustment plus seasonal
borrowing. Indeed, this reference in the directive, and in the forward-looking discussion in the
minutes, was not replaced by the numerical funds rate target until August 1997. The minutes
first characterized the "intended" numerical level of the federal funds rate over the previous
intermeeting period in May 1997. This part of the minutes referred to "expectations" for the
point estimate of the federal funds rate associated with the particular degree of pressure on
reserve positions initially in September 1995. And the immediate announcement explicitly
reported the numerical federal funds rate target first in July 1995.
Thus, official communications with the public only gradually came to transparently describe the
Committee's funds rate operating procedures. Perhaps the Committee was reluctant to be
forthcoming because rigid federal funds rate targeting had fallen into disrepute as too inflexible

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when inflation took off in the 1970s, although the distinction between moving the target level
flexibly in response to changing economic conditions versus allowing temporary day-to-day
volatility was not always clearly drawn by FOMC members over the years.
This section describes the evolution of these disclosures. The operational paragraph of the
directive at the December 18-19, 1989, meeting can be taken as the starting point for many of
these reforms.
In the implementation of policy for the immediate future, the Committee
seeks to decrease slightly the existing degree of pressure on reserve positions.
Taking account of progress toward price stability, the strength ofthe business
expansion, the behavior of the monetary aggregates, and developments in
foreign exchange and domestic financial markets, slightly greater reserve
restraint or slightly lesser reserve restraint would be acceptable in the
intermeeting period. The contemplated reserve conditions are expected to be
consistent with growth of M2 and M3 over the period from November
through March at annual rates of about 8lh and 5lh percent respectively. The
Chairman may call for Committee consultation if it appears to the Manager
for Domestic Operations that reserve conditions during the period before the
next meeting are likely to be associated with a federal funds rate persistently
outside a range of 6 to 10 percent.

Deleting the Range for the Federal Funds Rate
November 13, 1990
At its November 1990 meeting, the Committee decided to drop the last sentence, which after the
October meeting was, as was typical, still unchanged from late 1989 despite the '14 point policy
easing, to 8 percent, in July 1990. Indeed, the basic meaning ofthe sentence, which contained a
wide range for federal funds rate variation, dated to the operational paragraph agreed on at the
October 6, 1979, meeting, when the change to a nonborrowed reserves operating procedure
occurred. 179 At that meeting the Committee had widened the band from lh percentage point to 4
percentage points, though in the subsequent three years it chose a band as wide as 7 percentage
points. In December 1980, it had also modified the interpretation of the sentence from a
statement of allowable funds rate variation to a mechanism in which persistent trading outside
the range would trigger Committee consultation.
After the fall of 1982, when the Committee moved to borrowed reserves as a guide to operations,
the sentence was devoid of operational significance because funds rate changes, both intentional
and unintentional, were much smaller. The Committee instead relied on informal
understandings of what reserve market, financial, or economic conditions would call for
consultation, which in fact was reasonably frequent after that.

179. Messrs. Lindsey, Kohn, and Stem light, "Last Sentence of Operational Paragraph," memorandum to
Federal Open Market Committee, November 8, 1990.

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IV The 1990s

157

Because operational changes even before Thanksgiving 1989 had rendered the sentence an
obvious anachronism and because the Committee did not want to adopt a new sentence that
could constrain its flexibility to make policy adjustments in the intermeeting period, the
Committee decided to drop it altogether, although the background memorandum had provided
four other options. The policy record made clear that the deletion had no implications for the
ongoing conduct of monetary policy.
Considering More Automaticity in the Funds Rate
August 20, 1991
Although the Committee finally dropped the outdated last sentence on the funds rate band in the
operational paragraph in November 1990, it obviously retained some nostalgia for automatic
funds rate movements. Those movements had been pronounced from October 1979 to mid­
1982, then muted but still present over the rest of the 1980s; they finally disappeared under the
subsequent regime of solely discretionary changes in the targeted federal funds rate, which
began in late 1989. As Donald Kahn noted in a memorandum to the Committee on August 14,
1991, the FOMC could make the funds rate operating target fuzzier to allow for random
variations, for an intended range, or for a return to borrowed reserves targeting. The resulting
ambiguity could defuse an "announcement effect" but would risk market misperceptions of
FOMC intentions and inadvertent delays of policy implementation. Alternatively, the intended
funds rate could be tied to imperfectly predictable reserve or money demand. However, no
reserve or monetary aggregate seemed reliably enough connected with the objective variables to
warrant such an approach. 180
The Committee discussed these issues at its August 20, 1991, meeting. Although it made no
changes in operating procedures, it did support a conference at which research on the subject was
reviewed. That conference was convened on July 18-19, 1992, at the Federal Reserve Bank of
St. Louis. 181
Amending the Ranking of Policy Factors
December 17, 1991
The next major rewording of the directive was the modification to the sentence in the operational
paragraph listing the order of the factors that would guide possible intermeeting policy moves.
The part of the sentence in the operational paragraph ranking these factors that was adopted at
the previous meeting in November had reflected only minor editorial alterations since December
1989:

180. Donald Kohn, "Alternative Operating Procedures," August 14, 1991, cover memorandum to Federal Open
Market Committee for David Lindsey, "Alternative Operating Procedures," memorandum to Mr. Donald L. Kohn,
August 14, 1991, and for a letter from President Broaddus advocating more research into reserve-based operating
procedures.
181. Marvin Goodfriend and David H. Small, Special Issue Editors, "Operating Procedures and the Conduct of
Monetary Policy: Conference Proceedings," Finance and Econom1cs Discussion Senes, March 1993.

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A Modern History ofFOMC Communicatwn: 1975-2002

Depending upon progress toward price stability, trends in economic activity,
the behavior of the monetary aggregates, and developments in foreign
exchange and domestic financial markets, ...
The FOMC in December modified the language to imply more focus on long-term goals and the
general factors affecting intermeeting adjustments and less focus in the directive itself on the
ranking of the factors:
In the context of the Committee's long-run objectives for price stability and
sustainable economic growth, and giving careful consideration to economic,
financial, and monetary developments, ...
The FOMC had begun to rank the relative importance of the various factors affecting possible
intermeeting policy adjustments at its March 26, 1985, meeting. 182 As Governor Robert Heller
explained in a speech in April 1988 and then in an article in the Federal Reserve Bulletin in July
of the same year, the Committee had frequently adjusted the order of the list as their concerns
about economic and financial developments varied. 183 From March 1985 until December 1991,
the final date that Governor Heller used, the Committee had made nine changes to the order.
As shown in table 17, which updates Governor Heller's table, the FOMC had changed the order
of the factors only two times since his speech. Indeed, the order seemed frozen in place after
August 1988, when the "behavior ofthe monetary aggregates" had been moved ahead of
"developments in foreign exchange and domestic financial markets." The subsequent years with
an unchanged order, starting with "progress toward price stability," included the recession from
the peak in July 1990 to the trough in March 1991 and the following subdued expansion.
Governor Kelley wrote a memorandum to Chairman Greenspan in May 1991, which raised
questions about this part of the sentence:
Earlier this spring, I suggested to the FOMC that the rank order currently in
place might no longer be factually accurate. The notion received no support.
Perhaps all members, other than myself, felt then and may still feel that this
presentation continues to be accurate. If so, fine. However, other possible
reasons for not considering any change may exist, and if this is the case, a
review may be in order. 184
He offered another possible reason during the discussion on the issue at the FOMC's August 20,
1991 , meeting.

182. Matt Luecke, "FOMC Directive Wording: Order ofPolicy Variables Conditioning Reserve Pressure,"
memorandum to Dave Lindsey, December 20, 2002.
183. H. Robert Heller, "Implementing Monetary Policy," Federal Reserve Bulletin, vol. 74, part 2, July 1988,
p. 428.
184. Edward W. Kelley, "Operational Paragraph of FOMC Domestic Policy Directive," memorandum to
Chatrman Greenspan, May 20, 1991.

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A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Chairman Greenspan. I'd just like to add that it doesn't necessarily follow
that holding that list of objectives constant through that period of ups and
downs is necessarily a contradiction.
Mr. Kelley. No, absolutely.
Chairman Greenspan. You can create that type of phenomenon. The issue is:
Does that occur consciously or has it just become a mantra of some kind for
us?
Mr. Kelley. Well, one rationale by which it could have been actively kept that
way is for this Committee to have decided that it permanently wants to keep
absolutely preeminent under any conditions this focus on price level stability.
And if that's what we want to do, then to me there is a better way to express it
rather than to continue to imply that there's a rank order and that somehow or
other price stability inevitably comes first. 185
In a memorandum to Governor Kelley, however, Donald Kohn suggested another possible
reason for the recent constancy of wording.

Members seem reluctant to modify directive language at FOMC meetings. In
part, this may be because such suggestions typically are made at the very end
of the meeting, after the decisions have already been made about the stance of
policy immediately following the meeting and about the "tilt" to the
intermeeting language. One concern may be that delicately balanced
compromises among members and between members and their consciences
may come undone in the process of debating changes in language. 186
When the FOMC discussed this issue at the August meeting, Vice Chairman
Corrigan and Chairman Greenspan offered a similar explanation that focused on the
practicalities of reaching a decision in the context of a large meeting:

Vice Chairman Corrigan . ... I fear that if we got into the practice of
managing the rank order as part of the normal deliberative process of the
Committee, it could be disruptive to the policy process. For example, I think
it would be terrible if we ended up with a situation in which the Committee
couldn't reach a reasonable conclusion about the thrust of policy because of a
great debate as to what should be number two versus what should be number
three or number four versus number two. If we were going to move in the
direction of what Mike Kelley has characterized as an active management of

185. Transcript ofthe August 20, 1991, FOMC meeting, p. II.
186. Donald L. Kohn, "Implementation of Alternative Approaches to Intermeeting Adjustment Wording,"
memorandum to Governor Kelley, August 14, 1991, p. 1.

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159

IV The 1990s 	

Table 17 

Order of Variables Conditioning Reserve Pressure 

in the Directive Issued at FOMC Meetings, 1985-91 

First

Second

Mar. 1985 1
to July 1985

Monetary
aggregates

Strength of
expansion

Aug. 1985
to Apr. 1986

Monetary
aggregates

May 1986

Meetings

Third

Fifth

Fourth

Inflation

Credit market
conditions

Exchange
rates

Strength of
expansion

Exchange
rates

Inflation

Credit market
conditions

Monetary
aggregates

Strength of
expansiOn

Financial
market
conditions

Exchange
rates

n.s.

July 1986
to Feb. 1987

Monetary
aggregates

Strength of
expansion

Exchange
rates

Inflation

Credit market
conditions

Mar. 1987 	

Exchange
rates

Monetary
aggregates

Strength of
expansion

Inflation

Credit market
conditions

May 1987

Inflation 	

Exchange
rates

Monetary
aggregates

Strength of
expansion

n.s.

July 1987

Inflation 	

Monetary
aggregates

Strength of
expansion

n.s.

n.s.

Aug. 1987
to Sept. 1987

Inflation

Strength of
expansion

Exchange
rates

Monetary
aggregates

n.s.

Nov. 1987
to May 1988

Financial
market
conditions

Strength of
expansion

Inflation

Exchange
rates

Monetary
aggregates

June 1988

Inflation

Strength of
expansion

Exchange
rates

Financial
market
conditions

Monetary
aggregates

Aug. 1988
to Nov. 1991

Inflation

Strength of
expansion 2

Monetary
aggregates

Exchange
rates

Financial
market
conditions

I. The directive issued at the March 1985 meeting was left out of the article by Governor H. Robert Heller,
"Implementing Monetary Policy," Federal Reserve Bulletin, July 1988. It was, however, included in the May 20,
1991, memo from Governor Edward W. Kelley, Jr., to Chairman Alan Greenspan.
2. Starting on December 18, 1990, "trends in econom1c activity" was used in place of "the strength m business
expansion."
n.s. Not stated.

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IV The 1990s

161

the rank order, the only way I can see that can be done without running the
risk of disrupting the normal consensus-building process within the
Committee would be in a context in which there would be a consensus on that
point after the policy directive itself had already been voted on. The thought
of inviting dissents over what is number three versus number two I think
could be very disruptive.

Chairman Greenspan. Well, the problem there is that just procedurally, if
you have, let's say, a list of five items and a Committee this large to make a
judgment, the time frame required to solve that matrix-­
Vice Chairman Corrigan. That's my point.
Chairman Greenspan. --goes way beyond lunch, dinner, and whatever 

else.... 187 

After an inconclusive discussion, Governor Kelley was asked to prepare a memorandum giving
alternatives based on the members' views. 188 This memorandum, dated September 25, reported
an inconclusive result of the poll. 189 For the December meeting, a Bluebook annex presented
three revised alternatives for Committee consideration, which included, besides the status quo
and the wording chosen, deleting any reference in the operating paragraph to the reasons for
possible intermeeting action. The Bluebook discussion of the status quo alternative of keeping
the ranking of factors noted the possibility of
... moving the reference to trends in economic activity to the head of the list.
Because the sentence on intermeeting adjustments is in the operational
paragraph, a change in ordering could be viewed as desirable if the
Committee had as its near-term priority promoting a pickup in the economy
and wished to emphasize that point. 190
The Committee's decision in effect eliminated the Committee's choice at each meeting of
wording in the operating paragraph about the order of these factors because the words
"economic, financial, and monetary developments" were to remain unchanged. Of course, the
understandings reached at meetings regarding their relative importance, the conditions that
would warrant consultation, and reasons for the direction of the "tilt" itself would continue to be
explained in the policy record of the meeting.

187. Transcript of the August 20, 1991, FOMC meeting, p. 12.
188. Normand Bernard, "Decision at December 1991 meeting to change intermeeting sentence in operational
paragraph," memorandum to Secretariat Files, June 22, 1992.
189. Governor Kelley, "Survey of Views on Intermeeting Adjustment Sentence," September 25, 1991.
190. Bluebook Annex, December 13, 1991, p. 18.

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Removing a Quantitative Short-Run M2 Range from the Operational Paragraph
February 2-3, 1993
The FOMC meeting at which the monetary aggregates were further downgraded was also the
one at which the quantitative short-run outlook for money growth in the last sentence of the
operational paragraph of the directive was replaced by a qualitative description. The last
sentence for the December 1992 meeting had read:
The contemplated reserve conditions are expected to be consistent with M2
growing at a rate of around 11 percent and M3 about unchanged in the period
12
from November through March.
The reason for initially dropping the quantitative money forecast appears to have been that the
arrival of new data caused the projected growth rates for M2 and M3 both to be close to zero!
The transcript of the February 2-3, 1993, meeting contains the following:

Chairman Greenspan. [Don Kohn has] suggested alternative language for the
operational paragraph .... Norm, why don't you read it.
Mr. Bernard... . "The contemplated reserve conditions are expected to be
consistent with ..." And substituting for the rest of that sentence would be
"little change in M2 and M3 over the period from January to March."
Mr. Lindsey. How little is the change?
Mr. Kohn. In the Bluebook we had a small plus for M2 and a small minus for
M3 .... Now, I guess it probably would be about zero for M2 and -.8 percent
or something like that for M3.
Mr. Lindsey. That's little.
Mr. Kohn. That's at an annual rate! 191
Nevertheless, the revision to the wording in February 1993 was permanent in that, although
expectations of positive monetary growth would return, explicit numerical growth rate
specifications never reappeared in the entire time before the sentence was dropped in December
1998.
Introducing the Immediate Announcement
February 4, 1994
The FOMC took a major step in communicating its current policy stance to the public by
introducing an immediate announcement of a change in its policy stance in early February 1994,

191. Transcript ofthe February 2-3, 1993, FOMC meeting, p. 58. Mr. Lindsey here is Governor Lawrence
Lindsey.

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IV. The I 990s

163

although the statement still did not refer explicitly to the numerical target for the federal funds
rate. Just after the Committee's unanimous vote to tighten by 25 basis points, Chairman
Greenspan read the draft announcement to the Committee:
Chairman Alan Greenspan announced today that the Federal Open Market
Committee decided to increase slightly the degree of pressure on reserve
positions. The action is expected to be associated with a small increase in
short-term money market interest rates.
The decision was taken to move toward a less accommodative stance in
monetary policy in order to sustain and enhance the economic expansion.
Chairman Greenspan decided to announce this action immediately so as to
avoid any misunderstanding of the Committee's purposes, given the fact that
this is the first firming of reserve market conditions by the Committee since
early 1989.
These words were released to the public before 11 :00 a.m. The minutes subsequently
supplemented the rationale for the immediate announcement:
Because this would be the first tightening policy action in a long time, it was
likely to attract considerable attention. The Committee did not intend this
announcement to set any precedents or to imply any commitments regarding
the announcement of its decisions in the future. That matter would be
reviewed along with other issues relating to the disclosure of Committee
information at a later meeting.
As background, it is also worth remembering that the debate with Representative Gonzalez had
just occurred amid accusations of excessive secrecy. And as late as December 16, 1993,
Governor Mullins in a cover note to a memorandum to the Committee indicated that his
subcommittee favored an immediate announcement of policy decisions, though it was split on
whether to include the tilt. 192 As discussed earlier, of all the possible options considered, the
Committee from the start had been most favorably disposed to an immediate announcement of
the policy stance that it had just decided upon.
Using Immediate Announcements
March 22, 1994-February l, 1995
Immediate announcements of six more tightening actions were made over the next twelve
months. The first two in March and April involved '14 percentage point upward adjustments to
the intended funds rate and were worded virtually identically to the first paragraph of the
February announcement. Both May and August announcements indicated that an increase of V2

192. David Mullins, "FOMC Infonnation Release," memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee,
December 16, 1993, pp. 1-3.

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percentage point in the discount rate would "show through" completely to interest rates in
reserve markets. The final two announcements were of increases of% percentage point and Y2
percentage point in the discount rate on November 15, 1994, and February 1, 1995, respectively,
that were to be "reflected fully" in reserve markets. Both announcements were longer and
characterized either the current thrust of monetary policy or, obliquely, the possibility and timing
of a future action.

Formalizing Rules for Immediate Announcements
February 2, 1995
One day after the last announcement, on February 2, 1995, the Federal Reserve issued a press
release with the formal procedures for disclosing policy decisions that the FOMC had adopted at
its recently concluded meeting. The FOMC had followed these procedures over the previous
year. Concerning the immediate announcement, the Committee decided to
[a]nnounce each change in the stance of monetary policy, including
intermeeting changes, the day they are made. When no change is made at a
meeting, the Committee will normally just announce when the meeting ended
and that there are no further announcements. However, in some infrequent
circumstances, the Committee might decide to issue a statement even when no
policy action is taken.
As the minutes of the meeting noted, the immediate announcement of a policy change
removes any uncertainty about the Committee's intentions in regard to reserve
conditions and enables all financial market participants and others to receive
the information at the same time.

Giving the Funds Rate Target in the Immediate Announcement
July 6, 1995
This step, though heightening clarity, was somewhat of an anti-climax in that the public had
already inferred the Committee's funds rate target immediately from the announcements after
early February 1994 and, before that, with a day or two lag from the Desk's signals in
conducting open market operations, especially after Thanksgiving 1989. Indeed, the transcripts
reveal that the inclusion of the numerical funds rate target elicited no comment whatsoever on
this feature from Board members and Reserve Bank presidents when Chairman Greenspan read
the press release for July 6, 1995, to FOMC members. Similarly anti-climactic was the inclusion
of an explicit federal funds rate in the minutes-in the retrospective part as an expectation in
September of that year and as an intention in May 1997 and in the operational paragraph as an
intention in August 1997.
Accelerating Release of the Directive by One Day
February 4-5, 1997
In a modification to the procedure for the minutes, and thus for the directives they contained, the
Committee decided to move up the time of their release from the Friday to the Thursday after the
next meeting and from 4:30p.m. to 2:00p.m. As Chairman Greenspan explained to the

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Committee, this action was taken "to give more emphasis to a key policy report ...." 193 At a
practical level, moving up the release ensured that it would be made public when more financial
markets were open and liquidity was deeper.
Giving the Funds Rate Target in the Operational Paragraph
August 19, 1997
In its operational paragraph in July 1997, the FOMC used, as before, the following words:
In the implementation of policy for immediate future, the Committee seeks to
maintain the existing degree of pressure on reserve positions. . .. , somewhat
greater reserve restraint would or slightly lesser reserve restraint might be
acceptable in the intermeeting period ....

