Did you hear the one about the Fed?

There’s nothing funny about the real estate downturn.

Nor is there anything particularly humorous about the apparent inability of the Fed Open Market Committee to get a handle on how housing problems would take down  the whole economy, a fact that became widely known when the panel’s 2006 minutes were made available http://goo.gl/TpUoY.

One thing I did notice as I read  minutes of some of the FOMC meetings was the number of times the committee members laughed.

Here’s an example from the March 2006, at which chairman Ben Bernanke discussed procedures for taking questions from members in what is known as the “first go-round” on the economic outlook:

“First, I will take the liberty of intervening occasionally and raising a question and asking for comment. Second, and this is a risky thing, I’m going to ask for two-handed interventions \[laughter\]. If you would like to comment or ask a question about a colleague’s remarks, please raise two hands and you’ll be recognized to make short remarks \[or\] to be perhaps responded to. This process may work to well \[laughter\].”

Funny stuff, huh? The Daily Stag Hunt, a web site, has published a piece titled “The Correlation of Laughter at FOMC Meetings” http://goo.gl/9VDrw, which tracks the laughter from 2000 to 2006 — a period that featured the laugh-a-minute antics of former chairman Alan Greenspan — including a table of yuks recorded at each committee meeting and a graphic showing that the guffaws peaked in 2006, the same time as the Case-Shiller 20-City Home Price Index.