May 14, 2020

Weird Sub-Federal-Reserve Report swims across our field of vision, unsettles, amuses


We here at Melville House like to feel that our intellectual diet is broad and diverse; we consider ourselves genteel scholars, Renaissance persons to whom no form of discourse about the world, humanity, and God is foreign. So when our managing editor received a mysterious notification about a new report from a branch of the Federal Reserve called FRED St. Louis, about COVID-19, natch, we were intrigued! What could this be?

Further piquing our interest was the report’s title: “Perspectives from Main Street: The Impact of COVID-19 on Communities and the Entities Serving Them.” Whoa! We like to think that we, in our small way, serve our community, although we are unsettled by being called an “entity.” And during these trying times, we feel it is important, now more than ever, to gather as much intelligence as possible about the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus. Maybe we’ll learn something!

Living dangerously, we dove in. A closer look at “Perspectives from Main Street: The Impact of COVID-19 on Communities and the Entities Serving Them” yielded, uh … charts! And graphs! Icons and bullet points … and … numbers … Feeling a bit bored with our new toy, we moved on to the “TL:DR,” as the youngsters call it.

The “TL:DR” was unsettling in a very different way. According to the report, “the vast majority—69% of respondents—indicated that COVID-19 was significantly disrupting economic conditions in the communities they serve.” Um … OK? We read on, scanning the screen anxiously in fervent hope of illumination. “Increasing economic opportunity,” we read, “is good for individuals, communities and the overall economy.”

We tabbed away from this nonsense in disgust. Why, we could do as well ourselves! Maybe we have been in the wrong line of work all along? Who are these clowns, anyway? Thinking quickly, we turned to “our guys”—a nebulous coterie of college drinking buddies who have inexplicably been failing upwards for decades industry experts for some elucidation.

What, or who, is FRED, anyway? What’s the connection with St. Louis? Spareribs? Chuck? Bob Gibson? Not hardly, says a friend of ours in finance. It’s a “vestige of the early 20th century when St Louis was true financial center with real industry. They have a blog because what they have to say can actually be pretty important.”

Whoa. Feeling chastened, but still suspicious, we checked in with our reporter chum. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “The St. Louis Fed is the major repository of economic history data for the country. A lot of very prestigious economists have gone through there.” But … maybe not the ones writing these reports? Meanwhile, a third offered only this: “It stands for Federal Reserve Economic Data,” he replied tersely, “and the data is bleak.” Well, geez. Tell us something we don’t know!

Keep washing those hands!



Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.