In August, it replaced those words with the following:
In the implementation of policy for the immediate future, the Committee
seeks conditions in reserve markets consistent with maintaining the federal
funds rate at an average of around 5-112 percent. ... a somewhat higher
federal funds rate would or a slightly lower federal funds rate might be
acceptable in the intermeeting period.

As the minutes indicated, the changes to the first sentence served to "conform the directive
wording with current public announcement practices regarding the Committee's policy
decisions." A memorandum from Donald Kohn dated August 14, 1997, and the Bluebook of
August 15, 1997, presented some more-complicated alternatives for the second sentence about
possible intermeeting adjustments, involving deleting the choices of "somewhat" or "slightly"
and "would" or "might," but the Committee chose a simple adjustment. As the minutes further
reported:
The Committee also modified the present sentence relating to the intermeeting
bias in the directive to recognize that changes in the stance of policy are now
expressed in terms of the federal funds rate. These changes were not intended
to alter the substance of the directive or the Committee's operating
procedures.
Amending the Tilt Wording and Deleting the Qualitative Money Sentence
December 22, 1998
The minutes released on February 4, 1999, for the December 1998 meeting conveyed the
Committee's decision to replace the "somewhat/slightly," and "would/might" construction to
express the type of tilt in the operational paragraph with an "equally likely/more likely"
construction. The Committee members agreed that the new language, according to the minutes

193. Transcnpt of the February ~5, 1995, FOMC meeting, p. 16.

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of the December 1998 meeting, "would communicate more clearly and succinctly the substance
of the Committee's policy decisions."
The status quo option for choosing the language of the operational paragraph would have been
patterned on the paragraph used at the November 17, 1998, meeting:
In the implementation of policy for the immediate future, the Committee
seeks conditions in reserve markets consistent with maintaining/increasing/
decreasing the federal funds rate at/to an average of around _ percent. In
the context of the Committee's long-run objectives for price stability and
sustainable economic growth, and giving careful consideration to economic,
financial, and monetary developments, a slightly/somewhat higher federal
funds rate would/might or a slightly/somewhat lower federal funds rate
would/might be acceptable in the intermeeting period. The contemplated
reserve conditions are expected to be consistent with moderate/some
moderation in/some pickup in the growth in M2 and M3 over coming months.
[italics mine]
In the event, the Committee decided that henceforth it would select words from the
following replacement paragraph:

To promote the Committee's long-run objectives of price stability and
sustainable economic growth, the Committee in the immediate future seeks
conditions in reserve markets consistent with maintaining/increasing/
decreasing the federal funds rate at/to an average of around _ percent. In
view of the evidence currently available, the Committee believes that
prospective developments are [equally likely to warrant an increase or a
decrease [(NO TILT)]; [more likely to warrant an increase/a decrease than a
decrease/an increase [(TILT)] in the federal funds rate operating objective
during the intermeeting period.
The choices in the tilt sentence between "somewhat" or "slightly" and "would" or "might" had
enjoyed an illustrious history at the Federal Reserve, having been introduced into the FOMC's
directive on November 15, 1983. The Committee's transcript for its September 29, 1998,
meeting contains the following comment from Governor Kelley on this matter.

Mr. Kelley . ... On the rewording of the directive, truth to tell I like the
existing language and I would be a little sad to see it go. Everyone who is
interested and needs to know understands it perfectly well, and more
importantly it constitutes a bit of quaint Americana that we should cherish.
(Laughter) 194

194. Transcript ofthe September 29, 1998, FOMC meeting, p. 15.

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However, Board Vice Chainnan Alice Rivlin had already delivered the "kiss of death" to the
wording at the July 1, 1998, meeting:
Ms. Rivlin . ... I would amend the wording of this directive. I do not have a
proposal right now, but it is mysterious in the extreme. Every time I hear it, I
have a little difficulty not laughing. (Laughter) ...
Chairman Greenspan. . . . If you can figure out a way to get the directive
rewritten, everyone around this table, or a majority at least, would agree that
would be a great accomplishment. We tried several times to improve the
paragraph, but without success. The current wording is awful. We all agree it
is awful, but the trouble is we all agree it is awful in different ways.
(Laughter)
Ms. Rivlin. Let us try again!
Vice Chairman McDonough. If you succeed, you could be a candidate for one
of three Nobel prizes: literature, economics, or peace. (Laughter) 195
In a memorandum prepared for that discussion, the staff had written: "The current [tilt] sentence 

doesn't quite mean what it says and doesn't quite say what it means." 196 

For the FOMC's November 17, 1998, meeting, a staff memorandum and the Bluebook presented 

revised alternatives for the wording of the tilt sentence. 197 The Committee engaged at that 

meeting in a nearly final discussion of the issue. 198 At the December 22 meeting it then amended 

the wording of the "tilt." 

At the same meeting, the Committee agreed to delete the sentence containing a 

qualitative description of expected M2 and M3 growth, because, as the minutes indicated, 

money growth had not had any special significance for some time in the
formulation of monetary policy owing to often unexplained and unexpected
changes in velocity. The rewording of the sentence on symmetry and the
deletion of the sentence on money were not intended to imply any change in
policy or the Committee's approach to policy or its decisionmaking.

195. Transcript of the July 1, 1998, FOMC meeting, pp. 165, 166.
196. David Lindsey, "Alternatives for FOMC Disclosure Policy," memorandum to Federal Open Market
Committee, May 12, 1998, p. 29. (Donald Kohn actually originated this sentence.)
197. Dav1d Lindsey, "Directive Tilt Sentence Language," memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee,
November 5, 1998, and Bluebook, November 13, 1998, pp. 15 and 16.
198. Bonnie Garrett, "Summary of November 17, 1998, FOMC Discussion of Alternative Wordings for the
Operational Paragraph of the Directive," memorandum to FOMC Secretariat Files, March 31, 1999.

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Changes like this one, or the modification of the bias sentence to refer to the intended federal
funds rate in August 1997, or the elimination of the sentence with a wide funds rate range in
November 1990 had no implications for the ongoing conduct of policy, as the minutes or policy
records said. They were designed to bring public FOMC statements into conformity with long­
standing Committee practice, but they were positive steps in the direction of transparency.

Announcing Major Shifts of View without a Policy Change Infrequently
December 22, 1998
The Committee also indicated on February 4, 1999, in the minutes of this December meeting that
it had decided to implement its policy stated after the February 1995 meeting of releasing in
some infrequently occurring circumstances an immediate announcement even when its policy
stance was unchanged.
The possibility of an immediate announcement without a policy action had been under
consideration by the Committee for some time that year, having been raised by President Robert
Parry at the March 31, 1998, meeting:
Mr. Parry . ... I have a question. It relates to my recollection that when we
talked about how we were going to handle the public announcement of a no­
change decision, we discussed the possibility of making a statement to
accompany such an announcement. If one thinks that economic developments
are moving in a direction where it is likely that a change in policy would
occur--say, at the next meeting--and given that you have stressed the
importance of laying a foundation for a policy change, the adoption of
asymmetry clearly could lay a foundation. But under our current procedures
the asymmetry is announced two days after the next meeting, so the public is
not put on notice on a timely basis. I wonder if there is some virtue to making
a statement in our announcement about the strength of the economy. 199

Later in that meeting, several opinions on the subject were expressed by the various members,
and Chairman Greenspan said that a further discussion of these issues at a later meeting would
be "worthwhile." (At the March 1998 meeting, the Committee also switched from a symmetric
tilt to one that was asymmetric toward tightening, a decision that was prematurely disclosed to
the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.)
Based on the discussion at the March meeting, the staff undertook a study of options for FOMC
meetings at which the stance of policy was kept unchanged. Among the options considered were
additional announcements of a few sentences and the release of the operational paragraph when
the tilt was changed. 200 These staff documents offered a background discussion of how the
Committee had employed the tilt over the years.
199. Transcript of the March 31, 1998, FOMC meeting, pp. 77, 78.
200. Donald Kohn, "Agenda Item on Alternatives for FOMC Disclosure Policy for the May meeting," a cover
memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee, May 12, 1998, for David Lindsey, "Alternatives for FOMC
Disclosure Policy," memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee, May 12, 1998.

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IV. The I 990s

While the regular use of tilts in the directive was initiated in 1983, no
intermeeting change in the FOMC's policy stance, apart from adjustments to
the discount rate, was implemented untill985; starting at that time,
intermeeting changes in the assumption for borrowing at the discount
window--with implications for the federal funds rate--began to be made upon
occasion. Intermeeting policy moves soon became more common than
actions at meetings, arguably helping to counter the tendency toward
excessive inertia that had plagued monetary policy decisionmaking in the
1970s.
Especially before intermeeting moves fell into disuse after April 1994, the tilt
in the operating paragraph of the directive was used to provide Committee
guidance to the Chairman about its predisposition toward intenneeting policy
actions. The Committee never spelled out exactly what the directive language
expressing the tilt meant; indeed, the directive needed to be interpreted in
light of the discussion at the meeting, which was one reason for delaying its
release until the Minutes were published. In general, however, Committee
members understood that:
a. A symmetric policy directive was used to convey the Committee's
sentiment that incoming information on the economy over the
intermeeting period should be interpreted with no predilection as to the
probable direction of appropriate policy response. With risks seen as
balanced, a symmetric directive also frequently represented a
Committee disinclination to move in either an easing or [a] tightening
direction over the intermeeting period. Action was not ruled out,
however, in response to significant and unexpected incoming
information. Unless the information were very compelling and
unambiguous, the Committee expected to be consulted before any
intermeeting change.
b. An asymmetric policy directive, toward either easing or tightening
of the Committee's policy stance, was used to convey the Committee's
intention that the Chairman should filter the incoming information
with a predisposition toward either an easing or a tightening response.
In other words, the Chairman would not have required as definitive a
set of incoming evidence with an asymmetric tilt as with a neutral tilt
to implement an easing or a tightening decision, and prior consultation
with the Committee, especially for one small move in the expected
direction, was not seen to be as warranted under an asymmetric
directive.
Against this procedural background, the Committee believed that the
immediate release of the tilt could have undesirable market consequences that
could tend to feed back adversely on Committee decisionmaking by

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hampering the Committee's willingness to adopt asymmetric directives.
Instead, knowing that the directive would not be released until after the next
FOMC meeting, the Committee did not need to worry that market participants
would learn about a switch from symmetry to asymmetry, say toward
tightening, and react by firming market interest rates immediately upon the
announcement by building in greater odds of a policy tightening. Without
immediate release, the Committee could switch the tilt, say toward tightening,
before it had reached the point of deciding that an actual firming of financial
conditions was warranted as yet. The Committee might prefer to wait for
clearer economic signals before a decision was made to actually change its
policy stance, but at the same time want to instruct the Chairman to be
especially alert to evidence that would justifY a policy tightening. 201
Donald Kohn led off the July 1, 1998, discussion by framing the issues. As he noted, "The
desire for more explanation comes from within the Committee. There is no real outside pressure
for more or earlier release ofinformation."202 The Committee's discussion at that meeting was
inconclusive. 203 (The Committee at that June-July meeting also switched back to a symmetric
tilt, a decision initially revealed in a speech at Berkeley by Chairman Greenspan, after he had
consulted with his colleagues at Jackson Hole.)
For the September meeting, the staff attempted to narrow the options. 204 The FOMC again
reached no conclusion about enhancing immediate announcements or publishing the minutes
before the next meeting. 205 In hopes of further narrowing the differences of the Committee, the
Chairman asked the staff to examine other implications of changes in disclosure practices.
By the December meeting the Committee was ready to reach a compromise on the issue of
greater immediate disclosure. 206 Chairman Greenspan's introduction of the subject indicated that
Committee members had staked out two different positions in their previous discussions:
Chairman Greenspan . ... The Committee has had two very productive
discussions this year on disclosure issues other than the tilt language, at the
June-July meeting and the September meeting. However, the Committee's

201. David Lindsey, "Alternatives for FOMC Disclosure Policy," memorandum to Federal Open Market
Committee, May 12, 1998, pp. 4-6.
202. Transcript of the June 30--July 1, 1998, FOMC meeting, p. 151.
203. A useful summary and compendmm of memoranda and transcripts for this meeting are contained in
Bonnie Garrett, "Summary of July 1, 1998, FOMC Discussion of Alternatives for FOMC Disclosure Policy,"
memorandum to FOMC Secretariat Files, March 26, 1999, and for later meetings that year in subsequent memoranda
of hers.
204. Donald Kohn, David Lindsey, and Brian Madigan, "Timing of Tilt and Minutes Disclosure and Wording
of the Tilt Sentence," memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee, September 24, 1998.
205. Bonnie Garrett, "Summary ofSeptember 29, 1998, FOMC Discussion of Alternatives for FOMC
Disclosure Policy," memorandum to FOMC Secretariat Files, March 26, 1999.
206. Bonnie Garrett, "Summary of December 22, 1998, FOMC Discussion of Disclosure Policy Including the
Operating Paragraph of the Directive," memorandum to FOMC Secretariat Files, April 1, 1999.

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views seem to have evolved mainly into two disparate positions, both of
which have presented very cogent arguments in their favor. One group, a
small majority of the 18 governors and presidents, supports: (1) releasing the
operating paragraph of the directive, which includes the tilt, immediately after
every FOMC meeting: (2) releasing a brief announcement immediately after
those meetings in which either the policy stance or the tilt is changed; and (3)
releasing the minutes of the meeting as soon as feasible after every FOMC
meeting, presumably a couple of weeks earlier than now.
Another group, a sizable minority, advocates keeping the status quo in all
these respects. That is, the operating paragraph would continue to be released
along with the minutes after the next meeting, and immediate announcements
would routinely be made only after policy changes.
Finally, two presidents would drop the tilt entirely from the operating 

paragraph. 207 

The former group based its position on several perspectives. First, a vote to leave the stance of
policy unchanged is as much a decision as one that alters the funds rate, and it also warrants an
immediate explanation. Second, a selection as important as that of the tilt, which is voted on by
the FOMC at each meeting as a part of the operational paragraph, should be disclosed
immediately because, without a compelling case of a threat to the deliberative process,
transparency both has value in itself in a democratic society and is the foundation for
accountability. Third, markets work better with more information, and so by better revealing its
thinking through immediate release of the operational paragraph, more frequent announcements,
and earlier publication of the minutes, the Committee would aid market functioning. Fourth, the
FOMC could more effectively "prepare the markets" for policy moves by having its intentions
more accurately reflected in market prices, and market participants would interpret incoming
data more in line with the FOMC's current thinking. Fifth, immediate disclosure of the
operational paragraph would solve the problem that had plagued the Committee for some time of
unauthorized disclosure of the tilt-whether through an intentional leak or, more likely, through
inadvertence. Sixth, enhanced disclosure could avoid the problem of market participants getting
information at different times.
The latter group was represented initially by President Boehne and Governor Kelley, who were
veterans of the subcommittee on disclosure. That subcommittee also included President Melzer
and Governor Mullins, who was appointed its chairman in December 1992. In July 1994,
Governor Blinder replaced Governor Mullins as chairman. On July 1, 1998, President Boehne
and Governor Kelley opened the FOMC's discussion with extended statements. They made a
number of points in defending the status quo, some of which proved to be prophetic in 1999
when the FOMC began to release the tilt immediately.

207. Transcript of the December 22, 1998, FOMC meeting, p. 73.

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In the various 1998 Committee discussions, the following reasons had been advanced by
President Boehne and Governor Kelley and some other FOMC members in favor of the status
quo: First, immediate release of the tilt, which describes the conditions under which a
contingent decision would be made, would not be advisable because it could induce an
immediate market reaction, when the Committee might not be ready to see interest rates change.
Second, experience had revealed that the tilt did not provide a reliable guide to imminent policy
actions, and so releasing it immediately, when it was still operative, could send a misleading
message if conditions were to develop in a manner inconsistent with the implications of the
tilt. 208 Third, the meaning of the tilt is ambiguous, even among the members of the Committee;
this ambiguity might not be consequential when delayed publication made the tilt "old news,"
but it would border on "misinformation" if the tilt were released right away. Fourth, for both
reasons, immediate release of the tilt would feed back on Committee deliberations by inducing
the participants to avoid asymmetry altogether. 209 Fifth, as a result, the Committee would lose a
consensus-building tool that had helped avoid a hardening of positions, which is especially
important for a Committee whose decisions are typically "collective" rather than
"individualistic." Sixth, another result might be that the Committee would become excessively
slow in moving its policy instrument, as it was in the 1970s, because the absence of an
asymmetry at one meeting would not encourage a change in the stance of policy through the next
meeting.

The transcript of the meeting indicates that Chairman Greenspan proposed "a compromise
solution, which we can try out on an experimental basis at least for the time being. That
compromise ... I may say was crafted by Don Kohn in a Solomonesque insight."210 The
minutes of the meeting reported:
the members decided to implement the previously stated policy of releasing,
on an infrequent basis, an announcement immediately after certain FOMC
meetings when the stance of monetary policy remained unchanged.
Specifically, the Committee would do so on those occasions when it wanted
to communicate to the public a major shift in its views about the balance of
risks or the likely direction of future policy. Such announcements would not

208. Governor Kelley noted that only 80 out of 152 decisions on the funds rate setting at or between meetings
since 1984, or only some 53 percent, were accurately predicted by the direction of the tilt in force at the time. He
asserted that "fifty-fifty would be perfectly worthless in this analysis." (Transcript of the June 31-July 1, 1998,
FOMC meeting, p. 158.) The judgment about the information content of the tilt depends on the perspective adopted.
One is whether or not the policy stance is altered, that is, two options. Another is whether the policy stance is raised,
lowered, or held steady, that is, three options. For an update of the facts cited by Governor Kelley, see tables 18 and
19.
209. As has been discussed, this case against the immediate disclosure of contingencies dates back to Chairman
Volcker's letter to Representative Fauntroy on August 24, 1984, composed soon after the contingent tilt was
introduced in the operational paragraph on November 15, 1983. Subsequently, the argument was stated clearly in
the letter from Chairman Greenspan to Representative Neal on September 23, 1991, and in the testimony by
Chainnan Greenspan to the House Banking Committee on October 13, 1993. See Federal Reserve Bulletin,
December 1993, pp. 11 OS and 1106.
210. Transcript ofthe December 22, 1998, FOMC meeting, p. 74.

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be made after every change in the symmetry of the directive but only when it
seemed important for the public to be aware of an important shift in the
members' views. On the basis of experience with such announcements, the
Committee would evaluate later whether further changes in its approach to
disclosures would be desirable.

Announcing a Change in the Tilt Immediately
May 18,1999
The Committee implemented the new announcement procedures after the May 1999 meeting.
The announcement read:
While the FOMC did not take action today to alter the stance of monetary
policy, the Committee was concerned about the potential for a buildup of
inflationary imbalances that could undermine the favorable performance of
the economy and therefore adopted a directive that is tilted toward the
possibility of a firming in the stance of monetary policy. Trend increases in
costs and core prices have generally remained quite subdued. But domestic
financial markets have recovered and foreign economic prospects have
improved since the easing of monetary policy last fall. Against the
background of already-tight domestic labor markets and ongoing strength in
demand in excess of productivity gains, the Committee recognizes the need to
be alert to developments over coming months that might indicate that
financial conditions may no longer be consistent with containing inflation.
The initial reaction in financial markets was limited, but later in the month an overreaction began
to set in. On May 27, the Trading Desk's Afternoon Markets Briefing noted:
U.S. Treasury prices fell across the coupon curve after a prominent
consultancy issued a report suggesting that the FOMC is likely to raise rates
more aggressively than many previously believed.
The reference related to Richard Medley's "07 Special Report" that came out on that day,
entitled "Fed Targets Demand; Ready to Move":
Federal Reserve officials make it clear that their decision to move toward a
bias was driven primarily by the relentless series of data showing that real
demand in the U.S. economy is outstripping the combination of productivity
gains and population growth ....
Only slowing economic growth or a clear indication that productivity 

increases can finance the continued growth will keep the Fed on hold .... 

