The Economic Obsession with Jackson Hole

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But it’s changing.

Attention to Jackson Hole also deepened because of the 2008 global financial crisis, when central banks rescued markets and propped up economies in ways that expanded their influence. In the years that followed, uninvited journalists, Wall Street analysts, and protest groups began to camp out in the lodge’s lobby during proceedings. Speaking at or presiding over a Jackson Hole session increasingly marked an economist as an academic rock star.

Esther George, president of the Kansas City Fed between 2011 and early 2023, was in charge as the event garnered more notice. She and her team responded to the intensified spotlight partly by shaking up who got to bask in it.

Far fewer banking and finance industry economists have gotten invites to the event since 2014, partly in response to public attention to the Fed’s Wall Street connections after the financial crisis. The people who make the list tend to be current and former top economic officials and up-and-coming academics. Increasingly, they are women, people from racially diverse backgrounds, and people with varying economic viewpoints.

Ms. George started to hold an informal happy hour for female economists in 2012, when there were so few women that “we could all sit around a small table,” she recalled. It made her think: “Why aren’t these other voices here?”

Last year, the happy hour included dozens of women.

But the Jackson Hole conference could be entering a new era. Ms. George had to retire in 2023 per Fed rules, so while she helped to plan this conference, she’ll be passing the baton for future events to her successor, Jeffrey Schmid, a university administrator and former chief executive of Mutual of Omaha Bank. He started as Kansas City Fed president on Monday and will make his debut as a Fed official at the gathering this week.

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