How many people in the country do you suppose really, truly know whether Janet Yellen is best qualified?

Certainly not I. But you see, I strongly doubt that most of the people really stirred up about her candidacy for the Fed do, either.

This is stimulated by a couple of things. One of which is the withdrawal of Larry Summers — the candidate the president wanted — from consideration for Ben Bernanke’s job, for “reasons” that seem kinda sketchy.

Then, there was this email this morning:

Hi Brad,

Now that Larry Summers — the President’s Rock of Gibraltar — has withdrawn himself from consideration for the top Fed job, he should — in for a penny, in for a pound — do everything he can to make sure that Janet Yellen gets the job. Summers should privately tell the President that Yellen is the best choice (because she is), he should aggressively lobby Senators from both parties to support Yellen (because they still listen to him, even though they don’t want to), and he should publicly endorse her for the job.

Just think: if the President nominates Janet Yellen to the Fed, Republican Senators will have no choice but to vote to confirm her or to face the wrath of American women at the voting booth. And even the GOP isn’t that stupid. I mean seriously, hell hath no fury like women scorned by a bunch of old white male Republican Senators stopping the confirmation of the first female Fed Chair in American history.

So if Larry comes out and supports the best person for the job…a historic President gets to make a historic appointment…the country gets the most qualified person to run monetary policy…Republicans suffer apoplectic seizures while being forced to do the right thing or cost themselves the women’s vote for the next 20 years…and Larry Summers gets to redeem himself with 51% of the population (even those oh-so-hard-to-please Harvard feminists).

Everybody wins.

Come on Larry, be a real man, support Janet.


No, I don’t know who this Erica is when she’s at home, either. Even after finding this page. Near as I can tell, she’s some sort of professional “progressive.”

Nor, as I say, do I know anything about this Janet Yellen, although at a glance her resume seems a good fit. But so did Summers’.

And following the link my new BF Erica sent me, I see that the reasons given for Democrats not liking Summers were pretty weak. I find myself focusing on this:

Some Democrats are not keen on Summers as a candidate for the job, arguing that he was too supportive of deregulation during the Clinton administration. Nineteen Democratic senators – joined by an independent – signed a letter last week urging the president to instead consider Fed Vice Chairman Janet Yellen. Other candidates may in the mix as well.

“He is really a non-starter for us,” one senior Democratic staffer said of Summers.

Really? I have to say that any Democrat who would not want to return to the policies of the Clinton era — a time of balancing budgets, a booming economy and triangulating the Republicans silly — is a few bricks shy of a load. I’ll never quite understand what motivates these Democrats who think the people they manage to get elected aren’t lefty enough. Something they’re all smoking, I suspect.

Of course, we have reason to suspect it’s not really about that. That isn’t the emotional center for these rather gut-led people, is it? Isn’t it about that all that hoo-hah at Harvard? Erica seems to refer to that with her appeal to Larry to “redeem himself with 51% of the population,” which is the kind of hyperbole we have come to expect with people who think Summers said something horrid. Frankly, when I go back and look at what he actually did say, it’s so dense that I find myself wanting someone to interpret it for me from the academese. And I suspect any set of people constituting “51% of the population” would have the same problem. And “interpreters” play a big role in this. Most of the people who are truly indignant toward Summers — which I sincerely doubt is anything close to a majority of the country, or even of women — are mad about what someone said he said, rather than what he said.

In any case, he’s out and some people who look at things in simplistic terms are going “Yay!” and thinking this means Janet Yellen is in, although that’s not necessarily the way the president is going to go.

Far as I know, she’s the best candidate. But I know that I don’t know enough to judge that. (I know that my gut feeling that she’d be good is just a prejudice on my part — I tend, other things being equal, to cheer for in-house candidates, and she already works there.)  And I marvel that so many other people seem to think they do…

56 thoughts on “How many people in the country do you suppose really, truly know whether Janet Yellen is best qualified?

  1. Bryan Caskey

    I am weary of the push to break the “glass ceiling” in certain offices just for the sake of doing so. But I’m a southern white guy, so take that for whatever it’s worth.

    Having said that, I don’t really care who the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors is if they have a solid understanding of macroeconomic theory and monetary policy. Yellen is certainly qualified. I majored in economics, and it’s not that interesting to me. The Chair doesn’t dictate terms – it’s a committee. The Chair certainly has sway over other members, but that depends on their ability to persuade and the other members’ confidence in the Chair. For instance, Greenspan got a lot of deference in his opinions, because the other members of the FOMC trusted him.

    I say Godspeed and good luck to whomever wants/gets the job.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    Best qualified is never the standard. There’s probably some economics professor at, say, Northwestern or Rice, who is in fact best qualified, but who knows?

    Yellin is a top deputy with a gazillion years’ experience, so she is more than qualified. After that, it’s who knows whom….

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Which was my point. Few of us really know.

