COLUMBIA — After releasing an economic report on Columbia’s smoking ban Dec. 11, St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank economist Michael Pakko clarified his intention, affiliation and the source of funding for his research.
Charles Cowger, former director of the MU School of Social Work, was puzzled by what he called a lack of transparency in the media’s coverage of the report.
“My primary concern was not about Michael Pakko,” Cowger said. “What troubled me the most was that stories were published without attributing his past affiliations.”
Pakko recently released the results of a study he did on the impact of Columbia’s ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. He reported that the ban, enacted on Jan. 9, had caused a 5 percent decline in sales tax revenue from dining establishments.
Pakko has studied smoking bans elsewhere and was invited by the Boone Liberty Coalition, which fought the ban, to testify to the Columbia City Council as it considered whether to approve it. Although Pakko at one time chaired the St. Louis County Libertarian Party, he said that his reports are in no way influenced by party or political motivations.
“I believe in the power of the free market, and that point of view overlaps a lot with the Libertarian point of view,” Pakko said. Still, he said he is an economist first and is simply researching important issues.
Cletus Coughlin, deputy director of research at the Federal Reserve, clarified the bank’s position regarding its economists’ reports.
“We hold strongly that these aren’t official positions of the bank,” Coughlin said. “However, he (Pakko) is an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank, and we don’t want to hide from that.”
Coughlin said he prefers not to see “Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis says...” in media stories about its researchers’ work because of the way things can be “stereotyped.”
“We cringe when we see that,” he said.
The Federal Reserve’s attempt to separate itself from individual findings can be found in every report it publishes. At the beginning or end of each publication, a disclaimer reads “The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis or the Federal Reserve System.”