Jerome Powell And The ‘Pretty Substantial Tent City’

Jerome Powell spoke on a virtual IMF panel Thursday.

Nobody was expecting to hear anything new from the vaunted Fed Chair, who’s mastered the art (?) of repeating himself, almost verbatim, to the point that you could easily mistake one set of remarks for a different set, precisely because there’s no discernible difference between them.

I’m not trying to be derisive. What else is he supposed to say? The recovery is incomplete, the Fed will remain accommodative until it judges that accommodation is no longer needed and hyperinflation isn’t likely.

Powell lives in a macabre version of the film Groundhog Day. Every morning, he wakes up to the same newscast (“Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your masks ’cause it’s daaaangerous out there today. It’s dangerous out there every day. What is this, 2017? Not hardly”) and has the same conversations with the same people (“Jay? Jay Powell? Jay Powell, I thought that was you. Now don’t you tell me you don’t remember me ’cause I sure as heckfire remember you”).

Little wonder he dodged questions Thursday about whether he’d serve a second term. The last three years must seem like an eternity. First it was a trade war and daily, public shaming by the President of The United States, then it was a once-in-a-generation economic collapse brought about by an actual plague. Powell was 64 when he decided to accept the top job at the Fed. Four years later, he’s 97.

In his Thursday remarks, Powell tried out an anecdote (bless his heart), and I’m not sure it went well.

“Finally, Chair Powell, nightmares — what keeps you up at night,” CNBC’s Sara Eisen wondered. “Uhhm — ,” Powell stammered. “I would mention the nine or ten million of those people who are trying to get back to the lives that they had,” he said, before going off script.

“You may know this, there’s a pretty substantial tent city that I drive [through] on the way home from work on Virginia Avenue,” he remarked. The verbal emphasis Powell put on “tent city” somehow made the story even more tragically comedic than it would have been on its own.


“So, we just need to keep reminding ourselves that even though some parts of the economy are doing just great, there’s a very large group of people who are not,” he went on to emphasize.

To be sure, Powell meant well. And, if you watch the entire clip (not shown), he clarified, noting that it’s a mistake to focus narrowly on near-term, “palliative” measures, while not affording enough attention to the longer-term structural issues.

But, as you can imagine, he was lampooned on social media. In this case, simply quoting him was enough to elicit jeers and digital expressions of incredulous laughter.

For example, one netizen quoted Powell and put the date next to it, so as to show how ridiculous it might look were it featured on, say, a tear-off calendar:

There is a pretty significant tent city that I drive through on the way home from work” – Jerome Powell 4/8/21

Others strung together all-caps newswire snippets, which made for even more unfortunate optics:


And so on, and so forth.

This is why it’s generally better if Powell sticks assiduously to the script. There’s nothing “wrong” with his standard, boilerplate talking points, maddeningly bland though they may be.

His intentions were good Thursday, but to those inclined to sarcastic derision, Powell inadvertently conjured an indelible visual: A Fed Chair worth tens of millions gawking at a makeshift, outdoor homeless shelter through the glass of a luxury sedan on his way home to a safe, secure and, one imagines, nicely-adorned residence.

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8 thoughts on “Jerome Powell And The ‘Pretty Substantial Tent City’

  1. Matt Gaetz or Jay Powell? Josh Hawley or Jay Powell? Ted Cruz or Jay Powell? Marco Rubio or Jay Powell? Donald Trump or Jay Powelll? I rest my case.

  2. Seriously, when a member of one of the groups of elites says this, you know they got to be talking about it among themselves. Like, “Oh, dear, that’s really terrible that there was a tent city. How was the snow last week in Sun Valley?”

    1. There’s just something about the way he said tent city — that emphasis — I mean, it’s obviously terribly tragic, but the way he said it, and how he kind of looks sideways simultaneously, it’s like something out of a dark, dry comedy

  3. I don’t know – is it any worse than the Greenspan argle bargle of yore? He could have been more empathetic, but at least he brought it up. I cut this guy a lot of slack. Your Ground Hog Day analogy is spot on.

  4. But what can he do to change the outlook of the denizens of tent city? Was it not the elected clowns in the nations capital that put them there??

  5. When is the last time a Fed chair has said anything about the homeless?? I’m grateful he raised the issue, and that he apparently thinks about it every day. The financial press is full of pundits who only think about how interest rates will affect the gains on their already overvalued tech portfolios. I’ll take good intentions over poor delivery any day.

  6. Powell is empathetic, maybe not the most eloquent. We have seen in the past 45 years that eloquence does not always translate into robust actions or results. I will take empathy over eloquence right now. It takes some confidence to experiment the way Bernanke and Powell did through their respective economic crises’. Its easy throw rocks from the peanut gallery. He is really trying to help, and deserves some credit for the attempt.

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