      Which is why I find it irritating that there are people out there — people having an actual effect on events, unfortunately — who see things this simplistically:

      Yellen woman, so Yellen good. Summers — man who said something some women (actually, the subset of women who go around asserting that ALL women think what they think) didn’t like. Summers bad.

  3. David Carlton

    “I have to say that any Democrat who would not want to return to the policies of the Clinton era — a time of balancing budgets, a booming economy and triangulating the Republicans silly — is a few bricks shy of a load. I’ll never quite understand what motivates these Democrats who think the people they manage to get elected aren’t lefty enough. Some they’re all smoking, I suspect.”

    Brad, if you were really serious about engaging the critics of Summers you’d deal with the charge that by pushing for financial deregulation and opposing derivatives regulation Summers was helping set up the financial debacle of 2008. Yes, the Clinton years were prosperous, but responsibility for the financialization of the American economy and the mispricing of risk that led to 2008 reaches back there as well. I frankly think Summers got a raw deal here; those who’ve worked with him closely say that he’s learned a lot and is far more flexible and creative than he’s been given blame for. But I also like Yellen. More importantly, these are not issues that are that difficult to understand if you’re willing to do the reading and engage with all the good economics writers out there. If you’re not–and present evidence indicates that *you’re* not)–you have no business commenting. You’re in no position to ridicule other people’s views if you don’t even know what they are.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      David, I thought I WAS engaging “with the charge that by pushing for financial deregulation and opposing derivatives regulation Summers was helping set up the financial debacle of 2008.” I said that I’m unimpressed by arguments that Democrats were pursuing the wrong policies in the late 90s.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    Bottom line, the Fed chair’s job is to make markets feel good. Inspire confidence. Whoever can do that is the person best qualified.

    Because as scornful I may be about the simplistic “thinking” that makes Yellen best because she’s a woman, and Summers worst because he made some women mad, it can be worse in the financial sector than in politics. There’s this great colonial animal out there that twitches this way, twitches that way, according to the emotions of the moment, and billions of dollars move or don’t move, and this thing we call our economy either turns good or bad as a result. The Fed chair’s job is to inspire that unthinking animal to twitch in the right direction.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Put another way: A given candidate may be the most knowledgeable person in the universe for the job, may know it backwards and forwards, may have a deep understanding of all the best possible policies to follow.

      But if every time that person opens his or her mouth, markets plummet, then it’s not the right person.

      So, if you have three people who are all well qualified, I’d tend to go with the one that makes markets feel good. I have no idea who that would be, though…

      1. Doug Ross

        It’s far more than a cheerleader position. The Fed makes specific policy changes that impact the economy. Just saying everything will be fine doesn’t make it happen. Alan Greenspan was cryptic in his comments and about as dour a person as you could find for the position. But he had some good years and some bad years.

        The greatest boon to the economy would be a simplified tax code and loosening of the regulations that hinder business development.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Neither of which the Fed chair can do…

          I didn’t say it’s just “a cheerleader position.” I said (or meant to say) that if you have three (or five, or ten, or whatever) candidates, all of whom were entirely qualified and prepared to pursue smart policies, you want the one who makes the markets feel good about themselves. Because the markets are twitchy.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            By the way, the post to which I refer you above is just chock full o’ irony.

            The WSJ story in which I was quoted was about executives who’ve been laid off and decide to grow facial hair.

            The story was brought to my attention by my then-boss, the publisher of The State. I started my post about it with a joke about how this was ” not the kind of message you want to receive from your boss after taking a couple of days off (and almost deciding to grow your beard back), on the same day you read that David Stanton — the only person at WIS I could name, a guy who went to work there the same year I joined The State — has been unceremoniously laid off.”

            Yuk-yuk, right? That blog post was written less than three months before that same publisher laid ME off.

            And… I later grew facial hair — lots of it. Coincidence? I don’t think so…

        2. Bryan Caskey

          But Greenspan was cryptic on purpose. He was somewhat renowned for his ability to answer a question, and at the end of his answer the Congressman who asked the question just kind of had the “deer in the headlights” look.

          Or maybe that’s the default look for some Congressmen.

          1. Doug Ross

            No, I was specific in saying those that hinder business development.

            The best way to handle securities regulation would be through taxes on transactions that rein in speculators as well as never, ever, never again using the words “too big to fail”. Let them fail. It’s the absence of risk that increases bad behavior.

        3. bud

          A simplified tax code would be helpful to the economy, I’ll concede that, but to suggest that would be “the greatest boon to the economy” is an overstatement. What we need is to address government policies that allow a tiny handful of folks to garner the vast majority of the wealth even though increased productivity rightfully is earned by most everyone especially the workers. The balance between capital and labor has gotten way skewed in favor of capital since the late 70s.

  5. Doug Ross

    If all I knew about Larry Summers was the scene in the Facebook movie “The Social Network” where he meets the Winklevos twins, I wouldn’t hire him to be dogcatcher. He is a pretentious jerk. He has been quoted as saying the scene is “fair rendering”.

