Discussion paper

DP14878 The Power of the Federal Reserve Chair

Transcripts from the meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) show that
the policy proposed by its chair is always adopted with a majority of votes and limited dissent.
An interpretation of this observation is that the power of the chair vis-a-vis the other members
is so large that the policy selected by the committee is basically that preferred by the chair.
Instead, this paper argues that the observation that the chair’s proposal is always approved
is an equilibrium outcome: the proposal passes because it is designed to pass and it does not
necessarily correspond to the policy preferred by the chair. We construct a model of inclusive
voting where the chair has agenda-setting powers to make the proposal that is initially put
to a vote but is subject to an acceptance constraint that incorporates the preferences of the
median and the probability of counter-proposals. The model is estimated by the method of
maximum likelihood using real-time data from FOMC meetings. Results for the full sample
and sub-samples for each chair between 1974 and 2008 show that the data prefer a version of
our model where the chair is moderately inclusive over a dictator model. Thus, the workings of
the FOMC appear to be stable over time and no chair, regardless of personality and recognized
ability, can deviate far from the median view.


Riboni, A (2020), ‘DP14878 The Power of the Federal Reserve Chair‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 14878. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp14878