The Rhetorical Fed

Image courtesy of the Federal Reserve
Image courtesy of the Federal Reserve

Journalists, market analysts, and politicians have a saying that summarizes the impact of the Federal Reserve: “When the Fed speaks, everyone listens.” To account for this perception of the Fed’s importance, I develop a theoretical construct, the rhetorical Fed, to explain how the Fed came to be such a prominent actor in debates on the economy.

In my book project, When The Fed Speaks, I investigate how three rhetorical functions of the Federal Reserve emerged and evolved across time: how the Fed negotiates with the White House and Congress, how the Fed communicates with the business community and the general public, and how the Fed translates complex, economic knowledge in public debates. To trace this evolution, I focus on the speeches of six prominent chairs, Marriner S. Eccles (1934-1948), William McChesney Martin Jr. (1951-1970), Arthur Burns (1970-1978), Paul Volcker (1979-1987), Alan Greenspan (1987-2006), and Ben Bernanke (2006-2014), and how they each relied on a distinct rhetorical style in order to position the Federal Reserve at the center of the economic world.

My work on the Federal Reserve has been made possible by generous support from the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah, the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, the Volcker Alliance, the History of Economics Society, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and the Center for Democratic Deliberation at Penn State University.