[A]nother repeat ofthe CPI shock would guarantee hikes ....

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[U]nless the data in June give Fed officials good reason to believe the long­
awaited slowing has arrived, the "hard bias" of last Tuesday makes it likely
rates will rise and there is nothing ruling out a move as soon as June.
Finally, officials note that "we saw nothing definitive in the numbers going
into last week's meeting or we would have moved to raise rates. Now we're
on heightened alert and the bias is that we are more likely to raise rates at the
next meeting than to leave them steady, unless the data show us that slowing
of demand is finally happening." ... 211
The last paragraph in this quotation was especially damaging because it was misleading. The
operating paragraph of the directive adopted by the FOMC on May 18 had said:
In view of the evidence currently available, the Committee believes that 

prospective developments are more likely to warrant an increase than a 

decrease in the federal funds rate during the intermeeting period. 


Although the interval covered may have been become imprecise since July 1993, the meaning of
an upward tilt in terms of the probability of a subsequent policy move had always been that a
tightening was more likely than an easing instead of more likely than leaving rates steady. The
latter construction clearly has a more hawkish cast.
In terms of market reaction, the rocky introduction of the new disclosure policy did not seem to
get smoother as the rest of the year unfolded. As the Wall Street Journal reported in December:

"This has pretty much been a failed experiment," said David Jones, chief
economist with Aubrey G. Langston & Co., a New York investment banlc
"This may have been a step too far in transparency...." 212
Jones just before had recounted the reception in financial markets from the point of view of an
investor to the succession of immediate tilt announcements:
Much to Fed officials' dismay ... financial market participants responded to
the immediate announcement of an asymmetrical directive negatively, with
bond and stock market selloffs as though the Fed had actually changed its
policy stance. Partly to compensate for this market overreaction and partly to
fulfill the wishes of a narrow majority, the Fed announced a shift to a
symmetrical directive at the following June FOMC meeting while, at the same
time, hiking its funds rate target by one-quarter percentage point. Again
financial market participants overreacted, this time with contrasting vigorous

211. Richard Medley, "G7 Special Report," May 27, 1999, p. 1.
212. Jacob M. Schlesinger, "Fed to Revise Approach to Rate 'Bias'," The Wall Street Journal, December 12,
1999, p. A3.

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rallies in both the bond and stock markets on the incorrect assumption that no
further Fed tightening moves would be forthcoming.
At the succeeding August FOMC meeting, the Fed hiked both its funds rate
target and the discount rate each by an additional one-quarter percentage point
while maintaining the same symmetrical directive agreed upon at the June
meeting. Moreover, Fed officials again misled market participants into
believing this was the last of the Fed tightening moves by indicating in their
official statement that the two tightening steps in June and August, combined
with a general firming in financial market conditions over recent months[,]
"should markedly diminish the risk of rising inflation going forward." Again
market participants grossly overreacted in rallying in both the bond and stock
markets, pushing 30-year Treasury bond yields sharply lower to 5.86% and
lifting stock prices to a new record level the day after the August FOMC
meeting.
At the October FOMC meeting, Fed policymakers decided ... to maintain an
unchanged policy stance but to shift to a tighter policy bias. However, in an
extremely misleading official statement, FOMC members emphasized that
such an asymmetrical directive did not signify commitment to near-term
action. What was not revealed until the minutes of the October meeting were
released nearly six weeks later was that, although Fed officials did not intend
to act during the intermeeting period, they believed that they would "need to
move to a less accommodative policy stance in the relatively near future
possibly at the November meeting." Perhaps even more importantly, the
October minutes stated that, "given the Committee's recently adopted practice
of immediately announcing its decision to change the symmetry of the
directive, an asymmetrical directive would help convey the message that
policy adjustments might not yet be completed for the balance of the year and
the Committee remained concerned about potential inflationary developments
in coming months." The main implication is that the shift to an asymmetrical
directive necessarily increases the odds of Fed action at the next one or
possibly two policy meetings. 213
At its August meeting, the Committee formed a subcommittee to review its disclosure policies.
Chairman Greenspan indicated at the meeting that "most of us are at least slightly uncomfortable
with how the new announcement policy has been working out in practice."214 He asked Board
Vice Chairman Roger Ferguson to head up a subcommittee to analyze the issues and report back
to the Committee with alternative choices. Governor Ferguson formed a working group by
adding Governors Gramlich, Kelley, and Meyer and Presidents Moscow, Parry, and Poole.
213. David M. Jones, "Monthly Market Commentary," memorandum to all customers, November 29, 1999,
p. 3. Also see Jacob M. Schlesinger, "Fed to Revise Approach to Rate 'Btas': Yes, But What Does It Mean?'' The
Wall Street Journal, December 12, 1999, p. A3.
214. Transcnpt of the August 24, 1999, FOMC meetmg, p. 103

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A background memorandum sent to the working group covered some of the same ground that
David Jones would later, as quoted above, but instead from a policymaker's perspective. It
identified four developments stemming from the immediate disclosure of the tilt that had soured
Committee attitudes:
1. The immediate announcement of the switch to an asymmetric tilt after the
May FOMC meeting initially received a muted reception in financial markets,
but subsequently seemed to engender an overly strong reaction in those
markets to data releases and statements by Federal Reserve officials. This
experience was interpreted by some FOMC members and market participants
as suggesting that increased market skittishness is an inherent consequence of
the immediate announcement of an asymmetric tilt. Such an interpretation
fostered a recognition on the part of the Committee at subsequent meetings
that it needed to exercise particular caution in adopting asymmetries.
2. The announcement of the switch to a symmetric tilt after the late June
FOMC meeting induced an immediate rally in financial markets as market
participants reduced the expected extent of the Federal Reserve tightening.
Later on, however, market participants focused more attention on the last
sentence of the announcement, and, based on the Chairman's subsequent
Humphrey-Hawkins testimony, reassessed the Committee's position,
concluding that the neutral tilt was in fact as least somewhat biased toward
tightening. Despite its sense of unbiased risks to the outlook, the Committee
came to be seen as having chosen a formal symmetry in part to forestall the
potential for renewed market skittishness. The markets' perception was
reinforced by the 1/4 point firming of the intended funds rate at the August
FOMC meeting, combined with an announcement conveying an assessment of
more balanced risks going forward. This experience has raised questions
about the substantive content of symmetric tilts and about the clarity of the
immediate announcements in communicating intentions to the public.
3. The disclosure policy that the Committee agreed to at the December 1998
FOMC meeting was to announce immediately only significant shifts in the
Committee's tilt that reflected major changes in its thinking about future
policy action and that would risk misleading market participants if not
revealed right away. Some market participants inferred from this stated
disclosure policy that the shifts in the tilt announced after the May and June
FOMC meetings must have been major changes in Committee thinking,
which may have contributed to the extent of market reaction. Also, the
announcement after the August meeting referred to the symmetric tilt, even
though it was not altered from the formal symmetric tilt chosen at the June
FOMC. (To be sure, some announcement was necessitated by the change in
policy, and the wording of the announcement in August indicated more
balance than in late June.) The question arises as to whether a change in
formal tilt, let alone whether it is significant or not, should remain the

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IV. The 1990s

177

triggering device for an immediate announcement under the new disclosure
policy when the intended funds rate is unchanged, or whether instead an
immediate announcement should follow every FOMC meeting.
4. Finally, the disparate understandings of the exact meaning of the tilt
sentence by individual FOMC members, although having been the case for
some time, recently have surfaced in public as a result of the increased
attention now that it is released immediately. The heightened tension between
the literal words that refer to potential adjustment of the funds rate operating
objective "during the intermeeting period," on the one hand, and the sense of
risks to the outlook and the Committee's predisposition toward policy action
over a longer horizon that also has crept into the meaning of the tilt sentence,
on the other hand, is troublesome to some FOMC members. They believe that
the Committee should reach an agreement on the meaning of the tilt sentence
and reflect this agreement in its wording. Until such an agreement is reached,
a symmetric tilt seems less likely than an asymmetric tilt to raise sensitive
issues of interpretation. 215
From the sentence's inception in 1983 until July 1993, the tilt sentence had referred only to the
intermeeting period. In July 1993, it began to incorporate a longer-run focus as well, covering
the period at least through the next meeting.
The working group made enough progress before the November 16, 1999, FOMC meeting for
the full Committee to have a preliminary, general discussion of its tentative findings. 216 The
working group had reached agreement on nine reforms but had disagreed on whether the
statement about likely future developments should focus on the risks to the outlook or on the
FOMC's predisposition about coming decisions on the federal funds rate. A clear majority of
the FOMC in a straw poll favored the former approach because it would not directly signal the
Committee's inclination regarding future policy. In the words of Board members and Reserve
Bank presidents, the Committee's "finger would be a little further removed from the trigger."
The Committee also reached a consensus on the nine points, which are presented immediately
below.

Agreeing on the Balance of Risks and Shortening the Directive
December 21, 1999
After some further work, the working group issued a final report before the December 21 , 1999,
FOMC meeting. 217 The memorandum first listed the nine points of previous FOMC consensus:

215. David Lindsey, "Issues Regarding the Directive and Disclosure Policy," September 17, 1999,
memorandum to Governor Ferguson, pp. 2-4, with a cover memorandum from Roger Ferguson, "October 4 Meeting
of the Working Group on the Directive and Disclosure Policy," September 17, 1999.
216. Roger Ferguson, "Results of the Working Group on the Directive and Disclosure Policy," memorandum to
Federal Open Market Committee, November 10, 1999.
217. Roger Ferguson, "Further Committee Discussion of Disclosure Issues," memorandum to Federal Open
Market Committee, December 17, 1999, pp. 2-4.

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l. An immediate announcement, even if rather perfunctory, should convey
the Committee's basic thinking after every FOMC meeting, including some
expression of the balance of risks....
2. The FOMC's vote at every meeting should encompass both the intended
federal funds rate and its assessment of the balance of risks....
3. The operating paragraph of the directive should not contain any sentence
referring to the Committee consensus about the balance of risks....
4. After the Committee's vote, a draft copy of the immediate announcement
should be passed out to each Governor and President, and an opportunity to
offer substantive reactions would be provided ....
5. Drafts of possible announcements covering the realistic alternatives facing
the FOMC should not be passed out on the day before the Committee
meetings....
6. The directive should be shortened by eliminating all backward-looking
material describing recent developments ....
7. The shortened directive should continue to be released on the Thursday
after the next FOMC meeting and not earlier. ...
8. The minutes should continue to be released on the Thursday after the next
FOMC meeting and not earlier. ...
9. The Authorization for Domestic Open Market Operations, which is
approved by the Committee at its February meeting, instead of the operating
paragraph should be used to express the Chairman's latitude to make
intermeeting policy moves ....
Then, the memorandum briefly contrasted the majority and minority positions on the working
group (p.4):
All members ofthe Working Group share the objective of reducing the close
connection between the choice of the bias and the perceived probability of
near-term policy action.
The majority of the Working Group, however, continues to believe that the
current tight connection between the announced bias and the market
expectations of near-term policy action can most certainly be loosened by
choosing entirely different words that make no explicit reference to future
funds rate movements or even the Committee's predilection. They recognize
that the assessment of the balance of risks has implications for future rate

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IV. The I 990s

179

movements, but they feel that the balance of risks more accurately represents
what the Committee in fact anticipates about the future. They also believe
that, because each Committee decision is made afresh on the basis of an
evaluation of all the information available at the time, a reliable indication of
the likelihood of future policy action is not possible.
A minority of members of the Working Group thinks that this purpose could
be served by using language that retains a focus on the likelihood of federal
funds rate movements ....218
Before the meeting, President Poole sent to the FOMC a defense of his views. 219 At the meeting
he continued to press them. He argued, among other things, that the balance of risks between the
movements toward both the ultimate goals of price stability and maximum real activity
implicitly rested on a dubious Phillips curve analytic framework. He thought the statement
would simply be viewed as a "code" for the old tilt. He also did not see why preemptive policy
could not avoid either rising inflation or economic weakness. Despite some support for the
minority view from Governor Meyer and Presidents Parry and Broaddus, the majority view,
which was briefly summarized by Governor Ferguson, prevailed in the end.
In light of the Committee's final decision to replace the tilt, tables 18 and 19 present a post­
mortem in the form of a statistical retrospective on its use by the FOMC. 220

218. Roger Ferguson, "Further Committee Discussion of Disclosure Issues," memorandum to Federal Open
Market Committee, December 17, 1999, p. 4.
219. William Poole, "Minority opmion on balance-of-risks language," memorandum to the FOMC, December
17, 1999.
220. Tables 18 and 19 are updates by Matt Luecke of the tables that originally were prepared by Bonnie Garrett
and that appeared in Davtd Lindsey, "Alternatives for FOMC Disclosure Policy," memorandum to Federal Open
Market Committee, September 12, 1998, table 1, p. 12, and table 2, p. 14.

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Table 18 

Type and Number of Monetary Policy Actions 

and of Preceding Tilts to the Directive, 1985-99 

Monetary policy action
Timing and type
At a scheduled
FOMC meeting
Tightening

Number

15

Tilt to the directive at
the previous scheduled
FOMC meeting
Type

Number

9

Toward tightening
Neutral
Toward ease

5
1

No action

92

Toward tightening
Neutral
Toward ease

28
44
20

Easing

13

Toward tightening
Neutral
Toward ease

0

Toward tightening
Neutral
Toward ease

12
4

Toward tightening
Neutral
Toward ease

0
12

Between scheduled
FOMC meetings
Tightening

Easing

17

29

6
7

1

17

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IV. The 1990s

Table 19 

Type and Number of Tilts to the Directive and of Subsequent 

Monetary Policy Actions, 1985-99 

Subsequent
monetary policy action

Tilt to the directive

Toward tightening

Number

Type and timing

37

Tightening 

Before next meeting 1
At next meeting2

12 

9


No action

Type

Number

22

Easing
Before next meeting
At next meeting
Neutral

56

0
0

Tightening 

Before next meeting
At next meetin~

4

4


No action

33

Easing
Before next meeting 4
At next meeting 5

12
6

27

Tightening 

Before next meeting6 

At next meeting 7

1


No action

Toward ease

9

Easing
Before next meeting8
At next meeting 9

17
7

NOTE. Meetings refer to scheduled meetings. Number of actions exceeds
number of tilts because of multiple actions dunng some intermeeting penods.
1. Policy was tightened twice in each of three intermeeting periods and once
in the other stx.
2. Two meetings were each preceded by an intermeeting tightening, and one
meeting was preceded by two intermeeting tightenings.
3. One meeting was preceded by an intermeeting tightening.
4. Policy was eased twice in each of two intermeeting periods and once in the
other eight.
5. Two meetings were each preceded by an intermeeting easing.
6. The tightening was made on January 15, 1987.
7. The meeting was on February 13, 1985.
8. Pohcy was eased twice in each of two intermeetmg periods and once in the
other thirteen.
9. Five meetings were each preceded by an intermeetmg easing.

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V. 2000 TO 2002: THE CURRENT ERA
Implementing Reforms to the Immediate Announcement ........................
Making an immediate announcement after each meeting, January 19, 2000 ..................
Announcing the balance of risks, January 19, 2000 ....................................
Announcing the FOMC vote immediately, March 19, 2002 ..............................

Reassessing and Retaining Disclosure Methods ................................
Continuing the rules and understandings for the blackout period and speeches,
March 19, 2002 ..................
......................................
Continuing the schedule for the minutes, March 19, 2002 ...............................
Complying with Legislative Goals and Changing Reporting Requirements ...........
Replacing the expired reporting requirements of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act,
December 27, 2000 ..........................................................
Implementing monetary policy, 1997-2002 .......................................
Communicating monetary policy, 1997-2002 ................
......................

185
185
186
192

194
194
194
195
195
.196
197

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V. 2000 TO 2002: THE CURRENT ERA
The current era has been marked by the implementation of the FOMC's decisions made in
December 1999, its subsequent decision to immediately disclose each vote, and the expiration of
the reporting requirements of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978. After the chapter covers
these matters, it turns briefly to the implementation and communication of monetary policy since
1996, the year the previous discussion stopped. The uncertainties surrounding the surge in
productivity growth and a rapid succession of crises seem to have made the Committee a little
less preemptive.

Implementing Reforms to the Immediate Announcement
In the last three years, the FOMC has introduced the immediate announcement after each
meeting of policy decisions, the Committee's assessment of the balance of risks, and the FOMC
vote.
Making an Immediate Announcement after Each Meeting
January 19, 2000
The current era began with a press release on January 19, 2000, that described the modifications
to FOMC disclosure procedures that were approved at the December 21, 1999, meeting. The
first of these modifications, which were designed to enhance communications with the public,
was the Committee's decision to issue a brief public statement after every FOMC meeting. The
press release noted, "The previously stated procedure was to release a statement only in the
event of a policy action or a major shift in the Committee's view of prospective developments."
The FOMC's immediate announcement has contained a summary rationale for its policy
decision. It also has attempted to encapsulate the Committee's view of future developments. On
two occasions, the announcement has directly hinted at the likelihood of an intermeeting move
by saying that the Committee intends to "closely monitor" incoming data. Also, as the next
section will discuss at length, the immediate announcement has conveyed the FOMC's
assessment of the balance of risks. The statement has continued to garner considerable attention
from the media and the markets, with the language still closely watched with regard both to the
current decision and to clues about future policy settings. The exact words of the announcement
have been parsed in exacting detail by market analysts, with special attention paid to any
changes in wording since the last statement.
The statement has been kept brief, partly to improve the predictability of the market reaction: It
would be more difficult to predict which parts of a much longer statement would attract media
and market attention. In addition, the brevity of the statement has kept the FOMC meetings
from becoming bogged down in too much detailed rewriting. In terms of procedure, a draft
announcement has been distributed to the Committee members for review and comment just
after their policy vote. Substantive comments have been rare. The announcement has continued
to be issued around 2:15 p.m. on the day of the Committee's policy decision.
The Committee appears to have resolved most issues about the statement as they arose. Among
the issues addressed during the past three years has been the length of the statement and, as

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A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

discussed below, the use of the balance-of-risks sentence, the inclusion of the vote, and the
potential desirability of supplementing the announcement in the intermeeting period by releasing
the minutes of the meeting more promptly.
Announcing the Balance of Risks
January 19, 2000
The FOMC's press release on January 19, 2000, also indicated that the policy inclination or
"bias" or "tilt" was being replaced by an assessment of the "balance of risks." Effective with its
February 2000 meeting, the FOMC began to announce immediately its consensus about the
balance of risks to the attainment of its long-run goals of price stability and sustainable economic
growth. The following paragraph, with the selection of one set of bracketed words, was to be
included in the vote at each meeting and incorporated into the immediate announcement:
Against the background of its long-run goals of price stability and sustainable
economic growth and of the information currently available, the Committee
believes that the risks are [balanced with respect to prospects for both goals]
[weighted mainly toward conditions that may generate heightened inflation
pressures] [weighted mainly toward conditions that may generate economic
weakness] in the foreseeable future.
As the press release made clear, the phrase "heightened inflation pressures" was meant to convey
the Committee's view that the risk was in the direction of rising inflation whereas the phrase
"economic weakness" was meant to convey the view that the risk was in the direction of
prospective real economic growth below the estimated growth rate of its potential.
Using the balance of risks in practice. Four issues were settled in practice by using the balanceof-risks assessment. These issues, of course, are subject to Committee reassessment at any time,
but they have come to represent "givens" for the selection of the balance of risks. These settled
issues are:
1. A focus in the balance-of-risks assessment on the relative risks of changes in both the
inflation rate and the output gap, that is, actual real growth relative to growth of
potential output, rather than the relative risks of levels of the inflation rate and the
output gap differing from their long-run objectives.
2. The reference of the balance-of-risks sentence to relative risks in the outlook for a
higher inflation rate versus real growth below potential growth rather than to a
possible change in the targeted funds rate, which instead may have been hinted at by
the entire announcement.
3. The implication of this last point that the risk assessment is based on the existing
federal funds rate target rather than an "appropriate" trajectory for the stance of
policy going forward.

