Nearing 100, Federal Reserve crowdsources its centennial

Flags fly over the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C.

Kai Ryssdal: The Fed turns 100 years old next year. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 gave us the central bank, and more congressional briefings about monetary policy than you can shake a stick at.

But to mark its centenntial, the Fed wants to be known for more than just that. It's seeking suggestions on what to include in a new archive. Marketplace's David Gura did some calling around.


David Gura: Let’s just say, a Fed watcher’s wish list is probably different from yours and mine. Phill Swagell teaches at the University of Maryland.

Phill Swagell: It would be fascinating to see not just the minutes, but the memos, the internal memos of the Fed, say in 1928, 1929.

John Silvia is the chief economist at Wells Fargo.

John Silvia: Well, I would love to see the Fed’s forecasts for economic activity and inflation over the years.

These guys dream about documents. But they’ll admit there’s more to the Fed’s history than that. Silvia remembers how obsessed economists used to be with Alan Greenspan’s black briefcase.

Silvia: How big that briefcase was, and did the size of that briefcase really make any difference in terms of policy?

Maybe it deserves a place in the archives. And let’s remember, Fed policymakers do have personalities. Hamilton College economist Ann Owen reminds us Greenspan liked to play tennis.

Ann Owen: You could put a video of one of his tennis matches in, or perhaps even a tennis racket or a tennis ball from one of his games.

Over the years, the Fed has been controversial, and Williams College economics professor Ken Kuttner says it has gotten its share of hate mail. In the 1970s, Paul Volcker tried to tackle inflation. He raised interest rates to double digits, and the housing market came to a standstill.

Ken Kuttner: Out-of-work builders would send two-by-fours to the Board of Governors.

And if one of those two-by-fours doesn’t make it into the archive, Kuttner says the Fed is rumored to have sent replies to some of those builders. And that’s the correspondence he’d like to see.

In Washington, I’m David Gura for Marketplace.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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