Policymakers’ Uncertainty

Anna Cieslak (NBER;Duke University;CEPR)

June 21, 2022

BDF Paris

Séminaire Banque de France


Deviations from a policy rule underpin empirical identification of monetary policy shocks. We cast light on how deviations arise by analyzing internal policy deliberations of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). We show that policymakers’ beliefs about higher-order moments of economic distributions—specifically perceptions of uncertainty and skewness—significantly impact policy stance beyond economic forecasts typically used in rule estimates. To capture those otherwise unobservable decision-making features, we construct text-based proxies for policymakers’ uncertainty, sentiment, and policy stance from the FOMC meeting transcripts over the 1987–2015 period. Heightened uncertainty generally amplifies the policymakers’ response to the macroeconomy. However, while an increased uncertainty about the real economy drives an easier stance, inflation uncertainty leads to more hawkishness. We show that policymakers’ inflation uncertainty is associated with their skewed beliefs about rising inflation, which do not materialize in our sample. The results depart from the certainty equivalence arising in classic monetary models and contrast with the frequently-referenced conservatism in policymaking under uncertainty. Instead, the evidence suggests that policymakers act aggressively to avoid low-probability costly outcomes which are endogenous to their policy actions.