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V. 2000 to 2002

4. The meaning of "the foreseeable future" to which the balance of risks applies. The
period was intended to extend beyond the next meeting and to be an elastic concept
that depends on economic circumstances. Even so, its precise meaning, even at a
particular time, was left somewhat uncertain until the November 2002 meeting. The
announcement and minutes of that meeting made clear that the horizon was far
enough away for a sufficiently large change in the current policy stance to have a
material effect on the relevant risks. 221
Experience, however, did not settle all outstanding issues with regard to the balance-of-risks
statement. In particular, two other issues have not been addressed by the Committee:
1. The role of forecast expectations or means, most likely forecast outcomes or modes,
forecast asymmetries or skews, and forecast ranges. One interpretation might be that
the balance-of-risks assessment reflects the weighing of the members' forecast means
for changes in the inflation rate or for output growth relative to that of potential.
Another interpretation might be that the assessment instead reflects the weighting of
members' forecast modes for these magnitudes. Still another interpretation might be
that the members adjust their forecasts for the perceived skews. A final possible
interpretation is that the assessment reflects the distribution or range of all possible
outcomes rather than a single center of gravity. Of course, the exact interpretation
for each member is freely arrived at by that member.
2. The relative weights to be placed on the risk of an increase in inflation versus the risk
of real growth below that of potential. The original Taylor rule would give 3 to 1
weights to the prospective inflation versus real output variables, though a more recent
variant advanced by Taylor would produce 3 to 2 weights. The actual weights used
of course are at the discretion of each member. 222
How markets interpreted its settings. Since the balance-of-risks sentence was initiated, market
participants presumably have based their interpretation of it not only on the original description
in the press release but also on the FOMC's use of it. Table 20 presents the balance-of-risks
settings chosen by the FOMC after the sentence's inception together with the Committee's
policy choice. Chart 5 shows a time series since January 2000 of the FOMC's choice of the
actual level of the federal funds target (the bold solid line) with the market's expectation of the
federal funds target to be chosen at the next FOMC meeting based on the relevant federal funds
221. The announcement prefaced the sentence indicating balanced risks by the phrase "With this action,..."
The minutes reported as follows:
All the members indicated that, in light of the contemplated 50 basis point easing action, they could support
a shift in the Committee's assessment of the risks to the economy from tilted toward economic weakness to
balanced for the foreseeable future, although some voiced reservations about the need for such a shift. The
economy probably would continue to underperform in the period immediately ahead, but in the absence of
unpredictable adverse shocks this sluggish performance was more likely to be balanced by subsequent
economic strength in light of the policy action. ...
222. These two sets of issues are analyzed in considerably more detail in David Lindsey, "A Rationale for the
Balance-of-Risks Statement," memorandum to Vice Chairman Ferguson, May 21, 2002.

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A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Table 20
FOMC Announcements of the Intended Federal Funds Rate
and the Associated Balance-of-Risks Statements,
February 2000-January 2003
Date

Change
Level
(percentage
)
(percent)points)
points)

Balance of risks

2000
February 2
March 21
May 16
June 28
August 22
October 3
November 15
December 19

5.75
6.00
6.50
6.50
6.50
6.50
6.50
6.50

.25
.25
.50
.00
.00
.00
.00
.00

Inflation
Inflation
Inflation
Inflation
Inflation
Inflation
Inflation
Weakness

6.00
5.50
5.00
4.50
4.00
3.75
3.50
3.00
2.50
2.00

-.50
-.50
-.50
-.50
-.50
-.25
-.25
-.50
-.50

1.75

-.25

Weakness
Weakness
Weakness
Weakness
Weakness
Weakness
Weakness
Weakness
Weakness
Weakness
Weakness

1.75
1.75
1.75
1.75
1.75
1.75
1.25
1.25

.00
.00
.00
.00
.00
.00
-.50
.00

Weakness
Balanced
Balanced
Balanced
Weakness
Weakness
Balanced
Balanced

2001
January 3'
January 31
March 20
April 18'
May 15
June 27
August 21
September 171
October 2
November 6
December 11

-. 50

2002
January 30
March 19
May 7
June 26
August 13
September 24
November 6
December 10
2003
January 29
1. Intermeeting action.

Balanced

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18

V. 2000 to 2002

Chart 5
Actual and Expected Funds Rate Target at Next Meeting and the Balance of Risks
Actual and Expected Funds Rate Target at Next Meeting

-

Percent

Actual
- Expected at Next FOMC Meeting*
-1 2

II

I I II I

Jan.

Apr.

I II

I I I

I

July

Oct.

Jan.

I I

Apr.

2000

I II I

July

II I I

Oct.

II I I

Jan.

Apr.

2001

II I

July

II

I I I I

Oct.

Jan.

2002

"The expected target (thin line) is based on the federal funds futures market adjusted for a term premium

Balance of Risks

r__

Jan.

Apr.

7

July
2000

Oct.

Jan.

Apr.

July
2001

Oct.

Jan.

Apr.

July
2002

Oct.

Jan.

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

futures contract (the thin line). An assumed term premium of 1 basis point per month has been
subtracted in calculating the expected funds rate target.
Market participants may have been somewhat skeptical at first that the FOMC had made a clean
break with the past and would not use the balance of risks as a code for its intended future policy
course. However, as time passed, this skeptical interpretation tended to recede, especially once
the Committee began to stay its hand, rather than continuing to firm policy from the May
meeting through the rest of 2000, while maintaining upside risks through the November meeting.
In December 2000, the Committee kept policy unchanged but shifted the risks from the upside to
the downside.
During 2001, when the FOMC continued to assess the risks as weighted to the downside, market
participants generally anticipated a further easing at the next meeting. After the January 2002
meeting, however, when the FOMC again chose downside risks, market participants did not
translate this sentence into a prediction of high odds of another policy easing at the March
meeting. Indeed, the Committee adopted balanced risks in March, but it returned to downside
risks in August. Even so, the market did not anticipate high odds of further easing until late
September and again in early November.
By the time of the November 2001 meeting, participants in federal funds futures markets had
come to expect a 25-basis-point reduction in the funds rate target. In the event, the Committee
reduced the funds rate by 50 basis points and moved back to balanced risks. The return to
balanced risks also surprised market participants, as both of the surveys taken before the meeting
by Money Market Services and Stone and McCarthy showed unanimous expectations that the
Committee would select downside risks even if the minority view of a 50-basis-point easing
proved to be correct. "Many financial analysts were puzzled by [the assessment of balance]
because the risks of continued weak growth appeared to the analysts to be much greater than the
risk that inflation would worsen." 223 Some market participants interpreted the unusual
combination of the large easing and the switch to balanced risks as an intentional signal that no
further policy action was likely at the December meeting, though right after the November
meeting some odds of further easing were built into futures quotes for February 2003.
The release of the minutes on December 12, 2001, of the November FOMC meeting confirmed
that the FOMC had been mindful of the effect of the balance-of-risks assessment on market
expectations for future policy actions:
A 50 basis point move would tend to have a more pronounced effect than
usual in financial markets, at least initially, because it would be largely
unexpected and would come after an extended hiatus in implementing policy
changes. In the view of many members, retaining the assessment that the
risks were tilted toward weakness would raise the odds of an overreaction in

223. John M. Berry, "Fed Aimed to Avert a Long Slump," The Washington Post, Friday, December 13, 2002,
p. E3.

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V. 2000 to 2002

financial markets, which might well misread the Committee's decision as a
sign that the members were more concerned about the potential for greater
economic weakness than was in fact the case and that therefore the Committee
currently saw a likely need for further easing later.... While the possible
market response was not a primary factor determining the desirability of a
policy action, the Committee needed to take it into account in gauging the
potential effects of particular policy moves.
FOMC experience in using it. The FOMC's experience with the balance-of-risks sentence may
be seen in some quarters as having generated some negatives. The meaning of the balance-ofrisks sentence is somewhat vague, giving rise to differences of opinion even among FOMC
members and possibly leading to difficulties among outsiders in understanding its subtleties.
Indeed, as a hypothetical example of a somewhat confusing application of the balance-of-risk
statement, consider what could occur when the economy is well into the recovery stage of the
cycle. Real growth tends to exceed that of potential but, because the level of output still falls
short of the level of its potential, the inflation rate tends to continue declining. The literal words
of the sentence, in which the Committee balances "heightened inflation pressure" and "economic
weakness," are not directly applicable in this case. The reason is that the balance-of-risks
sentence avoids literally referring to the risks of falling, though still positive, inflation and real
growth above that of potential as "bad" outcomes that could warrant easing or tightening,
respectively, since a central bank would have difficulty in publicly advancing such rationales for
policy moves. Even so, the risks of these outcomes need to be incorporated into the balancing
decision along with all the other possibilities.
The fact that the sentence refers to the outlook for only the two general elements of the
Committee's long-run goals rather than to more-complex features in the evolving outlook for the
economy may be seen as a limitation of the current construction. The statement has only three
settings and thus cannot embody the full range of shadings characteristic of Committee
discussions. This simplicity accordingly could be viewed as restricting its information content.
Partly as a result of its simplicity, the sentence upon occasion has been kept unchanged for a
considerable time in the face of variations in economic conditions, unlike other readings on
Committee sentiment that contain a more flexible characterization of Committee views. This
inflexibility may even slow policy moves if the FOMC judges that a change in the balance of
risks in the upward or downward direction would normally be called for at least one meeting
before a policy action is made. However, evidence that it has done so is not apparent.
On the other side, certain positives do seem evident. Much like their possibly differing
rationales for the policy action itself, the FOMC members may have had alternative approaches
to the unresolved issues regarding the balance of risks, but they still agreed on a particular
statement of these risks. Though interpretations of the meaning of the balance-of-risks statement
may have differed among members of the Committee, the statement has not prompted any
formal dissents during its history of more than three years. Indeed, the statement may have been
useful at times in forging a consensus among members on the overall stance of policy. It
appears to be reasonably well understood by market participants. It has tied in well with the
Committee's dual long-run objectives. Unlike the previous "tilt," which attempted to express the

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

FOMC's predilection about future actions and apparently could be "contradicted" if future
actions were to differ from the implications of that description, the announced weighing of the
risks chosen by the FOMC cannot be shown to be misleading because it obviously expresses the
Committee's existing assessment of the outlook.
The observation that the balance of risks has often been repeated from meeting to meeting
actually could be a desirable feature of the statement. An argument can be made that the
Committee should not feel compelled to alter its policy stance at each meeting by just enough to
equalize upside and downside risks to the outlook. Such a strategy would excessively curtail the
appropriate succession of policy moves in the same direction that is legitimately induced by
gradualism, that is, interest rate smoothing. 224 Strings of small tightenings or easings in the
funds rate can be defended by considerations of uncertainty about the policy multiplier (Brainard
uncertainty), forward-looking expectations in financial markets, financial market fragility, and
mis-estimates of economic data, including potential output. Successions of identical risk
assessments are consistent with such policy considerations.
Possible problems with the balance of risks. The balance of risks is intended to refer to the
risks in the outlook concerning changes in inflation pressures and in real output relative to its
potential rather than to the chances for adjustment of the intended federal funds rate. A question
arises, however, as to whether a difference between the direction of the risks and the direction of
policy moves for a protracted period would be misleading. For example, suppose the Committee
initially needed to ensure that the real funds rate was well below its sustainable equilibrium in
level terms to balance the risks of the performance of inflation and output relative to potential in
terms of changes, as in the balance-of-risks statement chosen at FOMC meetings in mid- and
late-2002 and early-2003. Then, at some future point, the FOMC might need to raise its nominal
funds rate target over time to move toward restoring the real funds rate to its equilibrium level
and, in the process of doing so, could just keep the risks related to the changes in the statement in
balance. Even if the rest of the announcement were altered as needed to communicate the
FOMC's predisposition for changing its policy stance, this example raises questions about
whether the balance-of-risks sentence in the announcement would be helpful.
Announcing the FOMC Vote Immediately
March 19, 2002
After the March 2002 meeting, the Committee for the first time immediately announced the vote,
which was unanimous, along with the unchanged policy stance. The minutes of the meeting
indicated that, besides identifying the voters, the announcement would indicate the policy
preferences of dissenters, if any. The minutes went on to suggest that "such information could
prove useful to market participants, who on occasion had employed indirect and frequently
misleading information to gauge the Committee's vote before it was released as part of the
minutes after the next meeting."

224. The FOMC discussed this issue at length at its January 28-29, 2003, meeting.

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

V. 2000 to 2002

193

Governor Roger Ferguson had raised the same point in his memorandum to the FOMC for its
January 2002 meeting:
The absence of any disclosure of the vote immediately following the meeting
has led both market participants and journalists, on occasion, to use the
number of Reserve Banks requesting discount rate changes as a proxy for the
existence of dissents from the federal funds decision. This proxy has rarely
been accurate and has sometimes been quite misleading. 225
The FOMC decision to release the vote immediately represented a consensus among the
Committee's working group on disclosure. 226 The Committee recognized that, because full
statements by dissenters would not be released until the minutes were disclosed after the next
FOMC meeting, dissenters would be unable to provide the rationale for their dissents until after
that time. 227
The Committee's initiative resulted not only from the inaccurate proxy mentioned by Governor
Ferguson but also from general considerations related to the desirability of prompt disclosure of
all aspects of the policy decision in the absence of a compelling argument that a delay to
maintain confidentiality for a time was critical. The Committee considered the possibility that
immediate disclosure of the vote could somehow detract from FOMC decisions as reflecting a
"consensus" of the group rather than an "individualistic" outcome of the votes of its members.
The Committee, however, did not accord much credence to this concern. In addition, the
Committee recognized that, once its decision had been announced, the vote could not be
withheld in the event of a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Since early 1994,
therefore, the vote would have been subject to disclosure well before the release of the minutes if
anyone had asked for it. 228

225. Roger W. Ferguson, "Further Transparency Discussion," memorandum to members of the Federal Open
Market Committee, January 22, 2002, p. 1.
226. The composition at that time was Vice Chairman Ferguson, Chairman; Governor Gramlich; and Presidents
Moskow, Parry, and Poole.
227. A summary of the main arguments appears in Roger Ferguson, "Disclosure of FOMC Votes,"
memorandum to Federal Open Market Committee, March 11, 2002.
228. No request under FOIA for accelerated disclosure of the vote had been filed, even though release of the
February 3-4, 1994, transcript had placed the point in the public domain (p. 34):
ChairmanGreenspan. Were we to come out and make a statement [that] the Committee made a decision,
are we obligated to stipulate what the vote is?
Mr Mattingly. If somebody asked, you have to tell them. I mean it would be subject to disclosure.
Mr. Syron. Why?
Mr Mattingly. The Freedom of Information Act. Why is it confidential? How do you make it
confidential? What's confidential about the vote?

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Reassessing and Retaining Disclosure Methods
The FOMC's deliberations about other disclosure issues in these three years were limited to
reassessing the rules and understandings regarding the blackout period and the schedule for the
release of the minutes. Those discussions prompted no changes in the FOMC's practices.
Continuing the Rules and Understandings for the Blackout Period and Speeches
March 19, 2002
The working group also recommended and the full Committee chose to retain the existing
Committee rules and understandings for the disclosure of certain information. Specifically, they
chose to keep the blackout period that proscribed any public discussion of the economy or
monetary policy from a week before the meeting through Friday in the week of the meeting.
Even after that, members continued to be expected to make only general statements on monetary
policy and the economy in speeches and interviews and to restrict their characterization of the
content of FOMC meetings to what was available in the public record.
Continuing the Schedule for the Minutes

March 19, 2002
At the same time, the working group and the full Committee considered shortening the schedule
for the release of the minutes from the Thursday in the week of the next FOMC meeting, but the
consensus of both groups was to leave the schedule unchanged. In light of the decision to retain
the rules for speeches and for press and other public contacts, the Committee recognized that
neither those in the majority nor dissenters could discuss the rationale for their votes beyond the
content of immediate announcement for six or seven weeks, when the minutes of the meeting
were released and the reasons for the decision and for the dissents would become part of the
public record.
The main option considered was to appreciably accelerate the release of the minutes. 229 The
FOMC Secretariat reported that the minutes could be prepared for release as soon as the Friday
two weeks after the meeting, that is, seventeen or eighteen days later. The use of an outside
service to attend the meetings and prepare transcripts was assumed, as was very short turnaround
by staff and Committee members commenting on drafts. This option was thought to have the
advantage of allowing members to discuss their votes more promptly. Perhaps more important,
the faster public release of the information in the minutes would give market participants a
firmer grasp of Committee thinking in forming the expectations embedded in financial market
prices.
The working group and the FOMC, however, found the disadvantages of this option to be more
persuasive. Earlier release would add another source of official FOMC information before the
next meeting, giving rise to a possible second reaction among market participants some
2½ weeks after the original announcement of the decision at the previous meeting. The minutes
would continue to contain a wide variety of information, and so predicting what particular

229. See Donald Kohn, Virgil Mattingly, and Michelle Smith, "Release of FOMC Votes," memorandum to
Federal Open Market Committee, March 5, 2002, p. 4.

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

V. 2000 to 2002

portion of them, if any, the markets would react to would be difficult. Because the next FOMC
meeting would not yet have taken place, the minutes would be scanned for clues about the
subsequent decision, despite the possible arrival of new and significantly different information
that might affect policy. If economic circumstances changed materially in the interim, the
information could be misleading regarding Committee intent.

Complying with Legislative Goals and Changing Reporting Requirements
This section looks at the way in which the expired reporting requirements under the
Humphrey-Hawkins Act were replaced.
Replacing the Expired Reporting Requirements of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act
December 27, 2000
The reporting requirements of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act-or more exactly, the Full
Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978-expired on May 15, 2000. The Federal
Reserve thus faced the normal July monetary policy report and testimony with no controlling
legal authority. Still, the Federal Reserve reported ranges for money and credit along with
ranges and central tendencies for projections of macroeconomic variables.
Not until December 27, 2000, was applicable new legislation passed. Public Law 106-569,
Section 1003, deleted or substituted new provisions for all but the first sentence of Section 2A of
the Federal Reserve Act, which contained the ultimate objectives introduced in 1977. The
deleted material had required semiannual reports on ranges for money and credit and
consultation. In its place, the new law inserted Section 2B requiring certain semiannual
appearances and reports:
SEC. 2B-Appearances Before and Reports to the Congress
(a) Appearances before the Congress.
(1) The Chairman of the Board shall appear before the Congress at
semi-annual hearings, as specified in paragraph (2), regarding(A) the efforts, activities, objectives and plans of the Board
and the Federal Open Market Committee with respect to the
conduct of monetary policy; and
(B) economic developments and prospects for the future
described in the report required in subsection (b).
(2) The Chairman of the Board shall appear(A) before the Committee on Banking and Financial Services
of the House of Representatives on or about February 20 of
even numbered calendar years and on or about July 20 of odd
numbered calendar years;
(B) before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban
Affairs of the Senate on or about July 20 of even numbered
calendar years and on or about February 20 of odd numbered
calendar years; and

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196

A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

(C) before either Committee referred to in subparagraph (A) or
(B), upon request, following the scheduled appearance of the
Chairman before the other Committee under subparagraph (A)
or (B).
(b) Congressionalreport. The Board shall, concurrent with each semi-annual
hearing required by this section, submit a written report to the Committee on
Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate and the Committee on
Banking and Financial Services of the House of Representatives, containing a
discussion of the conduct of monetary policy and economic developments and
prospects for the future, taking into account past and prospective
developments in employment, unemployment, production, investment, real
income, productivity, exchange rates, international trade and payments, and
prices. 230

The need to give the Congress growth ranges for money and credit was gone. The FOMC finally
could abandon what had already become a charade: going through the motions of selecting
benchmark ranges for money growth in a hypothetical steady-state. The new law, however,
required "a discussion of... economic developments and prospects for the future." Arguably,
ranges or central tendencies of the macroeconomic projections by Board members and Reserve
Bank presidents, which have been included in the reports since mid-1979, are needed to satisfy
this phrase.
Implementing Monetary Policy
1997-2002
Operating procedures in which the Committee selects a targeted federal funds rate that is
immediately announced to market participants have remained the same as they were in July
1996. Chart 6 shows the extension of movements in the targeted federal funds rate from then to
the present-again taking the series from the Board's web page.
As economic conditions have evolved, the FOMC's rationale for its policy implementation has
also shown significant movement. The changing outlook for the economy, of course, was
reflected in the semiannual forecasts of Committee members, which are presented from 1997 to
2003 in tables 21-24, along with the actual outcomes as reported in the first Greenbook
produced in the following year.

