Legal & Political History of the Federal Reserve

Students

Wharton

Faculty

Assistant Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics

Project Summary

The goal of our project was to help provide a comprehensive political history of the Federal Reserve. More specifically, the information we gathered and wrote about will be used in Professor Conti-Brown’s upcoming book on the Fed. The content in this project contains archived newspaper PDFs, lengthy research memos on unique events in the Federal Reserve’s history, quantitative analysis concerning the payment systems of Federal Reserve Board members, and digitized correspondence and reports made by past Federal Reserve Board members and political officials (e.g. the President, Secretary of the Treasury, etc.).

In our research experience, we obviously learned the more quantitative aspects inherent in historical research such as data entry, file conversion, and light coding. But we also learned how to properly gather sources and cite large chunks of information while writing an extensive report on a specific event in the Fed’s history and how to handle and analyze historical documents while visiting presidential libraries. When writing these reports, we learned about significant events that shape the Fed’s legacy and responsibility today. For instance, we learned of how the Federal Reserve earned its dual mandate to manage inflation and unemployment through the Humphrey-Hawkins Act (and how it historically has disregarded managing unemployment in favor of managing inflation); we learned how the Federal Reserve has the ability to react swiftly to stock market crashes; and so many more.

For me, I believe this experience researching the Federal Reserve was very eye-opening. First, I was able to work with Professor Conti-Brown, who was a very understanding and knowledgeable mentor, and I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to contribute to his forthcoming publication. Additionally, after researching so much about the Federal Reserve, I feel that I have gained a better insight into the banking industry and am even more interested in pursuing that as a career. Although deemed as a particularly confusing institution to the general public, the Federal Reserve and its role in the economy has been significantly made understandable to me after this research experience.