I said I'd look into it and finally went to my local library after a few unsuccessful internet searches and asked about Federal Reserve Board interest rates going as far back as possible (It was easy to find rates going back a few weeks or months, but the librarian had to search for a bit to find them going back further) and I then pulled up a list of recessions (That wasn't hard at all).
Recession of 1953
|1951 1Q||1951 2Q||1951 3Q||1951 4Q||1952 1Q||1952 2Q||1952 3Q||1952 4Q|
Recession of 1957
|1955 1Q||1955 2Q||1955 3Q||1955 4Q||1956 1Q||1956 2Q||1956 3Q||1956 4Q|
Recession of 1960
|1958 1Q||1958 2Q||1958 3Q||1958 4Q||1959 1Q||1959 2Q||1959 3Q||1959 4Q|
Recession of 1980
|1978 1Q||1978 2Q||1978 3Q||1978 4Q||1979 1Q||1979 2Q||1979 3Q||1979 4Q|
Recession of 1990
|1988 1Q||1988 2Q||1988 3Q||1988 4Q||1989 1Q||1989 2Q||1989 3Q||1989 4Q|
Recession of 2001
|1999 1Q||1999 2Q||1999 3Q||1999 4Q||2000 1Q||2000 2Q||2000 3Q||2000 4Q|
Recession of 2007
|2005 1Q||2005 2Q||2005 3Q||2005 4Q||2006 1Q||2006 2Q||2006 3Q||2006 4Q|
Non-recession of 1970
|1968 1Q||1968 2Q||1968 3Q||1968 4Q||1969 1Q||1969 2Q||1969 3Q||1969 4Q|
Non-recession of 1996
|1994 1Q||1994 2Q||1994 3Q||1994 4Q||1995 1Q||1995 2Q||1995 3Q||1995 4Q|
Non-recession of 2006
|2004 1Q||2004 2Q||2004 3Q||2004 4Q||2005 1Q||2005 2Q||2005 3Q||2005 4Q|
So what do we have?
1953, interest rates in the two years beforehand were completely flat.
1957, we see what looks like a classic rise with rates going from 1.50 to 3.00.
1960, rates wobbled from 2.94 to 1.75, but then rising from there to 4.00.
1980, 6.37 to 11.27 in a straight line upwards.
1990 saw a very gradual rise from 6.00 to 7.00.
2001 saw another gradual rise from 4.50 to 6.00.
2007 saw a rise from 3.25 to 6.25.
With the non-recessions, we see a rise from 4.50 to 6.00 in 1968-69 not leading to a recession.
1994 to 1995, a rise of 3.00 to 5.25 did not lead to a recession.
2004 to 2005, a rise of 2.00 to 4.75 did not lead to a recession.
So, the initial question I received after I wrote my piece on the economy was "Why didn't I account for the actions of the Fed?" What does the Fed do? Basically, it sets the interest rate. The reason why the economists I read did not account for the interest rate set by the Fed appears to be that there's really not much of a connection between what interest rate the Fed sets and how the economy reacts (Note that the list of recessions I linked to above lists a different reason for each recession). It appears there's usually a rise in the interest rate in the two years before a recession, but not always and sometimes it's a steep rise and sometimes it's a gradual one. 1950-1970, rises tended to be extremely gradual with not much change from quarter to quarter at all. That period saw three recessions.
The early 1980s saw extremely high interest rates, going up as high as 14.00, as Paul Volcker was using those rates to eliminate the inflation that had persisted so stubbornly up to that point.
So I find the explanation that the Fed plays an extremely decisive role in the ups and downs of the economy to be an unconvincing one. Obviously it plays a role, but there appear to be many other meaningful factors that also affect the economy.