230. Federal Reserve Act, Section 2B, "Appearances Before and Reports to the Congress," FederalReserve
Regulatory Service, vol. 1, loc. no. 1-017.1

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V. 2000 to 2002

197
Chart 6
Intended Federal Funds Rate
July 19, 1996 through February 24, 2003

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

Percent

2001

2002

Communicating Monetary Policy
1997-2002
Since 1996 the FOMC in public statements has stressed the difficulties in forecasting and the
importance of responding quickly to an evident change in economic trends. The reason has
related partly to the surprising surge in productivity growth in that period. Also, the various
special events-such as the Asian crisis, the Russian default, LTCM's problems, Y2K, the start
of recession in March 2001, the attacks of September 11, 2001, the accounting scandals and the
demise of Enron and WorldCom, the consolidation of high-tech and telecommunication
industries, the stock price tumble, the surprisingly slow recovery of jobs, and the mounting
uncertainties leading up to the war in Iraq-seemed to have arrived one after another. If the
Committee's implicit weight on estimates of existing circumstances attained approximate parity
with that of forecasts of likely economic developments, as some of the results in chapter VI
suggest, then official statements understandably would have placed less emphasis on the cloudier
outlook as opposed to harder reality as factors influencing policy setting. Whatever the
statistical results in chapter VI are worth, this implication does seem to be borne out in the
various testimonies, speeches, minutes, and meeting transcripts. For example, Governor
Ferguson stated on July 9, 1998:
What should be done when uncertainties seem particularly acute? When we
suspect that our understanding of the macroeconomic environment has

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Table 21
Nominal GDP Growth:
Central Tendency of Projections in Humphrey-Hawkins
and Monetary Policy Reports, 1997-2003
(Percent, fourth quarter to fourth quarter)
Year for
which

projection
was made

Report in which projection was made
which
July of
February of
July of
previous year
current year
current year

MEMO
Actual,
current year

1997
1998

4/4 to 5
4/2 to 5

4/2 to 4
34 to 4/

5 to 5/ 2
4% to 5

5.8
5.0

1999

4/4 to 5

4 to 4/2

5 to 5/2

5.9

2000
2001

4 to 5
5/4 to 6

5/4 to 5/
4 to 5

6/4 to 64
3 to 4/4

5.9
1.9

2002

5 to 5/2

4 to 4/2

4

to 5/4

4.1

2003

5 to 5%

4% to 5

n.a.

n.a.

n.a. Not available.

Table 22
Real GDP Growth:
Central Tendency of Projections
Presented in Humphrey-Hawkins Reports, 1997-2003
(Percent, fourth quarter to fourth quarter)
Year for

Report in which projection was made

which

MEMO

projection
was made

July of
previous year

February of
current year

July of
current year

Actual,
current year

1997
1998

1% to 2/4
2 to 2/2

2 to 2/4
2 to 2

3 to 3/4
3 to 3/4

3.8
4.0

1999

2 to 2/2

2/2to3

3/2to 3 3
/4

4.2
3.5

2000

2/2 to 3

3/4 to 3

4 to 4/2

2001

3/4 to 34

2 to 2

1/4 to 2

2002

3 to 3/4

2003

3/

n.a. Not available.

to 4

2/2 to 3
3

to 3/2

.1

3/2to 33

2.8

n.a.

n.a.

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V. 2000 to 2002

Table 23
CPI/PCE Inflation Rate:
Central Tendency of Projections
Presented in Humphrey-Hawkins Reports, 1997-2003
(Percent, fourth quarter to fourth quarter)
Year for
which
projection
was made

July of
previous year

February of
current year

July of
current year

1997
1998

24 to 3
22 to 3

2% to3
1/4 to 2/4

2/4 to 22
1 to 2

1.9
1.5

1999

2 to 2/2

2 to 2/2

2/4to 2/2

2.0

Report in which projection was made

MEMO
Actual,
current year

(CPI)
2000

2 to 2/2

2001
2002
2003

1/4to 2

2/2 to 23/4

2.4

(PCE)
2 to 2
1% to 2/2
1 2 to 1%'

1/4 to 2/4
About 1/2
1'/ t 1/2

2 to 2/4
1'2 to 1%
n.a.

1.3
1.9
n.a.

NOTE. PCE chain-type price index used after 1999.
n.a. Not available.

Table 24
Unemployment Rate:
Central Tendency of Projections
Presented in Humphrey-Hawkins Reports, 1997-2003
(Percent, fourth quarter)
Year for
which
projection
was made

July of
previous year

1997

52to 53/4

5/

1998
1999

44 to 5
4/2 to 4/

2000

4/4to 41/2

Report in which projection was made
July of
current year

MEMO
Actual,
current year

4/4 to 5

4.7

About 4/4
4/4to 4/2

4/4 to 42
4 to 4/4

4.4
4.1

4 to 4/4

About 4

4.0

43/4 to

5.6

February of
current year
4

to 5/2

2001
2002

4 to 4/4
4 3 to 5/4
/4

About 42
6 to 6/4

2003

5/4 to 52

53/4 to 6

n.a. Not available.

5
53/4 to 6

5.9

n.a.

n.a.

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200

A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

deteriorated appreciably, as evidenced by strings of surprises difficult to
reconcile with our earlier beliefs, I think that the appropriate response is to
rely less upon the future predicted by the increasingly unreliable old gauges
and more upon inferences from the more recent past, weighing incoming data
more heavily relative to more distant data in trying to discern the new
2
environment. 3 1

As we observed earlier, the FOMC's communications about policy implementation over this
period also continued to evolve in the direction of enhanced transparency. The FOMC seemed
to have reached a degree of communication that provided observers in the private sector with
enough information to enable them to make an informed assessment of the rationale for, as well
as the specific federal funds rate associated with, the current stance of monetary policy. And the
balance-of-risks statement afforded market participants and others the Committee's assessment
of the relative weight of the key risks affecting the outlook. Finally, the overall immediate
announcement also sometimes offered further clues about the likelihood of future policy moves.

231. Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., "Exercising Caution and Vigilance in Monetary Policy," July 9, 1998, p. 6. A
more extended treatment of related issues is in Laurence H. Meyer, "Structural Change and Monetary Policy,"
March 3, 2000.

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VI. 1969-2003:Ql:
Designing Monetary Policy

0

0

EVOLVING DESIGN OF MONETARY POLICY 

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••

0

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203

0

0

1969-79
1980-82
1980-87
1988-96
1997-2003:Ql or 1988-2003:Ql

Summary of Evolving Policy Design .

0

0

•••

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••

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203
207
211
223
231
0

237

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VI. 1969-2003:Ql: EVOLVING DESIGN OF MONETARY POLICY
Economists usually do not stop after providing a narrative history-we go on to reduce those
facts to numbers. The FOMC's setting of its policy instrument can be related statistically to the
recent macroeconomic outcomes, to its estimates of the current situation, or to its forecasts of the
economy by estimating a policy "reaction function," or "rule" in today's misleading
nomenclature. That function typically embeds objectives for inflation and resource use. Gradual
adjustment of the funds rate can be captured with a term for the lagged funds rate. The resulting
estimated reaction functions, especially when compared across various historical episodes, will
help identify the nexus between communication policies and the setting of the policy stance.

Designing Monetary Policy
This chapter differs from those that have gone before in that it gathers in one place the
analyses of the underlying principles of monetary policy design in each of the five main eras
during the past three decades. Because of the nature of the material addressed, the chapter is
more technical than the previous ones.

1969-79
For the first period examined, Athanasios Orphanides used quarterly data from 1969:Q1 to
1979:Q2 to estimate the following real-time, forward-looking Taylor rule, with a lagged nominal
funds rate dependent variable to incorporate gradual adjustment. 232 With my notation, his
equation is:

.ft =

(1- P) (ao + a~rJrt+Jit + auut+Jit) + pf,_i + E, ·

He says (p. 115), again with my notation,
Suppose the policy objective is to maintain unemployment at its full­
employment noninflationary level (i.e. the "NAIRU" [non-accelerating
inflation rate of unemployment]) or "natural" rate, u*, and inflation around a
target, 7r:*. Let f denote the federal funds rate (the policy instrument), r* the
"natural" real rate of interest, Jr,+ 31 , the outlook for inflation, u,+ 31 , the outlook
for unemployment, all expressed as percentages (and annual rates when
applicable).
He argues (p. 116) that the estimated equation will be shown to contain
key elements frequently highlighted as reflecting good policy practice: a
strong systematic response to inflationary developments in the economy, an>
I; a countercyclical response to the business cycle, au < 0 (with higher values
of au [in absolute value] associated with a greater policy activism); and in
light of the well known lags in the monetary transmission mechanism, a

232. Athanasios Orphamdes, "Monetary-Policy Rules and the Great Inflation," American Economic Review,
Papers and Proceedings, vol. 92, no. 2, May 2002. He ends h1s sample period m 1979:Q2 rather than in Q3. His
reading of the transcripts suggests that with the two tightenmgs m July and Paul Volcker's becoming Cha1nnan in
August, leading the FOMC to decis1ve t1ghtening before October, monetary policy m the third quarter resembled
more closely what came afterward than the average reaction function over the l969:Q l to l979:Q2 mterval.

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204

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

fmward-looking policy approach, accommodated by using near-term forecasts
of inflation and unemployment as summary indicators of the state of the
economy.
Indeed, an optimal forward-looking Taylor rule of this form can be derived from a particular
simple model with a social welfare function, a spending equation, and an accelerationist inflation
equation. The model assumes that the central bank has a quadratic loss function. In this
function, the social loss depends (1) on the output gap and the inflation gap both two years hence
and (2) on the change in the funds rate next year. The model also incorporates a specific
equation explaining aggregate demand, in which the output gap two years hence depends on the
real short rate next year and on the output gap next year, and a specific Phillips equation, in
which the inflation rate two years hence depends on the output gap two years hence and on the
inflation rate next year. 233
Ideally, the FOMC's own forecasts would be used in the estimate, but as Chairman Bums was
quoted above as saying, no such forecasts by the members of the FOMC were collected over
those years. Therefore, Orphanides is forced to rely on an admittedly second-best alternative for
capturing what the Committee had in mind-the staffs Greenbook forecasts. He uses (p. 117)
the forecast of the rate of change in the output deflator from quarter t-1 to
quarter t+ 3 [and] corresponding forecasts ... for the average rate of
unemployment over the current and next three quarters ....
The least-squares results for quarterly data are presented in table 25 and graphed in chart 7,
which shows the prediction of the rule as well as the actual federal funds rate. 234 Chart 8 plots
the forecasts of inflation and unemployment used in the regression equation.

Table 25 

Parameter Estimates and Regression Statistics for 

the Policy Rule, 1969:Q l-1979:Q2 


I

Parameter

Statistic

p
11.37
1.32

1.52
.24

-2.04
.30

.59
.05

SEE
.89

.75

NOTE. Standard errors are shown under the parameter estimates.

233. This derivation originated in 1997. At that time, economists knew in general that a lag in the IS equation
would produce central-bank reliance on forecasts in monetary policy. This specific derivation of a forward-looking
Taylor rule was shown to me by Athanasios Orphanides. It reappeared in David Lindsey, "A Rationale for the
Balance-of-Risks Statement," memorandum to Vice Chairman Ferguson, May 21, 2002, pp. 19-20.
234. Athanasios Orphanides, "Monetary-Policy Rules and the Great Inflation," pp. 117 and 119. For
semiannual data in table 31 in this chapter, the estimate of the partial-adjustment p term with quarterly data (0.59)
had to be squared, giving 0.35.

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VI. J969-2003:Ql

205

Chart 7 

Actual and Predicted Federal Funds Rate 


Percent
13 


I
l

12 


I
l
I
~ I

11 


,

I

10 


I
~I

I

9


II

~I
I
I

8

7


6


I'
I'\ ,,

,

5


'"

I

4


2


II

I
I
I

3

1969

1970

1971

1972

1973

1974

.

------­

1975

1976

Actual
Predicted
1977

1978

1979 


Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010
206 


A Modem History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002 


Chart 8 

Inflation and Unemployment Forecasts 


1969:01 - 1979:02
Inflation Forecasts
Purr:ent

9


9


!\

8


7


7


6


6


5


5


4


4


3


3


1969

1970

1971

Hi72

1973

1974

1975

1976

1977 


1918

197~1

Unemployment Forecasts
Pcn:ont
10

10

9

9

8

8

?

6

6

5

5

4

4

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207

The FOMC seems to have acted at the time largely "as if' it had been implementing this rule.
Based on the real-time forecasts at its disposal, the FOMC had an estimated long-run response of
the nominal funds rate to a rise in the inflation rate that was indeed well above unity and that
implied an increase in the real short-term interest rate. Orphanides commented on the
plausibility of the estimates (p. 118-19):
Note that ... a0 = r* - (a;r - 1) n* - auu*. Setting n* = r* = 2, for
example, suggests that policy during the period was consistent with a
perceived estimate of 5.1 percent for the natural rate of unemployment, not
unreasonable for the period ....
Close examination of policy during the Great Inflation suggests that actual
policy decisions were consistent with application of a "modem" systematic,
activist, forward-looking approach to policy. Policy was consistent with an
inflation target of 2 percent, which should have safeguarded the goal of
reasonable price stability. Policy responded strongly to forecasts of inflation
and the unemployment gap, which could have been reasonably expected to
result in a high degree of economic stability. Policy was meant to guide the
economy to its "optimum feasible path," consistent with what some "modem"
research emphasizing activist policy design would suggest would be the
"optimal" strategy to follow. Yet economic outcomes were disastrous.

1980-82
The new monetary control procedures introduced on October 6, 1979, can readily be modeled,
although a high level of abstraction is adequate for our purposes. Such modeling can
demonstrate that an intermediate target for money growth together with an operating target for
nonborrowed reserves can be reduced to an equation determining the level of the short-term
interest rate by using rules of thumb linking money growth to reserve market conditions. The
coefficients for the rules of thumb are implicit in staff research of the early 1980s. This
derivation not only provides a better fix on the three-year monetarist experiment but also
highlights how unpredictable shocks to M 1 demand forced the FOMC subsequently to alter its
policy design.
Using natural logarithms, actual M1 growth is ~ln M,. The new monetary control procedures
allowed the FOMC to choose how quickly after a divergence the targeted level ofMl should
return to its desired long-run growth path. Here we can ignore this intermediate step and just
assume that the targeted growth is given by Milton Friedman's k percent rule. This assumption
is especially appropriate over the six-month intervals for which the model will be applied
because such periods are long enough for the FOMC to plan to return money to its steady-state
path, which we will assume to be embodied in the announced annual growth range. Thus, the
targeted M 1 growth rate is assumed to be the long-run steady-state value, ~In M*.
Assume that money starts out on its targeted path, M1_1 = M*,_ 1, so ~In M, * din M* implies a
level divergence of M, - M,* when the period ends. In August 1980, for example,

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M-lB was about $400 billion. Therefore, a deviation ofM-lB growth from its target path of 1
percentage point at an annual rate over a six-month period would imply a level divergence of
$2 billion. Thus, m equals 2 in the following expression:
~ -

M,* = m [(~In M, -

~In M*)

x 200] .

Assuming further for simplicity a constant discount rate for bank borrowings (B) at the window,
the deviation of discount window borrowing from its steady-state level will equal the required
reserve ratio on transaction deposits at member banks (at that time, g = 0.12) times that Ml
divergence:
B,- B* = g(M,- M,*).
It follows that the deviation of borrowing from its steady-state amount, B, - B*, is proportional
at mg = 0.24 to the money growth miss:

B, - B* = mg [(~In M, -

~In M*) x 200] .

A robust econometric result was that, in most of the 1980s, a change of $100 million in
adjustment plus seasonal borrowing would be associated with a 25-basis-point change in the
same direction in the spread of the funds rate over the discount rate. 235 The deviation of the
federal funds rate (j) from its steady-state value (/*)would be proportional at h = 2.5 to the
comparable deviation for borrowed reserves expressed in billions:

!, - .f"

=

h (B, - B*) .

Now assume that the "judgmental" reduction in the nonborrowed path is just as large as the
induced increase in the level of borrowing and total reserves. A more ad hoc adjustment in fact
was made upon occasion from 1980 until mid-1982 for larger than de minimis moves in
borrowing. Our assumed rule of thumb is more mechanical than actual practice, but on average
it probably is in the ballpark. This allowance for a judgmental adjustment to nonborrowed
reserves implies that h can be replaced by 2h in the equations below.
Therefore, the movement of the funds rate away from its steady-state level would be
proportional at 2mgh = 1.2 to the money growth miss:

!, - .f"

=

2mgh [(~In M, - ~In M*) x 200].

235. See David E. Lmdsey and Gary Gillum, "Treatment of Special Situation and Seasonal Borrowings in Desk
Operations," October 29, 1987, memorandum to Mr. Kohn; sent to the Federal Open Market Committee with a
cover note from Donald L. Kohn, "Definition of the Borrowing Objective," October 29, 1987. This econometric
estimate was derived from a regression of e1ther the actual spread of the funds rate over the discount rate or the
actual level of discount borrowings on an instrumental variable--either the FOMC's borrowings assumption or the
Desk's expected federal funds rate, respectively-to avoid simultaneous equations bias. Also see exhibit 3 in
chapter Ill.

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VI. 1969-2003. QJ

Now consider a standard log linear money demand function:
In M,v

=

a + bin Q,

+ cln P, + 1/200 df, + 1/200 In e"

where 1/200 ln e, is the equation's error, Q and P are the levels of real output and the price level,
the coefficient bin the case ofM1 is less than or equal to unity, the coefficient c equals unity,
and the coefficient dis negative. Taking first differences and multiplying both sides by 200
yields
~In M,v x 200

= bq, +

7r1

+ d ([, - /,_ 1 ) +

~In e, ,

where q is the growth rate of real output and 7r is the rate of inflation, both at annual rates.
The July 1980 Bluebook can be interpreted to have used the following values for M-lB for the
June to December or Q2 to Q4 time spans in 1980: b = 0.75; c = 1; d = -.22. 236
Now assume that for observations separated by six months, the money stock equals its demand:

M, = M,D.
In the steady state the federal funds rate will be constant, and the error can be ignored. Assume
for simplicity that the elasticities for real income and prices for six-month periods equal steady­
state values. Thus, the FOMC's estimate of steady-state money growth will be given by the
estimated growth of its equilibrium demand:
~In M*

x 200 = bq* + n*,

where q* is the economy's estimated growth potential and n* is the FOMC's implicit target for
the inflation rate, both at annual rates.
Similar reasoning suggests that the nominal funds rate in the steady state will be the sum of the
equilibrium real short-term interest rate, r*, and this inflation target:

.f" =

r* + n* .

