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Third Quarter 2014, 
Vol. 96, No. 3
Posted 2014-09-15

Making Sense of Dissents: A History of FOMC Dissents

by Daniel L. Thornton and David C. Wheelock

This article presents a record of dissents on Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) monetary policy votes from the Committee’s inception in its modern form in 1936 through 2013. Dissents were rare during the Committee’s first 20 years but began to increase in the late 1950s. The number of dissents increased sharply during the late 1970s and early 1980s, when both inflation and unemployment were unusually high. However, at other times, the number of dissents was not correlated with either inflation or the unemployment rate. A review of FOMC records and published statements indicates that dissents often reflect fundamental disagreement about (i) how to achieve the Committee’s macroeconomic objectives and (ii) the current stance of policy. The number of dissents also appears to have been influenced by the language used by the FOMC to communicate instructions to the manager of the System Open Market Account.