Jackson Hole looks depressingly insular

It's Jackson Hole Economic Symposium day, and so, of course, I woke up with the top priority of getting today's agenda from the Kansas City Fed website - even before coffee.


For those who aren't Fed geeks, the Jackson Hole Economic Symposium is an annual convergence of central bankers and academics to discuss "an important economic issue facing the U.S. and world economies". It was founded in 1978 by Gerry Corrigan, then president of the Kansas City Fed, as a way of bringing his mentor and Fed Chairman Paul Volker to Wyoming for some fly fishing - a passion they shared.


I know the backstory because Corrigan was my boss at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. I impressed him early in my career by pointing him toward some artic grayling in Yellowstone National Park. (One cynical colleague thereafter referred to the fish as 'the brown-nosed artic grayling'.)



I watch for Jackson Hole every year because central bankers often make edgier speeches there amidst the Grand Tetons, broaching topics and issues they would discreetly avoid otherwise. Mark Carney's 2019 speech calling for global de-dollarisation is an excellent example.


In the midst of a Delta resurgence for the global pandemic, in a week when the US is departing another failed war, leaving another diplomatic, economic and immigration crisis to its allies, it would have been good to see some international collaboration at Jackson Hole. No such luck.


The title for this year is 'Macroeconomic Policy in an Uneven Economy', which I hoped meant a look at the divergence of economic impacts and recovery trajectories globally. The agenda is entirely composed of American central bankers and academics - although many academics are foreign born and one works for the IMF.


Dani Rodrik recently observed that economics has several diversity problems: gender, race, and western-university dominance. Women speakers outnumber men this year 10 to 9, so Jackson Hole looks good on gender balance. At least 7 of the 19 speakers are foreign-born, so probably good marks on racial diversity too. But the fact that all work at US institutions or universities, and almost all have spoken at earlier Jackson Hole meetings, reinforces Rodrik's point that economics is a bit of an Anglo-American-centric academic echo chamber.


The Kansas City Fed had intended Jackson Hole to be in-person again back in May, only shifting to webinar format last week as the Delta variant made travel and mixing in Wyoming impractical. Perhaps that explains the absence of any foreign-based central bankers or academics.


One reason for founding Pacemaker as a collaborative, data-centric, inclusive community of central banks is that there isn't anything else like it already doing the job. The insularity of today's Jackson Hole Symposium validates the need for new globalist and inclusive methods and tools that aren't tied to 1970s politics and fly fishing.

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