Liberty Street Economics

« | Main | »

September 28, 2012

Historical Echoes: Policymakers Gone Fishin’–The Beginnings of the Fed’s Jackson Hole Symposium

Amy Farber

The Jackson Hole symposium (meeting, conference, summit) is referred to every which way in the media and even by Fed people themselves. The official name of the event is the “Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium.”

Wikipedia has a short description of the conference embedded in the entry for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

Since 1978, the Kansas City Fed has held an annual Federal Reserve symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. From 1978 to 1981 the symposia focused on agricultural economic issues. Since 1981 topics have been more broad and the symposia have gotten broader attention. In 2003 and 2005, papers were presented at the
symposium that were critical of the status quo, and predicted, for example,
problems with the unseen risks of derivatives. These ideas in these papers were
rejected at the time, but later were seen as having predicted the financial
crisis of 2007-2010.

A fine “social history” of the conference, In Late August, was published in 2011 by the Kansas City Fed. The photos should put to rest any notion that policymakers don’t know how to have a good time. In Late August examines some of the key conference topics and shows how they reflected the economic debates of the time. It also provides a wealth of interesting background information—anecdotes about the Jackson Hole valley, an account of the genesis of the conference themes, and some thoughts on the media’s relationship to the conference.

You can access all of the conference proceedings on the Kansas City Fed website. Each conference has a unique title and theme.

You can hear the optimism about the importance of the conference in the opening remarks for the first conference in 1978. Roger Guffey (at that time President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City) says:

The symposium on agricultural trade represents the first of what we hope will become an ongoing series of conferences on important economic issues. As we developed this program, our major objective was to consider an economic topic about which important public and private decisions will be made during the coming years. We also wanted the topic to be of significant concern not only to the Tenth Federal Reserve District served by this Bank, but also to the nation as a whole. A related
objective was to bring together, in a suitable setting, a group of top-level decision
makers from business, government, and academia who have considerable expertise
in the selected topic. In doing so, the symposium would serve as a vehicle for
promoting public discussion and for exchanging ideas on the issue in question.

The importance of the Jackson Hole symposium to Fed folks is illustrated in the following dialogue between Alan Greenspan and his fellow members of the Federal Open Market Committee in December 1996. (Note that the Tom Davis mentioned below was the Kansas City Fed’s research director, not the senator from South Carolina or the Saturday Night Live performer.)

CHAIRMAN GREENSPAN. Good morning, everyone. This is Tom Davis’s last meeting. He has been coming to these meetings for 20 years, and I suspect that by now he knows what they are all about, and just as he finally gets it, he has to leave. I
think he has made an extraordinary niche in the system, and if there is ever a
plaque in Jackson Hole, his name will be on it.
One thing that you can say about the Jackson Hole symposium, which of
course Tom struggled mightily to help bring into existence, is that we all put
the symposium on our calendar each year and then adjust everything else. Tom, we certainly are going to miss you.   [Applause]

MS. RIVLIN. I hope this does not mean the end of the
Jackson Hole conferences.

CHAIRMAN GREENSPAN. If it means the end of Jackson Hole, Tom is coming back no matter where he is!   

Finally, you might ask why Jackson Hole is the venue? “Trout,” says Paul Wiseman of the Associated Press in this recent article about how the location was decided upon.
If you cannot commit the time to read the approximately forty-nine pages
of text in In Late August, this article gives some idea of the history. Note that the Fed document also makes multiple references to trout.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author.

Amy Farber is a research librarian in the New York Fed's Research and Statistics Group.

About the Blog

Liberty Street Economics features insight and analysis from New York Fed economists working at the intersection of research and policy. Launched in 2011, the blog takes its name from the Bank’s headquarters at 33 Liberty Street in Manhattan’s Financial District.

The editors are Michael Fleming, Andrew Haughwout, Thomas Klitgaard, and Asani Sarkar, all economists in the Bank’s Research Group.

Liberty Street Economics does not publish new posts during the blackout periods surrounding Federal Open Market Committee meetings.

The views expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the New York Fed or the Federal Reserve System.

Economic Research Tracker

Image of NYFED Economic Research Tracker Icon Liberty Street Economics is available on the iPhone® and iPad® and can be customized by economic research topic or economist.

Economic Inequality

image of inequality icons for the Economic Inequality: A Research Series

This ongoing Liberty Street Economics series analyzes disparities in economic and policy outcomes by race, gender, age, region, income, and other factors.

Most Read this Year

Comment Guidelines


We encourage your comments and queries on our posts and will publish them (below the post) subject to the following guidelines:

Please be brief: Comments are limited to 1,500 characters.

Please be aware: Comments submitted shortly before or during the FOMC blackout may not be published until after the blackout.

Please be relevant: Comments are moderated and will not appear until they have been reviewed to ensure that they are substantive and clearly related to the topic of the post.

Please be respectful: We reserve the right not to post any comment, and will not post comments that are abusive, harassing, obscene, or commercial in nature. No notice will be given regarding whether a submission will or will
not be posted.‎

Comments with links: Please do not include any links in your comment, even if you feel the links will contribute to the discussion. Comments with links will not be posted.

Send Us Feedback

Disclosure Policy

The LSE editors ask authors submitting a post to the blog to confirm that they have no conflicts of interest as defined by the American Economic Association in its Disclosure Policy. If an author has sources of financial support or other interests that could be perceived as influencing the research presented in the post, we disclose that fact in a statement prepared by the author and appended to the author information at the end of the post. If the author has no such interests to disclose, no statement is provided. Note, however, that we do indicate in all cases if a data vendor or other party has a right to review a post.