Substituting the last four equations into the one for the federal funds rate gives the expression
determining the funds rate under this simple version of M 1 targeting:

/, =

1

[r* + n* + 2mgh (Jr, - n*) + 2mghb (q, - q*) + 2mgh ~In e, - 2mghdf,_ 1 ] .

I- 2mghd

236. Monetary Aggregates and Money Market Conditions, July 3, 1980, pp. 11, 14, 17, and 18.

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Now let

p ==

2m~hd

1- 2mghd

Using 1980 Bluebook values gives p
This calibration implies that 1-

p

=

= .264/1.264 = .21.
.79.

Also, set atr = 2mgh = 1.2 and aq = 2mghb = .9. Of course, to the extent that the FOMC also
reacted to other observed variables or responded within a more complex backward-looking
framework, this equation determining the funds rate would hold with an additional error, 1},
After all the substitutions, we have for six-month periods:

J,

=

(1- p)[r*- (atr- 1) n*- aq q* + a tr 7r, + aq q, + atr 6./n e,] + pj,_ 1 + 1},,

or

J, == (1- p)(a 0 + a1r7r, + aqq,)+ pf,_ 1 + (1-p)atrJlne,+

1}1 ,

or calibrated values of

J, == .79 (a 0 + 1.2

tr,

+ .9 q,) + .21!,_ 1 + .95 6./n e, +

1]1 •

The coefficient on the funds rate lagged six months is only 0.21, which implies that partial
adjustment in these years of money targeting was not too significant. The interpretation is that
over a six-month period in the model, the Committee almost, but not quite, fully moved the
funds rate by its eventual adjustment following a divergence of the money stock from its steady­
state growth path. Furthermore, the implied setting for the current funds rate in the model is
automatically generated by an operating target for nonborrowed reserves derived from targeting
Ml along its steady-state growth path, together with the assumed judgmental adjustments to
nonborrowed reserves. The funds rate will differ from its steady-state value of r* plus 1r" only if
the growth of output differs from its estimated potential growth, the inflation rate differs from its
implicit target, or money demand is shocked by varying percentage errors-6.ln e, 0.

*

In fact, the FOMC was plagued, as we have seen, by shocks to the error term, 6.ln e, , in the
demand function for M I growth. It turns out that the central bank should fully accommodate
positive or negative values of ~ln e, to insulate output growth and inflation from such purely
monetary shocks. Indeed, if the variance of money demand is large enough relative to the
variance of spending, then in optimal policymaking the interest rate should replace the money

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VI. 1969-2003:Ql

211

stock as the central banks's intermediate target. 237 In the early 1980s the FOMC of the model
was not concentrating on the size of forecast errors for spending. Macroeconomic forecasts do
not even appear in the basic equation, just derived, that determined the federal funds rate from
1980 to 1982, when the FOMC was engaged in controlling Ml and operating on nonborrowed
reserves. Only estimates of two-quarter rates of inflation and real growth ending in the current
quarter appear in that equation, along with the lagged funds rate and the backward-looking
monetary and nonmonetary errors.

1980-87
The last section suggests that it could not have been the errors in the macroeconomic projections
that were the most problematic to the FOMC. What was really troubling the Committee over
those three years was the error in the demand function for M 1 growth, Llln e1 in our equation.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Committee publicly dropped its primary focus
on M 1 in early October 1982 and began to target the broader aggregates more judgmentally,
based on general economic indicators of prevailing conditions. In other words, the FOMC
eliminated the ( 1- p) a1t Aln e, component of the overall error in the equation for the funds rate
and, at the same time, in effect began to set the funds rate more directly through the closely
related borrowing target, with its functional connection with the funds rate spread over the
discount rate.
In essence, with Aln e, gone, the structure of the implicit equation for the funds rate in the fall of
1982 was reduced to

Thus, the deterministic part of that equation did not necessarily differ after the abandonment of
money targeting.
A Board staff paper prepared in 1997 compared the explanatory power over 1980-87 ofthis
specification of the FOMC's implicit reaction function based on outcomes for inflation and real

237. William Poole, "Optimal Choice of Monetary Policy in a Simple Stochastic Macro Model," Quarterly
Journal ofEconomics, vol. 84, May 1970. ForM 1 targeting to be given up in favor of interest rate targeting in the
Poole framework, the money demand errors must be sizable enough to produce an LM equation that is much more
unpredictable than the IS equation is because of shocks to spending. In fact, if the IS and LM equations are equally
sloped (but opposite in sign) and have equally sized standard errors, then M 1 targeting ts optimal, and no attention
whatever should be paid to unexpected interest rate movements. This point is demonstrated in Stephen F. LeRoy
and David E. Lmdsey, "Determining the Monetary Instrument: A Diagrammatic Exposition," American Economic
Review, vol. 68, no. 5, December 1978.

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growth with one relying onforecasts of the inflation and unemployment gaps-like the one
presented in a previous section for the 1970s. 238
Just as a reminder, the reaction function using forecasts that was fit in the earlier section for the
1970s had the following general structure:

or

The extended selections that follow are from pages 4-21 of that Board staff paper.
In our analysis, we use only information available to the FOMC at the time
decisions were taken, carefully eliminating data contamination by subsequent
data revisions and definitional changes. Doing so ensures that the systematic
reaction we uncover is explicitly operational and is not subject to McCallum's
(1993) justified critique regarding policy rules based on unrealistic
information assumptions. We construct measures of forecasts from the
projections of key macroeconomic indicators made by the Federal Reserve
Board Governors and Reserve Bank Presidents and publicly released each
February and July as part of the Board's semi-annual Monetary Policy Report
to the Congress (the Humphrey-Hawkins report). These projections appear to
be the only publicly available source of quantitative information regarding
FOMC members' beliefs about the state of the economy over the next several
quarters.... We assess the extent to which these measures of forecasts,
combined with perceived outcomes, can explain the level of the federal funds
rate set immediately after the February and July FOMC meeting ....

We take the midpoint of the ... central tendencies from February 1983 on,
and the midpoints of the ranges for previous years, to represent our point
estimates of FOMC expectations. For this reason, in estimating reaction
functions, we can only use variables for which the FOMC has provided 

forecasts.... 

Since the FOMC's forecasts apply to quarterly data, it is convenient to
describe our dataset in terms of a quarterly frequency although we have only
two observations per year. Denoting time (measured in quarters) with t, we
associate the February Humphrey-Hawkins report with the first quarter of the
year and the July Humphrey-Hawkins with the third quarter. We construct a
dataset containing two sets of forecasts for each year covering four-quarter

238. David E. Lindsey, Athanasios Orphanides, and Volker Wieland, "Monetary Policy under Federal Reserve
Chairmen Volcker and Greenspan: An Exercise in Description," February 1997.

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VI. 1969-2003:Q1

intervals that always end three quarters in the future. For any variable x, we
let x,+,I, denote the estimated outcome (for i 0) or forecast (for i > 0) of the
value of the variable x at t + i as of time t .... Thus, letting u denote the rate
of unemployment, u,3 1, would represent the three quarter ahead forecast of the
rate of unemployment formed during quarter t, and u,-l , the estimate, as of
quarter t, of what the outcome for the rate of unemployment was in the
previous quarter.... [U]sing the rate of unemployment as an example, the
forecasts reported to the Congress in February have exactly the desired
timing. That is, when t is the first quarter, the three-quarter-ahead forecast of
unemployment, u,+3,, corresponds to the Humphrey-Hawkins forecast for the
1
rate of unemployment in the fourth quarter of the same year..... Similarly, for
inflation and real GDP growth, when t represents the first quarter of a year,
the three-quarter ahead forecast corresponds to the rate of growth of prices or
of GDP from the fourth quarter of the previous year to the fourth quarter of
the current year, exactly matching the horizon of the Humphrey-Hawkins
forecast ...
For the July Humphrey-Hawkins reports, however, we need to estimate the
forecast of the unemployment rate of next year's second quarter, and the
corresponding forecasts of four-quarter growth rates for prices and output that
end in the second quarter of next year, by combining available information.
... We approximate the unemployment forecasts in the second quarter of the
following year by simply averaging the forecasted levels for the current year's
fourth quarter and next year's fourth quarter that are contained in the
report....
The desired second-quarter-to-second-quarter forecasts of growth rates of real
output or prices are obtained by constructing two forecasted half-year
annualized growth rates and then averaging them....
The inflation forecasted for the second half of the current year ... can be
inferred from the reported inflation forecast for the whole current year from a
base of last year's fourth quarter,. . . and the estimated inflation over the
first half of the current year from a fourth quarter of last year base....
For... inflation over the first half of next year, we simply set it equal to
the forecast for all of next year contained in the July Humphrey-Hawkins
report....
We apply the same procedures in constructing the data series we used to
represent the forecast GDP growth, q. Much as before, we assume that GDP
growth in each half of the following year equals the forecasted rate for the
year as a whole contained in the July Humphrey-Hawkins report....
In our examination of simple policy rules, we want to allow for a direct
comparison of rules based on the forecasts described above, to rules based on

213

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214

A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

outcomes of these variables. To that end, we construct parallel variables
reflecting the latest historical information available to the FOMC at the time
of the meetings preceding the two Humphrey-Hawkins reports in every year.
Thus, for the unemployment rate, we create the variable u, , which for the
February observation reflects the average level in the fourth quarter of the
prior year and for the July observation reflects the average level in the second
quarter of the current year. Similarly, for real growth and inflation, we create
the variable q,l, and rt,;l,. These reflect the four-quarter growth rate of output
or prices ending in the fourth quarter of the prior year for the February
observation, and ending in the second quarter of the current year for the July
observation.
To ensure that our definition of outcomes is not contaminated by delays in the
initial release and subsequent updates of the data, we rely only on data which
would have been available to the FOMC by early February or early July. This
implies that the data we use correspond either to preliminary estimates, first
reported quarterly data, or estimates based on partial data ....
For the federal funds rate, which we consider as the FOMC's policy
instrument, we use the Committee's intended level as of the close of financial
markets on the day after the final day of the February and July FOMC
meetings ...
The reaction functions we estimate for the federal funds rate all share the
following underlying structure ....

[T]hey posit that the systematic

component of monetary policy can be described as a notional target for the
federal funds rate, f, which increases with inflation, n, and real activity, x, as
measured by real output growth, q, or [decreases with] the rate of
unemployment, u. Restricting attention to a linear specification we posit
that ...
f = ao + a7r + ax.
In estimating our specification we need to take an explicit stand regarding the
timing of the information about inflation and real activity that the FOMC
takes into account. To that end, we set
, = a o +a,7r,,

+ axx,,

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VI. 1969-2003.Q1

the
where captures this timing. The explanatory variable 7r, and x ,, latter
of which stands for either q, or u,, are meant to encompass the information
variables to which the FOMC may be reacting....
In the regression we allow for the possibility that the FOMC responds to both
outcomes and forecasts by defining summary information variables that are
weighted averages of outcomes and forecasts:
rr|, = (1 -

O)-,

+ 0T+3|,,

and
qt

=

u,

= (1 -

(1- )q,,,, + q,+31,,5

or

)u,_-1, +

u+3|, ,

where q effectively represents the weight that the FOMC assigns to forecasts
relative to outcomes. Thus, if q is set equal to 1, the information variable
collapses to a forecast alone. By contrast, if 0 is set equal to 0, the
information variable comprises only an outcome. 239 In principle, q can
assume any value between 0 and 1, and the value of q5 best describing the data
can be estimated....
Finally, we allow for the possibility that the FOMC only partially adjusts the
intended federal funds rate, f, towards its notional target, f, instead of
implementing the target in every period. To the extent that the FOMC
responds to forecasts, a partial adjustment to the prescribed long-run value
could represent an element of caution in its policy response in light of the
remaining uncertainty about the future. Partial adjustment can be introduced
by allowing the FOMC decision just prior to the Humphrey-Hawkins report to
be influenced by the level of the intended federal funds decided at the FOMC
meeting before the previous Humphrey-Hawkins report. With our timing
convention, this can be written as

239. The outcome-based results use information that extends only through the previous, rather than the
contemporaneous, quarter. From 1980 to 1982, when the FOMC was targeting M1 growth, monetary data extended
far enough into the current quarter to render our assumption that the relevant outcome for four-quarter M1 growth
ended in the previous quarter something of an oversimplification. But with the expected funds rate measured just
after FOMC meetings held in late January or early February and in late June or early July, using Greenbook
projections for the current quarter to end four-quarter growth rates would seem to be even more of an
oversimplification. Similarly, from 1983 to 1987, the FOMC continued to de-emphasize forecasts, particularly those
made by the staff. For outcomes, we rely on four-quarter values for real GNP growth and, through 1988, inflation of
the implicit deflator of the GNP, which were published for a quarterly interval rather than a monthly one. Thus, realtime observations on the previous quarter seem much less subject to measurement error than staff projections of the
current quarter. After 1987, though, as we shall see, the frequency of publication of the best-fitting variable became
monthly, so we switch from outcomes to Greenbook estimates of the contemporaneous quarter.

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002
f

= (1 - p)

+ Pf,-2,

where p provides a measure of the degree of partial adjustment so that p = 0
reflects an immediate adjustment of the intended federal funds rate to its
notional target.
We use our data set to estimate least squares regressions explaining the
intended level of the nominal federal funds rate on the day after the February
and July FOMC meetings. Our data set starts in February 1980, just after the
new operating procedures for monetary policy were introduced in October
1979.
We stopped the sample in 1987, giving sixteen observations.
We always enter an inflation rate information variable, and we use for the real
activity information variable either four-quarter real output growth [table 26]
or the unemployment rate as an index of resource utilization [table 27].
Appearing as the inflation and the real right-hand side variables are: the
outcomes, setting q5 at 0 in columns 1 and 2 of each table; the forecasts,
setting q at 1 in columns 3 and 4; and the weighted average of outcomes and
forecasts, allowing the regression equation to determine the value of q5 in
columns 5 and 6. The partial adjustment parameter, p, is set to 0 in the oddnumbered columns, but estimated in the even-numbered columns. All
regression equations that encompass the early 1980s also include a dummy
variable for the credit controls episode affecting the July 1980 data point.
[Tables 26 and 27] give the results for the 1980-1987 period. Each of the
[t]ables has an associated three panel chart [charts 9 and 10]. The top panel
plots the actual federal funds rate together with the predicted funds rate from
the best fitting equation on each associated table, while the middle and bottom
panels show both outcomes and forecasts for the real variable and inflation,
respectively. These figures facilitate "ocular regressions," enabling one to
relate the movements of the funds rate visually to the variations in the relevant
explanatory variables in each subperiod. Recall that in each panel the points
for a given date refer to different four-quarter intervals: The dotted outcomes
line refers to four-quarter growth ending one quarter before the date on the
horizontal axis, while the dashed forecasts line refers to four-quarter growth
ending three quarters after the date on the horizontal axis.
For the [1980 to 1987 sample] the best fitting equation is shown in column 1,
of [table 26], which contains outcomes alone for inflation and real output
growth, with no lagged dependent variable. The following points concerning
this equation are notable. First, the coefficient on the inflation term, 1.54, is
significantly greater than 1. Second, comparing columns 1 in [tables 26 and

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217

VI. 1969-2003:Q1

Table 26
Implicit Policy Reaction to Inflation and Real Growth, 1980:Q1-1987:Q3
Coefficient
and
statistic

Outcomes

a,
p

1.55
1.02
1.56
.15
.34
.14

0

a,

(2)

1.69
.84
1.54
.12
.32
.13

ao

(1)

.04
.12
0

)0
j2

SEE
DW

.92
1.12
2.54

.91
1.16
2.63

Basis of regression
Forecasts
(3)
(4)

1

-1.87
4.55
2.20
.55
.25
.70
.37
.13
1

.73
2.00
1.52

.83
1.59
2.10

-.70
3.57
1.85
.41
.48
.55
0

Both
(5)

(6)

2.05
1.18
1.49
.17
.30
.13
0

2.02
1.91
1.49
.28
.30
.17
.00
.17
-.11
.44
.90
1.21
2.66

-.12
.30
.91
1.16
2.66

NOTE. The regressions shown are least squares estimates of the equation
ft = (1 - p)(r* - (a, - 1)7r - aqq* + a,7rlt + aqqrlt) + Pft-2,

where 7rt = (1 - 4)7t-ilt +

7rt+31t and qt - (1 - 4)qt-1t + 4)t+31t. The term
r* - (a, - 1)r* - aqq* is estimated as a constant ao. Here, f denotes the intended federal

funds rate, 7r the inflation rate over four quarters, and q real output growth over four quarters.
qt-it and 7t-_lt indicate outcomes for the previous quarter, while q,+ 31t and irt+31 denote

forecasts. In columns 1, 3, and 5, p is set to zero, while in columns 2, 4, and 6, the unrestricted
partial adjustment specification is shown. In columns 1 and 2, 4 is set to zero, and the
regression uses outcomes only. In columns 3 and 4, 0 is set to one, and the regression uses
forecasts only. Columns 5 and 6 reflect an unrestricted 4. Standard errors are shown under the
parameter estimates. A dummy variable for the 1980:Q3 observation (reflecting credit
controls) is included in the regression but is not shown. Sixteen observations are used
corresponding to the February and July FOMC meetings during 1980:Q1-1987:Q3.

27], using output growth in the regression equation yields a much better fit to
the data than using the unemployment rate, with the coefficient on the
outcome for economic growth a significant 0.32. Third, the results for the
outcomes in column 1 of [table 26] evince much more explanatory power than
those for the forecasts in column 3. Indeed, the equation in column 1 with the
two outcomes alone has a little lower standard error of estimate than the
equation in column 5 with weighted averages of outcomes and forecasts
variables. In other words, ... adding forecasts for inflation and output
growth to an equation with their outcomes is not worth the loss of one degree

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A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

218

Table 27
Implicit Policy Reaction to Inflation and Unemployment, 1980:Q1-1987:Q3
Coefficient
and
statistic

Outcomes

Basis of regression
Forecasts
(3)
(4)

(5)

(6)

Both

(1)

(2)

ao

3.29
2.27

3.60
2.70

-.37
3.61

3.47
5.56

3.39
2.86

3.45
3.41

a,

1.42

1.45

1.50

2.38

1.41

1.54

.14
-.03
.28
0

.18
-.09
.36
.05
.17
0

.26
.38
.49
0

.19
-.04
.31
0

1

.64
-.73
.96
.45
.15
1

.39
-.13
.42
.11
.25
.16
.58

au
p
S0

-.03
.37

R2

.87

.86

.73

.84

.86

.85

SEE
DW

1.39
2.17

1.44
2.21

2.02
1.64

1.55
2.18

1.45
2.18

1.51
2.23

NOTE. The regressions shown are least squares estimates of the equation:
ft = (1 - p)(r* - (a, - 1)-* - auu* + arrlt

+ auuTlt) + Pft-2,

where 7rt -= (1 - 4)irtlit + 4rt+31t and ult = (1 - 0)ut-_l t + qut+3t. The term
r* - (a, - 1)7r* - auu* is estimated as a constant ao. Here, f denotes the intended federal

funds rate, 7r the inflation rate over four quarters, and u the unemployment rate. ut-i

t

and

Irt-_It indicate outcomes for the previous quarter while Ut+3|t and rt+31t denote forecasts. In

columns 1, 3, and 5, p is set to zero, while in columns 2, 4, and 6, the unrestricted partial
adjustment specification is shown. In columns 1 and 2, ( is set to zero, and the regression uses
outcomes only. In columns 3 and 4, 0 is set to one, and the regression uses forecasts only.
Columns 5 and 6 reflect an unrestricted 0. Standard errors are shown under the parameter
estimates. A dummy variable for the 1980:Q3 observation (reflecting credit controls) is
included in the regression but is not shown. Sixteen observations are used corresponding to
the February and July FOMC meetings during 1980:Q1-1987:Q3.

of freedom that results from estimating q5. The coefficient q is not
significantly different from zero, suggesting that the FOMC put virtually no
weight on forecasts. And fourth, column 2 demonstrates the lack of
significance for a p coefficient on the lagged dependent variable; policy
actions evidently did not incorporate a partial adjustment process.
The top panel of [chart 9] charts the predictions of the specification using
outcomes alone for real growth and inflation in column 1 of [table 26] shown
by the dotted line-against the actual intended federal funds rate over the ...

