The US Senate’s approval on Monday of Janet Yellen to lead the US Federal Reserve puts a woman at the head of the world’s most powerful central bank for the first time.
Few doubt her qualifications to take on the job of shepherding the US economy back to sustained growth, after the deep damage done by the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009.
The veteran economist has done long service both as an academic and at the Fed, serving as vice chair and a close ally to the outgoing chairman, Ben Bernanke, for the past four years.
She was as much a part of the Fed’s program to further boost growth to reduce joblessness as was Bernanke, and has been a key driver of the recent push to make its intentions more clear to the public.
When nominating her in October, President Barack Obama called her “exceptionally qualified” for what he said was one of the most important jobs in the world.
“She is a proven leader, and she’s tough. Not just because she is from Brooklyn,” Obama joked, in reference to a New York borough notorious for producing no-nonsense characters.
He cited her record of having “sounded the alarm early” about the housing and financial bubble that led to the 2008-2009 recession.
“It’s more important than ever that we have strong regulators like Janet Yellen… who isn’t afraid to act when they find abuses that put Americans at risk,” Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown said.
At 67, she has also built a strong reputation as an academic economist, teaching at the University of California at Berkeley.
Her family is a mini-economic think tank. Husband George Akerlof is a winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, and is currently Senior Resident Scholar at the International Monetary Fund.
Their son Robert Akerlof is an assistant professor of economics at the University of Warwick. They are known for taking economic texts to the beach on vacation.
“The truth is,” Yellen once told an interviewer in her distinctive Brooklyn accent, “if you spent an evening at our house you would probably hear economics discussed over the dinner table.
“You would eat a diet that is richer in discussions of economics and policy issues than many people would find appetizing.”
She and her husband have a long-term interest in the impact of joblessness on the economy, and through that Yellen has helped keep Fed policy focused on bringing down the unemployment rate.
In her Senate confirmation hearing in November, she made it clear she would not break from Bernanke’s policies. which both officials say are designed to get the US economy into higher gear.
“We have made good progress, but we have farther to go to regain the ground lost in the crisis and the recession,” she told the committee.
“I consider it imperative to do what we can to promote a very strong recovery,”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]