Federal Reserve takes punch bowl away

Humor in Fed Transcripts

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Feb 22, 2014    •    1021 Views

Below, just a reminder of one piece of the Great Recession before looking at the Fed transcripts. Lehman Brothers is the orange line.

Great Recession stock prices


With a typical 5-year lag, the transcripts of the 2008 Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meetings were just released. Summarizing their content, The Wall Street Journal said that a “Winter Wake-Up Call” was followed by a “Spring Lull” but soon “The Panic Erupts” and finally, “Whatever It Takes.” Similarly, the title for the Annie Lowrey post in Economix was “How the Fed Saw a Recession, Then Didn’t, Then Did.”

Very occasionally, and less so as the recession worsened, participants displayed some humor that the transcript explicitly identifies with [Laughter]:

  • Mr. Mishkin: As somebody who stupidly is just going to contract on a new house because I have to please my wife, I actually thought exactly along these lines and was thinking about pulling out but then decided that my marriage was more important.
  • Minneapolis Fed President Gary Stern: It was close.
  • Mr. Mishkin: By the way, if you know my wife, no it wasn’t close.


  • Mr. Mishkin: Also, if you ask people what TV shows they are watching, they will tell you that they are watching PBS and something classy, but you know they are watching “Desperate Housewives.”
  • Chairman Bernanke: What is wrong with “Desperate Housewives”? 


  • San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen: An accounting joke concerning the balance sheets of many financial institutions is now making the rounds, and it summarizes the situation as follows: On the left-hand side, nothing is right; and on the right-hand side, nothing is left.


They also indulged in some metaphor use:

  • Ms. Yellen: I’m concerned that households and firms are in a python squeeze of an intensifying credit crunch and a continuing decline in housing wealth as well as pressures from surging food and energy prices.


  • Chairman Bernanke: I would like to put on the table a request for authorization for swap lines. I prefer not to put a limit on it, so I know I’ve got my own bazooka here.


Sources and Resources: While the NY Times, WSJ and all of the major news media summarize the Fed’s discussions, you can see firsthand in the transcripts how tough it was to recognize the severity of the recession. My humor and metaphor quotes came from Economix and wsj.com and the graph, from Businessinsider.


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