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219

VI. 1969-2003:Q1
Chart 9
Fit Based on Inflation and Real Growth
1980:Q1 - 1987:Q3
Actual and Fitted Federal Funds Rates

Percent

- ........

Actual
Uses Outcomes

1987

Growth Rate of Output

roragrs

8 i

.

.

,*

".

.

..

OujICoums
***.

"'-

..
..

2*

.2

----____
1890

.2

I

*

^
_____"

1981

'

_____________________
185s

-

194A

Inflation Rate
Percent

Forecas;

r986

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220

A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002
Chart 10
Fit Based on Inflation and the Unemployment Rate
1980:01 - 1987:03
Actual and Fitted Federal Funds Rate
Pecrnt

-*-

Actual

........

Uses Ourcomes

I

prrI

M185

1983

1982

Unemployment Rate
PmoWnl

Forectas

90

19tM

1N62

Inflation Rate
12 r

.

....

. .

-

s

SI

L

980
1980

1961
191

-- **L

.

FCC

-

-

I_.
1982
1982

'963

1983

-384
1984

.
1968
19S

19.6
1906

''-"iBB7
1987

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VI. 1969-2003:Q1

subperiod-plotted by the solid line. The middle and bottom panels of [chart
9] graph the outcomes and forecasts of the output growth rate and the inflation
rate over the ... subperiod. Notice that the outcomes for the output growth
rate vary considerably more than its forecasts ...
A useful check on our parameterization can be achieved by linking the
parameters of our simple rules to the steady state values to which the federal
funds rate, inflation and real activity would settle in the absence of any
economic shocks .... Naturally, in a steady state, inflation would be expected

to attain the FOMC's underlying target, *, and real activity would be
consistent with sustained growth at potential, q*, and unemployment would be
equal to its natural rate, u*. Further, the federal funds rate would equal the
sum of inflation and the equilibrium real rate r*. Thus, in steady state, our
simple rules imply
r* +

* = a

+

,

* + axx*,

where, once again, x stands for q or u depending on the specification. Solving
for a0 yields
ao = r* - (a

-

1)c* - axx*.

An intuitive interpretation of the expression for ao, the constant term in the
regressions, is that the nominal federal funds rate would need to be higher, the
higher is the Wicksellian natural real funds rate, the lower is the central
bank's long-run inflation rate target, and the lower is the rate of growth of
potential output or, recognizing that the coefficient on u* in the expression for
a0 , that is, -au, is positive, the higher is the natural rate of unemployment. Our
regression equations implicitly treat each of these components of the
estimated regression intercept, ao, as itself a constant over the sample period.
Taking r*, ;7*, and q* or u* all to be constant over each sample period is an
admittedly strong simplifying assumption. However, because r* and q* or u*
represent the FOMC's perception of their estimated values, it is certainly
possible for them to be more stable over time than their actual counterparts in
the "real world," which may well be subject to appreciable random variation
as well as to secular changes. Furthermore, whether or not the implicitly
adopted long-run inflation target ne is constant is also a matter in the hands of
the FOMC. On the other hand, the assumption of constancy in all the starred
terms seems even stronger after recognizing that a change in q* or u* would

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A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

222

tend to induce a reinforcing change in r*.240 Both the effect on q* or u* and
the effect on r* would tend to alter the intercept, ao, in the same direction.
With this understanding, some interpretive comments may place our
regression results ... in perspective. Solving the previously derived
expressions for ao for z* yields

r

* - a-a * - a
a, -1

for the best fitting reaction function [using outcomes for the 1980-1987
period] ....
Assuming that, owing to expansionary fiscal policy during the ... subperiod,
r* is as high as 3 percent, while q* equals 2-1/4 percent per year, a value of
1.1 percent per year for the long-run inflation target, r*, when measured by
the total CPI, is implied by the regression coefficient. The Boskin
Commission (1996) recently estimated the upward bias of inflation measured
by the total CPI to have been 1.1 percent per year. Adjusting [this] n*
estimate ... by this amount converts [it] into a long-run "true" inflation target
... of zero percent....
In light of the inflationary crisis faced by the FOMC when Chairman Volcker
assumed the chairmanship, for the FOMC to have adopted a "hard-line" antiinflationary posture is understandable. As the Staff Director for Monetary and
Financial Policy over much of the Volcker-era, Axilrod ... noted, "The
obvious problem--it was an easy period in that sense--was to control inflation.
One way to do it was to impose an M1 rule on yourself, pay little attention to
GNP forecasts, and just let the economy adjust. ... [The FOMC] used M1
successfully as that bludgeon to receive a rapid reduction in inflation. .. ."241
The negative regression results regarding partial adjustment in setting the funds rate over the
whole seven years is reminiscent of the low value we saw for the early 1980s. Axilrod discussed
the issues captured by the insignificant estimated value for the p term as applied to the earlier
years:
"[T]he Great Inflation [of the 1970s] ... came about because of an interaction
of a culture of extreme policy caution and a number of unanticipated changes

240. For example, in many models, a rise in q*, or a fall in u* that raised potential output, ceteris paribus,
would lower r* to reestablish a higher long-run equilibrium level of real spending matching the higher level of
potential output. [This footnote is in the original 1997 staff paper.]
241. Stephen H. Axilrod, "Comment," FinancialSectors in Open Economies: EmpiricalAnalysis and Policy
Issues, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 1990, pp. 578-79.

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VI. 1969-2003:Q1

223

in the economic environment. That is, in the culture of the time the policy
instrument, say, the funds rate, was adjusted very carefully--slowly and in
small increments .... In that context, you can think about the policy approach

of 1979-82 as an effort to break the culture of excessive policy caution."242
As the 1997 staff paper asserted, "The FOMC ... evidently was willing to forgo gradual
adjustment of the policy instrument in response to changing outcomes."
The Committee, from 1980 through at least 1987, thus also had turned against interest-rate
smoothing. It evidently believed that gradualism itself would contribute to the "too little-too
late" policy syndrome that marked the 1970s. (A modern observer would say that this charge
against gradualism was a bum rap because, if the basic policy stance is moved appropriately far
enough and fast enough over time, there is no reason it cannot be done smoothly rather than
abruptly.)
The three years 1987-89 are more difficult to characterize. The extension of the prescription of
the reaction function fit from 1980 through 1987 into the post-sample period of the next two
years is shown in chart 11 by the dotted line. Also plotted for these three years is another
prescription from a reaction function with a very different structure fit from 1988 to 1996, shown
by the dashed line, with a "backcast" of one year. Even though the latter prescription is shown
for more years of its sample period, the fits of the two equations are reasonably similar. The
1997 Board staff paper (p. 23) said:
The similar prescribed settings for the funds rate over this interval, despite the
quite dissimilar underlying structures of the two reaction functions, suggest
that strong empirical confirmation cannot be provided for our choice of the
exact date separating the two sub-periods,. .. Indeed, the data in this sense

are unable to rule out a gradual rather than abrupt transition from the first to
the second regime.

1988-96
The Board staff paper written in 1997 performed the same sets of tests of fits between
outcomes and forecasts for the 1988-96 period as it had for 1980-87. Defining outcomes as
ending in the previous quarter, the paper found that from 1988 to 1996 equations using FOMC
forecasts of inflation and the unemployment rate fit much better than those using any measure of
outcomes.
The present paper takes a very different tack. "Outcomes" are replaced by "estimates," that is,
results after 1987 given here, in contrast to those in that paper, switch from published values for
the previous quarter to Greenbook estimates of measures in the contemporaneous quarter.

242. Stephen H. Axilrod, "General Discussion," Achieving Price Stability: A Symposium Sponsored by the
FederalReserve Bank of Kansas City, 1976, pp. 232-33

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224

A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Chart 11
Actual and Fitted Federal Funds Rate
Outcomes versus Forecasts
Percent
20

Actual
----..... . Uses Real Growth Outcomes

18

- - - -

Uses Unemployment Gap Forecasts

16 -

i
14

12

10

8

6
1980

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

1989

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225

VI. 1969-2003-Q1

Although four-quarter real GNP growth now extends through estimates for the current quarter,
by far the best-fitting regressions use instead the unemployment rate, which is released monthly
rather than quarterly. Similarly, the series capturing the estimate for inflation is the core PCE,
which also is released on a monthly schedule, rather than the implicit deflator of the GNP, which
is a quarterly figure. Very preliminary estimates of the quarterly GNP output and price data
through September 1985 were published for the first time only in the last month of the quarter in
the so-called flash release. In December 1985, the flash was discontinued, with the first
preliminary release even later, as now, in the first month of the next quarter. By contrast, the
monthly data were, and are, put out in the subsequent month. Thus, enough inferential
information bearing on the contemporaneous quarter was available from these alternative
monthly data and other sources to warrant using Greenbook estimates of their current-quarter
values for the relevant FOMC meetings in late January or early February and late June or early
July in the post-1987 interval. Furthermore, by 1988 experience and turnover of FOMC
personnel meant that the Committee probably viewed these near-term staff estimates as more
reliable than they were viewed in the first seven years of the 1980s. In the 1988 to 1996 period,
equations with these estimated measures fit nearly as well, as we soon shall see, as those with the
macroeconomic forecasts of Board members and Bank presidents, although versions with
estimates have some problems of interpretation.
The forecasts still end three quarters later, in the fourth or second quarters of the year, as dictated
by the horizons of the central tendencies of the announced projections. The general findings
reported here from 1988 to 1996 using these forecast-based measures in the reaction functions
are similar to those originally reported in that paper. But two other minor refinements in the
present study, which apply to estimates as well as forecasts, make the specific results for
forecasts a little different. First, the staff's varying real-time estimates of the NAIRU rather than
the assumption of a constant u* are used during the 1988-96 sample period.
That is, equations for outcomes or forecasts in the 1997 staff paper assumed a fixed NAIRU,
u *, which was impounded in the constant term ao
f,

= (1 -p)[(r* - (a, - 1);* - a,,u* + a,7,, + a,,u,,] + pft-2 + C,,

or

f, = (1-p)(ao + a,;r, + a uI,) +pft-2 + e,,
where
1, =

0(1 0)
-

,^+ 0 )6+31,

and
ur , = (1 - 0) u,, +

u,+31,

By contrast, the present paper uses the staffs time-varying value of the NAIRU
estimated in real time, whether for the estimates or forecasts of u*,, or u*,t3,. This estimate or
forecast of the NAIRU is subtracted from the estimate or forecast for the unemployment rate, u,,
or u,+3,,, to arrive at the estimate or forecast of the unemployment rate gap:

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226

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002
zrl, = ul
Z,,+3[1

-

U*tt ,

Ut+,31 -

U

t+31t

Thus, the regression equations in this paper for 1988-96 take the form:
f

= (-p)[r* - (a, -1)r*+ a,r,+ azz,l] + Pf-2

+

,,

or

f, = (1 -p)(ao + a7rri + az, + pf
t

+

where
rl

(1- 0)r,, + 0'T,+31,

and
Zr

=- (1-

)zI1 +
,

,+ 1
3,

A second minor refinement to the inflation measure corresponding to nr was made in this paper.
The 1997 paper used the total CPI as the inflation index because the Committee in its
semiannual inflation projections switched to this measure from the implicit deflator of the GNP
in February 1989. The earlier paper transformed the February and July 1988 deflator
measurements to a total CPI basis using the staff's estimate of the differential between the two
inflation measures. The FOMC continued to use the total CPI until February 2000, when it
converted its inflation projection to the chain-weighted total PCE deflator. In light of the
Committee's switch to the PCE deflator, all the inflation data from 1988 to 2003 were converted
for this paper to a consistent core PCE basis. This conversion was done for estimates and
forecasts before 2000 by deriving from Board staff documents for current-quarter estimates or
three-quarter-ahead forecasts the differential between total CPI data and core PCE data. For
1988, staff forecasts of the core PCE were not available, so the actual differential outcome for
that year was used. From February 2000 forward, the total and core PCE estimates and forecasts
were readily available in staff documents to convert total PCE concepts to a core PCE basis. 243
In terms of the regression results, shown in table 28, in this paper the replacement of outcomes
with the staff estimates of the current quarter does almost as well in the equations with
gradualism as the measures of the Committee's forecasts (columns 2 versus 4). The standard
error of this regression on estimates with gradualism is 0.40 percentage point, only 0.02 higher
than the comparable result for forecasts. The coefficient on the estimate of inflation at 1.16 is
statistically significant; it is above unity, as required for stability to ensure that the real funds rate

243. Use of the contemporaneous-quarter estimates, rather than lagged-quarter outcomes, of the staff's timevarying, rather than a fixed, estimate of the NAIRU, and of the core PCE, rather than total CPI, as the index of prices
has been originated in stages since 1996 by Athanasios Orphanides, Volker Wieland, and Eric Swanson in various
issues of the ongoing series of memoranda "Monetary Policy Rules." The only difference between the results in this
paper and those in the memoranda is that equations with estimates or forecasts fit from early 1988 into the second
half of the 1990s go through 1996 in this study and through 1998 in the memoranda, which makes a material
difference only for estimates.

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227

VI. /969-2003:Q/

Table 28
Implicit Policy Reaction to Inflation and the Unemployment Gap, 1988:Q l-1996:Q3
Coefficient
and
statistic

Estimates

Bas1s of regression
Forecasts
(3)
(4)

(l)

(2)

1.41
.65
1.28
.17

-.31
.8
1.78
.21
-1.37
.25
0

.88
.72
1.04

p

-1.89
.20
0

¢

0

1.96
.70
1.16
.18
-2.41
.27
.42
.08
0

.90
.66
1.20

.96
.40
2.59

ao
a"
az

R_2

SEE

DW

.17
.82
1.68
.22
-2.20
.35
.47
.08

.97
.38
2.71

Both
(5)

(6)

.93
.97
1.42
.27
-1.80
.25
0

.70
.96
1.52
.26
-2.28
.32
.44
.08
.64
.36
.97
.39
2.68

.24
.41
.89
.68

1.09

NOTE. The regressions shown are least squares estimates of the equation:

=

=

where 7rTit
(1- ¢)1rtlt + </J7rt+31t and zTit
(1- ¢)zt!t + </Jzt+ 3it· The term
r*- (a"- l)1r* is estimated as a constant a0 . Here, f denotes the intended federal funds rate,
1r the inflation rate over four quarters, and z the unemployment gap. 7rtlt and Ztit indicate
real-time estimates of the current-quarter inflation rate and unemployment gap, respectively,
while 7rt+ 3 1t and Zt+ 3 1t denote forecasts. The current-quarter inflation term is the
Greenbook's estimate of the 4-quarter change in the core PCE price index. The inflation
forecast series is a core PCE measure constructed from the FOMC members' published
(non-core) CPI projections. The real-time unemployment gap Ztit is the difference between
the Board staff's estimates of the current-quarter unemployment rate and the NAIRU. The
unemployment gap forecast Zt+ 3 1t uses the FOMC members' forecast of the unemployment
rate and the Board staff's forecast of the NAIRU.
In columns I, 3, and 5, pis set to zero, while m columns 2, 4, and 6 the unrestricted
partial adjustment specification is shown. In columns I and 2, ¢ is set to zero, and the
regression uses current-quarter estimates only. In columns 3 and 4, ¢ is set to one, and the
regression uses forecasts only. Columns 5 and 6 reflect an unrestricted ¢. Standard errors are
shown under the parameter estimates. Eighteen observations are used corresponding to the
February and July FOMC meetings during 1988:Q1-1996:Q3.

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228

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

ultimately rises with an increase in the inflation rate, other things being equal. The coefficient
on the estimate of the unemployment gap is similarly significant at -2.41, even larger than the
coefficient on the forecast for this gap (columns 2 versus 4). The regression equation prefers a
partial adjustment term, or p, of 0.42.
Even though the estimates now do much better than outcomes did previously, the previous
paper's description of forecasts and the optimal combination of forecasts and outcomes (p. 16)
still can be quoted, with a little judicious editing:
[T]he regression results reported in column 4 of [table 28], which incorporate
forecasts alone for inflation and the unemployment rate, along with a lagged
dependent variable, contain the lowest standard error of estimate. Some
points regarding this equation are notable. First, the long-run coefficient on
the inflation forecast in column 4, [ 1.68], of course remains significantly
greater than 1. Second, the equation has a standard error of estimate of only
0.3[8] percentage point, ... and the long-run coefficient on the unemployment
[gap] forecast, -2.2[0], is highly significant. Third, in terms of fit, the equation
in column 6 of the same table, which embodies an estimated ¢>coefficient that
affords forecasts a [0.64] weight and [estimates] a [0.36] weight, is a close
runner-up to the equation in column 4; ... the estimate of¢> is ...
significantly different from 1, which is consistent with [some] role for
[estimates]. Fourth, the results reported in columns 3 and 5 of [table 28],
which do not allow for a lagged dependent variable, display a [much] higher
standard error of estimate than those of columns 4 or 6 using a lagged
dependent variable with a significant p coefficient; interestingly, not
permitting a partial adjustment process in column 5 yields a lower estimate of
¢>, [0.24], which signifies a greater weight on [estimates], than do the results
for ¢>when a lagged dependent variable is used in columns 4 or 6....
The estimates and forecasts of the inflation rate and the unemployment gap are plotted in chart
12.
[Chart 13] show[s] the good predictive performance in the ... sub-period of
the specification in column[s 2 and] 4 of [table 28] using [estimates and]
forecasts of inflation and the unemployment rate, along with the lagged
dependent variable.
We can generate an estimate of the inflation target, 7!'*, for core PCE inflation over the 1988-96
period from the results for both forecasts and estimates, given an assumption that r* was
constant at 2 percent, as Taylor originally posited.

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

229

VI. 1969-2003:QJ

Chart 12 

Inflation and the Unemployment Gap 


1988.01 - 1996:03
Inflation Rate
Perce1·1

55

Estunntes
Forecasts

/\

1'/ .··· \

······I ..·· \ \
·~ ......
•··..• \

/

40

:-..

/

i ···...·....

,

·.y~--<:~·~~\'.

_j

35

' , ····....
'
·.......···\.
......

30

'

•

I
I

\
\\

••1

·.
_.. r··...........\
--'..:::·~·::.:..}

.

25

19BB

Pf,;occent

1989

1990

1991

1992

1994

1993

1995

19%

Unemployment Foree<1sts

eo
Estlmiltes Unemployment Rate
Est1matcs· NAIHU

Forecasts Unemployment Rare
f-orecasrs· NAIRU

75

70
'­

... ... ...

__

65

60

10Bd

19\,l

1'J9..\

1'!nn

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010
230

A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Char113 

Ftt Based on Inflation and the Unemployment Gap 


1988:01- 1996:03

Tmget and Fitted Federal Funds Rates

Percent

12

10
Target
Uses estimates
Uses forecasts
Uses weighted averaye

8

6

4

2

1988

1989

1990

1991

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

231

VI. 1969-2003:QJ

For forecasts with gradualism (column 4), we have:

a0 = r* - (a 1t - 1) n:* '
.17

= 2.0 - .68n:*,

n* =

1.83/.68

= 2.7 percent.

The Boskin commission's 1996 estimate of the upward bias for the total CPI was 1.1 percentage
point. The stafrs estimate for that year was a little higher at 1.3 percentage point. The staff also
estimates that the comparable bias for the total or core PCE was 0.5 percentage point over
1988-96. Subtracting 0.5 from 2.7 yields an effective, albeit implicit, core PCE inflation
objective of 2.2 percentage points for forecasts-based estimates, assuming that the FOMC in this
period conducted policy as if it were following that estimated reaction function. Given the
desirability of a cushion to help avoid problems associated with accidentally getting to the zero
lower bound on the funds rate, this estimated figure arguably constitutes approximate "price
stability."
For estimates with gradualism (column 2), however, the results are less reasonable:
1.96 = 2.0 - .16n:*,

n:*

=

.04/.16

=

.25 percent.

