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Jerome Powell laid out a doctrine of basing monetary policy as much on how the economy performs in reality as on the prescriptions of academic models as his Federal Reserve tries to extend a nearly decade-long expansion.

In his first speech as Fed chief at an annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Powell defended his gradualist approach and, in the process, hardened expectations for a September interest-rate increase. In addition, he stressed that estimates of how the economy works—like those followed by Ph.D. economists on the Fed staff—were at best “hazy” navigational guides.

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