Jim McKelvey is founder and CEO of Invisibly Inc. and co-founder of Square.
Before I joined the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in 2017, I had little idea what the Fed as an institution did. Some faceless group of economists would meet in Washington to tweak interest rates up or down and go back to their dens. (It wasn’t until 2019 that they held press conferences after each meeting to explain it to the rest of us.) In some ways, the Fed seemed like a quaint historical artifact to me. Of course, I was wrong.
First, the St. Louis Fed does much more than tweak rates. The staff at the St. Louis headquarters and the branch offices in Little Rock, Louisville and Memphis promote a healthy economy for all of us, whether we’re running a business or a household. We sometimes fail to notice those things that work well, but travel somewhere that has a collapsing currency or insolvent banks, and our central bank starts to shine.
The St. Louis Fed is also known worldwide for its scholarly research. The Bank’s economists have been at the forefront of critical thinking for decades, whether as leaders in monetary research and statistics or in conducting research on new topics such as digital currencies and decentralized finance.
And we share this research, along with most of the world’s other important economic data, through FRED®—Federal Reserve Economic Data—the Bank’s publicly available economic database. FRED, and the economic truth it shares, is a worldwide hit. I even get high-fives in foreign countries for wearing my FRED hoodie!
But perhaps most importantly, we are a voice. An independent voice. Today as I write this, our president, Jim Bullard, just published the reasons why he dissented from the Federal Open Market Committee’s March decision to raise the policy rate by only 0.25 percentage points. It doesn’t matter if Jim was right or was, well, Jim’s usually right. But it was his independence that mattered.
And that gets to one of the most important things I’ve learned about the Federal Reserve since becoming a director: Its federated structure ensures that the tension of debating diverse ideas is built in, by design. It’s not a yes-person institution, and that makes for better policy. With a phenomenal group of leaders and staff amplifying our voices, the St. Louis Fed serves every citizen. Spread the word.
Chair of the Board of Directors
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis