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How famed authors would have written a Fed statement

Fred Williams

Eight times a year, the Federal Open Market Committee makes an official statement after its two-day meeting. The statement explains where the committee set interest rates, and why.

The goal is to make the nation’s monetary policy transparent. But there’s a problem: Instead of transparent, the statements are getting more and more opaque.

“FOMC statements have grown more complicated since the onset of unconventional monetary policy,” economists Ruben Hernandez-Murillo and Hannah Shell wrote in a paper published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Since the financial crisis in 2008, the complexity of the statements has climbed to grade level 18 or 19, suggesting that you need years of graduate school to make sense of them. The pre-crisis grade level averaged about 9 to 14, the researchers found.

Since the economy isn’t getting simpler, why not turn the task of writing the statements over to professional writers? They could write the statements in ways that would entertain people, instead of sending them to the dictionary. Here’s how it might look.

J.D. Salinger
J.D. SalingerJ.D. Salinger’s blunt honesty would send a fresh breeze through the Fed’s word-pillars:

One of the biggest reasons we left rates alone was that all of the economic improvement we’ve seen is phony. That’s all. G-dd-m phonies. The unemployment rate was the phoniest of them all. It looks good and then you look closer and see that it’s a big crumby mess.

Jane Austen
Jane AustenThe FOMC statement has bulged from an average of 210 words during Fed Chair Alan Greenspan’s tenure to more than 800 words under Janet Yellen, the current chair. It begins with an overview of economic conditions, a bland section that cries out for the spice of Jane Austen’s wit:

The Fed discussed the improved economy in the usual manner, about the events people usually mention in such cases: Employment was ample, those looking for unexceptional occupation were fewer, and gentlemen’s daughters enjoyed opportunities to spend in as silly a manner as they could hope for.

Mickey Spillane
Mickey SpillaneMickey Spillane’s two-fisted diction could subdue tough technical concepts, such as the end of special stimulus measures announced this month:

Quantitative easing. Dead. The words hit me hard. Quantitative easing had shared the same messy statistical database with me through five years of slogging out of the recession. It took a bayonet for me during Dodd-Frank, but it always came back. QE1. QE2. QE3. It always had my asset-backed securities.

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel)
Dr. SeussOften the abstract nature of economics makes it difficult to grasp. Dr. Seuss knew how to put flesh — and sometimes fur — on airy concepts:

Inflation, its feet ice cold in the snow, stood waiting and waiting, reloading ammo. It had waited through downturns, it had waited through lags, while Chairman Bernanke gave out moneybags. But as the economy’s health was restored, Inflation knew he’d cause consumer uproar. “Let me loose on gas prices, the housing sector. I’m Inflation, I’ll make you feel scared at the store!”

Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. ThompsonA big question the Fed faces is how much economic stimulus to apply, without setting off a vicious cycle of rising prices. Hunter S. Thompson was good at explaining boundaries, having crossed so many himself:

The Edge of inflation … There’s no honest way to explain it because the only way to really know where we should be is to go over. The guys in charge say 2 percent. They want to see us work more. But the truth is never told during the nine-to-five hours.  

Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams
And Douglas Adams has a knack for presenting big, even universal, ideas in entertaining ways:

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what inflation is good for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already started to happen.

George R.R. Martin
George R.R. MartinOne of the tasks of the statement is to bridge the known facts of the present with the nebulous possibilities of the future. Here the FOMC could take a lesson from George R.R. Martin :

Winter is coming.
Not long ago, in a time easy to remember a disturbing event threw the realm’s economy out of balance. In a land where families spend what they can despite their losses, interest rate changes are brewing after years of peace. The cold, higher rates are returning and in the frozen wastes to the east, forces are massing to determine if the realm’s progress is enough to take a stand. At the center of the issue lies the Feds of D.C., an assembly as powerful and long-winded as the land they were born to. Their decision will sweep across the land of job hunters, house buyers and debt-burdened. They build on an elaborate tale of jobs to be filled, prices to be stabilized and spending to be made. The decision will come one omen at a time.
Winter is coming.

J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowling
Then again, it might be more honest to borrow a page from J.K. Rowling and admit that the economy doesn’t operate entirely within the realm of reason:

The Ministry of Magic judges that there has been a substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market since the re-inception of Muggleborns to the job market in the post-You-Know-Who era. People begin to see normalcy returning to their lives without the terror of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Whether these positive changes will continue under the new Minister of Magic remains to be seen.

Contributing: Yasmin Ghahremani, Jamie Gonzalez, Sienna Kossman, Laura Mohammad, Daniel P. Ray, Matt Schulz and Julie Sherrier.

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  • Matt Schulz

    How about a little Springsteen?
    “The Fed said, ‘Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night. The economy ain’t a beauty, but hey, it’s all right. Oh, and the Fed Funds Rate’s all right with me.'”