This result for the implicit core PCE inflation objective seems too low to be plausible and casts
doubt on the estimated coefficients for estimates, despite the nearly comparable fit in the sample
period. The post-sample results for the prescribed funds rate target to be analyzed in the next
section will be instructive in this regard because those predicted values would tend to be subject
to overprediction if this estimated inflation objective underlying them is indeed too low.

1997-2003:Ql or 1988-2003:Ql
Viewing 1997:Ql to 2003:Ql as a post-sample period for simulating the equations fit from
1988:Q 1 to 1996:Q 1 suggests that the outlook of the Board members and Reserve Bank
presidents implicitly influenced to a significant degree how the FOMC has set policy since 1996
in much the same way as the outlook did before. From this perspective, the Committee again
has acted as if it retained the same goal for inflation and preference for gradualism. The one
important difference is that the Committee has evidently compared its outlook for
unemployment to a generally lower and lower implicit estimate of the long-run equilibrium for
unemployment-its natural rate or NAIRU.
The results of post-sample simulations over 1997 :Q 1-2003 :Q 1 in table 29 reveal that, in terms
of minimizing the errors of the implicit reaction function fit over the previous nine years, the use
of forecasts clearly outperforms the use of estimates. The out-of-sample root mean squared error
for the equation using forecasts of inflation and the unemployment gap with gradualism (column

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232

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Table 29 

Implicit Policy Reaction to Inflation and the Unemployment Gap: 

1988:Ql-1996:Q3 Sample and Post-Sample Analysis for 1997:Ql-2003:Ql 

Basis of regression
Forecasts

Estimates
Statistic

(1)

(2)

Mean error
SEE

0
.66

0
.40

Mean error
RMSE

-.04

-.48
.66

(3)

(4)

Sample, 1988:Ql-1996:Q3
0
0

.72

.38

Both
(5)

(6)

0
.68

0
.39

.18

-.16

.47

.47

Post-Sample, 1997:Ql-2003:Ql
.44

.71
.90

-.08
.48

NOTE. The columns of the table correspond to the columns in table 28. The specification
of each reaction function also follows that used in table 28. Mean errors (ME) and standard
errors of estimates (SEE) for reaction functions are estimated over 1988:Ql-1996:Q3. These
reaction functions are simulated out of sample from 1997:Ql through 2003:Ql. The
out-of-sample mean errors and root mean square errors (RMSE) corresponding to each
reaction function are then computed.

4) is only 0.48 percentage point, not much above the earlier in-sample standard error of0.38
percentage point. The mean error is only -0.08 percentage point.
By contrast, the root mean squared error of the equation with estimates for these variables and
gradualism is noticeably higher at 0.66 percentage point, with an appreciable mean error of -0.48
percentage point. 244 The results for the equation that uses the two-to-one weights on forecasts
versus estimates, as determined in the sample period (column 6, where¢= 0.64), however, has
summary statistics comparable to the forecasts alone (RMSE = 0.47 and ME= -0.16). This
similarity suggests that estimates can play a supporting role.
Chart 14 gives the basic data, and chart 15 provides a visual rationale of the message of table 29.
The prescription for the funds rate using estimates goes pretty far off in the late 1990s compared
with the actual Committee behavior, whereas the prescription using forecasts is a lot closer.
Both approaches overpredict the targeted funds rate during the sharp easing episode of 2001, but
both out-of-sample simulations come back on track in the second half of 2002. The top panel of
chart 16 repeats exactly these results over both the sample and the subsequent post-sample
periods.
Given the Committee's dual legislative objectives, the desired inflation rate and estimated
natural rate of unemployment are the implicit empirical representations of those dual goals.

244. The good out-of-sample summary statistics obtained for the equation without gradualism (column 1) seem
to be a fluke.

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010
233

VI. 1969-2003:Q/

Chart 14
Inflation and the Unemployment Gap

1997:01 -2003:01
Inflation Rate
10
Esllmates
Forecasts

;\
I
25

\

I

\

I

.........\.
20

t'

\

\

',

'\ '

....

/

I ',
I
I
,;

1\
\

./

\

\

\,., \,,/·\\vr- -~. .>/\\\·......i/\\ \ \
/\//\
•••••••

1.5

HJ97

:

•• • •••••

··.......:

·..

'w'

...........

,:·

,

........
,.

1998

1999

............... 


\\/

2000

2001

,_ ...... ..... 


2002

2003

Unemployment Forecasts

Perr;cnl
65

Estimates·
Estimates·
Forecasts
Forecasts·

60

55

------....__

Unemployment Rille 

NAIRU 

Unemployment Rate 

NAIRU

-----

....... 


............_ _ _ _ ,......._-.,

',

50

I

-

...._


""'/_~'············:'::.:-::.:-:: ..,.,._

'-.. ·,·<'
,

45

--- _, ,

4 ~)
1997

1998

2000

,

,
,,

,

20(]1

2002

2003

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

234

Chart 15 


F1t Based

on Inflation and the Unemployment Gap 

1997.01 -2003:01 


Percent

8

6

4

2

Target and Fttted Federal Funds Rates

Target
Uses esttmates
Uses forecasts
Uses weighted average

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

235

VI. J969-2003:QJ

Chart 16 

Fit Based on Inflation and the Unemployment Gap 

1988:01 - 2003:01 

Target and Ftlted Federal Funds Rates
Percent

12

Target
Uses estimates
Uses forecasts
Uses wetghted average

10

8

End a'
esllrn.aMn

periQd

6

4

2

1~ea

Percent

1989

1qqo

1(}91

1092

199::t

199-l

1!JUIJ

1996

19~7

t9lJ8

1999

:mco

2001

~oo.~

Target and Fitted Federal Funds Rates

12

10

B

6

4

2

Target
Uses estimates
Uses forecasts
Uses weighted average

2001

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

236

A Modern History ofFOMC Communication. 1975-2002

Because the estimated implicit reaction functions use FOMC members' own forecasts out almost
a year of inflation and unemployment relative to those two goals, it seems highly implausible
that any important considerations about objectives have been excluded. Therefore, it is doubtful
that any such omissions could give rise to serial correlation of forecast errors in some important,
but unidentified, objective variables that could produce the type of strings of deviations of the
funds rate from its long-run prescription that could masquerade as gradualism-that is, as true
partial adjustment of the federal funds rate. To be sure, other phenomena could in principle give
rise to a smoothly changing nominal funds rate, such as a long-run equilibrium real short-term
interest rate (r*) that has varied smoothly over time. However, in practice all the "reaction
functions" estimated or simulated in the present study, which generally seem to provide an
adequate "as if' explanation for policy settings, can be taken to assume that the FOMC's
perception of the equilibrium real interest rate remains at a constant r*.
The earlier results, however, essentially are contradicted by the bottom panel of chart 16. This
panel indicates that, when all the years since 1987 are used as the sample period, the equation
with estimates now fits the actual funds rate just as well as the one with forecasts. Similarly, in
the bottom panel, the prescription derived from an equation that uses an equally weighted
combination of estimates and forecasts, which is estimated below, does just as well to the naked
eye as using either one individually.
Table 30 contains the statistical results justifying these impressions. One notable finding is the
stability of all the coefficients for the equation using forecasts (column 4) compared with the
Table 30
Implicit Policy Reaction to Inflation and the Unemployment Gap, 1988:Q1-2003:Ql
Coefficient
and
statistic

Estimates

p

1.41
.27
1.28
.09
-1.84
.12
0

¢

0

(2)
1.09
.33
1.35
.10
-2.11
.16
.34
.07
0

R?

.92
.56
1.44

.96
.43
2.00

ao
a1T
Uz

SEE

DW

(1)

Basis of regression
Forecasts
(3)
(4)
.73
.18
.35
.43
1.52
1.66
.11
.13
-1.60
-2.10
.16
.22
0
.43
.07
1
.89
.66
1.35

.96
.43
2.17

Both
(5)
1.26
.33
1.33
.11
-1.82
.13
0
.18
.24
.92
.57
1.42

NOTE. This table shows estimates of the reaction function shown in table 28 but for a
longer period.

(6)
.60
.41
1.52
.13
-2.11
.18

.37
.07
.52
.25
.96
.41
2.16

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

VI. 1969-2003:Ql

237

coefficients we saw in table 28 for the first subperiod above. Another notable result is the
appreciable revisions to the analogous coefficients for estimates (column 2), which are required
to make the equation with estimates fit just as well as the one with forecasts over the entire
period since 1987.
The estimate of the optimal weights on estimates and forecasts using all the years in the sample
period is even (l/J = .52). Indeed, the standard error of this combination regression is the lowest
of all. Thus, based on these results, it is impossible to reject the idea that the Committee since
1987 was acting as if it were implicitly weighting estimates and forecasts equally in setting the
intended funds rate. This result is a rather startling, considering the out-of-sample performance
we examined earlier, but it accords with my own intuition for the past six years or so.
In summary, based on statistical analysis, this section initially suggested that during the years
from 1997 to early 2003 the Committee continued to design monetary policy mainly
preemptively. Indeed, the section first indicated that the Committee acted as if it were following
in the 1997-February 2003 period the same systematic policy structure based on the outlook for
inflation and unemployment gaps that it seemed to have followed from 1990 to 1996, and
perhaps even for a few years earlier as well. In post-sample simulations, the reaction function
with gradualism that best captures the Committee's implicit behavior in terms of the closest
prediction of the actual funds rate, as gauged either by the average miss or the squared deviation
without regard to sign, is the one that relies on forecasts three quarters ahead. By contrast, the
prediction of the funds rate based on contemporaneous-quarter estimates with gradualism goes
astray in the late 1990s in post-sample simulation, and the relative out-of-sample performance of
this approach is clearly wanting.
However, the section went on to point out that estimates attain an equal footing with forecasts
when the whole 1988:Q1 to 2003:Ql period is used as the sample period. The coefficients in the
estimated equation for estimates for the entire period revise enough to give a fit that is just as
good at that for forecasts, for which the coefficients are much more stable. Indeed, the estimated
weight on each of the two is about 0.5 with this way oflooking at the FOMC's implicit behavior;
that is, according to this statistical analysis, the Committee seems to have examined both
estimates and forecasts to about the same extent when the period of 1997 to early 2003 is added
to the sample.

Summary of Evolving Policy Design
The reader who has gotten this far has demonstrated praiseworthy patience but may appreciate a
concise summary of the reaction functions uncovered during the various eras. Table 31
summarizes the essential statistics detailed in the sections of this chapter. The table presents the
design principles implicitly put into effect by the FOMC over time-that is, the reaction function
that one would expect to find in the data if the FOMC had actually been implementing that
particular one during each of the various periods. The table's separate columns, all of which
apply to semiannual periods, represent the main stages of the FOMC's policy design. However,
as we have seen, in some cases distinct borderlines between adjacent eras cannot be drawn:

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238

A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

Table 31
Implicit Policy Reaction to Inflation and Resource Use

Coefficient
and
statistic
ao

1969:Ql-1979:Q2
Regression on
forecasts
(1)

1979:Q4-1982:Q2
Calibration with
estimates
(2)

11.37
1.32

1.69
.84
1.54
.12

a7Tt-IIt

1.20

a7Ttlt

a7Tt+3lt

1980:Ql-1987:Q3
Regression on 

outcomes 

(3) 


1.52
.24

a7T.,.It

.32

aqt-llt

.13
.90

aqtlt

autit

aut+Jit

-2.04
.30

aztlt

azt+Jit

aZrlt

p

¢
fl2

SEE

DW
ME
RMSE
Notes appear after table.

.89
.75

.21

0

0

.35

0
.92
1.12
2.54

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239

VI. 1969-2003:Ql

Table 31-Continued 

Implicit Policy Reaction to Inflation and Resource Use 


Coefficient
and
statistic
ao

1988:Q1-1996:Q3
Basis of regression
Estimates
Forecasts
(4)
(5)
1.96
.70

.17
.82

Both
(6)
.70
.96

1988:Q1-2003:Ql
Basis of regression
Estimates
Forecasts
(7)
(8)
1.09
.33

.18
.43

Both
(9)
.60
.41

a1l't-1it

a1l'it

1.16
.18

1.35
.10
1.68
.22

a1l't+3lt

1.66
.13
1.52
.26

a11'rlt

1.52
.13

aqt-llt

aqtlt

au tit

aut+31t

aztlt

-2.41
.27

-2.11
.16
-2.20
.35

azt+31t

azrlt

p

¢
fl2
SEE

ow
ME
RMSE

.42
.08
0

.47
.08
1

.96
.40
2.59

.97
.38
2.71

-2.10
.22
-2.28
.32
.44
.08
.64
.36
.97
.39
2.68

Post-Sample: 1997:Q1-2003:Q1
-.48
-.08
-.16
.66
.48
.47 


.34
.07
0

.43
.07

.96
.43
2.00

.96
.43
2.17

-2.11
.18
.37
.07
.52
.25
.96
.41
2.16

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010
A Modern History of FOMC Communication: 1975-2002

240

Notes to Table 31
Blank data cells are not applicable.
Regression results are taken from the estimation of the general reaction function

ft

= (1- p)[r* -(a,.- 1)11'* -

axx*

+ a,.11'Tit + axxTitl + Pft-2,

where 11'Tit = (1 - ¢)11't-tlt + ¢1l't+Jit. xTit = (1- ¢)xt-•1t + ¢xt+31t• t = 0 or 1, and 0::; ¢::; 1. The term J
denotes the intended federal funds rate; 11', the inflation rate over four quarters; 11'*, the constant inflation target; x, a
measure of economic activity; and x*, a measure of productive capacity. The term r* -(a,. - 1)11'* - axx* is
estimated as a constant a0 when the measure of productive capacity x* is assumed to be invariant (columns 1 and 3).
If productive capacity varies over time (that is, x* = x; 1 it helps form the term xTit - x;lt' and the constant ao
t),
becomes r* -(a,.- 1)11'* (columns 4- 9).
Two measures of resource use are employed: ( 1) the gap between the growth rate of real output and the growth rate of
potential output and (2) the gap between the unemployment rate and the NAIRU. The coefficient aq measures the
long-run response of the policy rate to the difference between the rates of actual and potential output growth; au
measures the long-run response to the difference between the unemployment rate and a constant NAIRU; and az
measures the long-run response to an unemployment gap that includes a time-varying NAIRU. The choice of which
resource measure to show in this table has been determined by the availability of real-time estimates of the NAIRU
and the goodness of fit. The coefficient a,. measures the long-run response to the inflation term in the reaction
function.
Each coefficient a,. and ax in the table has a time subscript. In column 3, i = 1, and the subscript t- lit denotes the
one-quarter lagged value as available at timet to policymakers. Because it is a lagged value, this term is referred to as
an outcome. In columns 2, 4, 6, 7, and 8, i = 0, and the subscript tit denotes the estimate of the current-quarter value
made at timet. In columns 1, 5, 6, 8, and 9, t + 3lt denotes the three-quarter-ahead forecast made on information
available in timet. The parameter p indicates the weight placed on the intended funds rate lagged two quarters. The
parameter ¢ indicates the weight placed on outcomes or estimates versus forecasts. In columns 2, 3, 4, and 7, ¢ was
set to zero; in columns 1, 5, and 8, it was set to 1; and in columns 6 and 9, it was estimated. A weight closer to one
suggests that forecasts are relatively more important, and a weight closer to zero suggests the opposite. Standard
errors are shown below each coefficient.
For columns 3- 9, the reaction functions were fit or simulated with semiannual data. The forecasts were taken from
the Board's Monetary Policy Report to the Congress, which is released in the middle to the end of February and July.
Real-time estimates of inflation, the output growth rate, and the unemployment rate were taken from the Greenbooks
issued just before the publication of the Monetary Policy Report. Real-time estimates or forecasts of the NAIRU were
taken from internal Board staff memoranda. The first column reports results estimated with quarterly data. In this
period, 1969:Q 1 - 1979:Q2, forecasts of FOMC members were not available, so Green book forecasts were used.
In columns 4, 5, and 6, results are reported from post-sample simulations for each specification of the reaction
function. The mean error (ME) and the root mean square error (RMSE) are given.
In column 2, the results were derived analytically from a model in which policymakers target Ml via nonborrowed
reserves. This reaction function was calibrated with estimates made in the early 1980s for a variety of relevant
monetary relationships. The model implies a Taylor-like function that treats the federal funds rate as the dependent
variable and two-quarter rates of inflation and output growth ending in the current quarter as the independent
variables. The implied coefficients for the Taylor-like function are nonlinear combinations of the coefficients in the
M !-targeting model.

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VI. 	 1969-2003:QJ

241

• 	 1969:Ql to 1979:Q2 (column 1): using implicit forecasts ofinflation relative to a low
implicit inflation target and ofunemployment relative to an implicit estimate of the NAIRU,
combined with gradually adjusting the federal funds rate, or employing interest-rate
smoothing.
• 	 1979:Q4 to 1982:Q2 (column 2): attempting explicitly to reduce trend Ml growth to its
steady-state rate by operating on nonborrowed reserves, while making judgmental
adjustments to the path for nonborrowed reserves to reinforce the automatic mechanism and
downgrading gradualism in policy implementation.
• 	 1980:Q 1 to 1987:Q3 (column 3): concentrating, albeit more implicitly, on realized outcomes
for inflation relative to a very low implicit inflation objective and for real economic growth
relative to an implicit estimate of the growth rate of potential output, without any gradualism.
• 	 1988 :Q 1 to 1996:Q3 (column 6): still focusing on inflation relative to an implicit low
objective while also gradually transitioning in the late 1980s to implicitly examining the
level gap for unemployment relative to an implicit time-varying estimate of the effective
NAIRU and putting somewhat greater weight on forecasts of inflation and unemployment
gaps than on estimates of their current levels, while restoring the gradual adjustment of the
funds rate target.
• 	 Either 1997:Q1 to 2003:Ql (two bottom rows of column 6) or 1988:Q1 to 2003:Q1 (column
9): in the former, continuing after 1996 to apply that somewhat higher implied weight on the
implicit forecasts of gaps for inflation and unemployment compared with estimates of their
contemporaneous values, while retaining gradualism; in the latter, while maintaining
gradualism, continuing after 1996 to put equal weight on the outcomes versus forecasts of
these two gaps, as in retrospect also turns out to have been the case from 1987 to 1996. The
statistical tools of macroeconomics unfortunately are too blunt to distinguish which ofthe
two best describes the design principles implicitly applied during the past fifteen years.

Authorized for public release by the FOMC Secretariat on 05/27/2010

VII. CONCLUSION 

The foregoing chronology of the evolution of FOMC communication procedures suggests that
many of the reforms were motivated in important measure by a desire to communicate more
clearly to the public and to the markets. But many steps through May 1999 also were motivated
by a desire to avoid the repercussions of leaks, even inadvertent ones, of previously confidential
FOMC information. One could argue that, because less is now left to leak, the communication
policy now may come closer to a stable equilibrium from this perspective.
The fundamental approach to monetary policy of targeting the federal funds rate also seems well
ensconced, which would preclude the type of alteration to operating procedures that could give
rise to changes in transparency practices. This viewpoint, however, may be too oriented to the
present time and circumstances. The history of the Federal Reserve is replete with changes in
policy design and operating procedures from one decade to the next. One can envision the
Committee moving toward new approaches to its policy, which may well involve revisions to its
communication procedures. For example, adopting some variant of an "inflation targeting"
regime would surely alter the nature of the FOMC's communication with the public and the
Congress. Even a gradual evolution of design and operating procedures could at some point
significantly affect the FOMC's transparency practices, although in ways that are now
unknowable.