    Here’s the scene:

      1. Doug Ross

        I’d say Larry outdid them by far in that area. The Winkvi did sorta get ripped off by Zuckerburg and had a reasonable case to bring to Summers. I’m guessing when faced with young guys who were smart, better looking, and more athletic, Larry felt a little threatened.

        1. Doug Ross

          And the Winklevoss reply to Summers’ calling them ‘a-holes’ is perfect.

          “It was not his failure to shake hands with the three of us upon entering his office (doing so would have required him to take his feet off his desk and stand up from his chair), nor his tenor that was most alarming, but rather his scorn for a genuine discourse on deeper ethical questions, Harvard’s Honor Code, and its applicability or lack thereof.”

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          This, I’m afraid, is one of those cognitive disconnects based in the fact that you’re a libertarian and I’m of a more, um, authoritarian frame of mind. Maybe because it’s because I’m father to so many, and spent most of my life as a guy in charge of other people.

          Sometimes an authority figure is presented with subordinates (and another thing that might separate us is that I do not believe a pair of undergraduates and a university president are equals; in a properly constituted universe the former are supposed to subordinate themselves to, and listen to, the latter) who have a puffed-up notion of themselves. And sometimes the appropriate thing for him to do is to take them down a peg or two.

          Now the problem, of course, becomes when the authority figure abuses his position in order to bully people. And maybe that happened here. But I suspect that the president of Harvard frequently finds himself confronted by students who consider themselves to be special cases, and sometimes he gets fed up with it.

          I have to say that I don’t agree with Summers assessment of the twins’ attire: “One of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at three o’clock, there are two possibilities. One is that they’re looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an a**hole. This was the latter case.”

          There’s a third possibility, Larry. Maybe they’re being deferential, and showing respect for your high office…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Let me also say that I don’t think college presidents should utter such ungrammatical phrases as “the other is that they are an a**hole.”

            In case you missed it, “they” does not agree with “AN asshole.”

            The proper way to say it, particularly since you’re talking coats and ties, and especially since the students in question in this instance were male, would be “the other is that he is an a**hole.”

            What he said is the sort of construction I abhor, although it should be pleasing to the less thoughtful sort of feminist…

          2. Doug Ross

            Read the Winklevos reply – they definitely were option #3 – thinking a meeting with the college president during what was termed open hours with the president. Thet were rebuffed the first time they attempted to meet due to too many students in the queue. They came back a month later.

            The fact that Summers didn’t even shake their hands is all about Larry. He’s a self-important fool. A lot of authoritarians are like that.

  6. Silence

    Instead of appointing a new chairman for the Fed, maybe we should think about winding it down and ending the tyranny of inflation and fiat currency.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          That reminds me of what sailors used to (and may still, for all I know) call the Phalanx system, also referred to as CIWS, for Close-In-Weapon-System:

          Captain, It Won’t Shoot.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Of course, being a Jack Aubrey fan, I think naval gunnery became decadent when they went from the reliable slowmatch to flintlocks…

          “If I wasn’t a gunner, I wouldn’t be here…”

      1. FParker

        Tick, tick, tick… if you don’t think this country is sitting on an economic time bomb I don’t know what to say. The Treasury has been printing billions of dollars with nothing to back them other than the word of the government. When this stops, things are going to get ugly fast.

        The Food Stamp budget is scheduled to be cut by $40 billion dollars over the next 10 years starting November 1st, which will affect 2-4 million people. Is the government going to print an extra $4 billion per year to continue the ever expanding program? Again with new unbacked money? Pretty soon bums in the street will be able to light cigarette butts with $100 bills.

      2. Silence

        Yes bud, and we have 2275% cumulative inflation since the Fed was established. That’s a lot. We had almost no average inflation before 1913, and the boom bust business cycles pale in comparison with the Great Depression and later financial crises.

  7. Silence

    Larry Summers was the victim of a well-orchestrated high tech lynching. If he wasn’t white, Jewish and male, it never would have been allowed to have happened. There would have been a media uproar.

    First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

    1. Doug Ross

      Larry Summers was a victim of his own hubris. He reminds me of people like Dick Morris and Karl Rove – sometimes right, always certain. He falls into that category of people who believe their own b.s.

      1. Silence

        Doug, if he’d been a black man or any type of woman this would have never happened to him, and you know it.

        1. Doug Ross

          No, I don’t know it. I don’t think he was taken down simply because of one statement he made. I think he was an arrogant jerk in general and got what he deserved.

  8. Brad Warthen Post author

    Seeing all the stories today about how Ms. Yellen is now the front-runner for the position, something occurred to me.

    It occurred to me that if she gets the job, everywhere she goes over the next few years, and maybe for the rest of her life, women are going to come up to her and tell her how proud they are of her, and how they wrote letters of support for her, or whatever, and how they see her getting the job as a personal triumph, etc., etc.

    And I thought how I would feel in that position, and how awkward it would be. How could I tell those people that I hadn’t wanted to be their cause celebre, how I would have welcomed support based on my actual qualifications, and how I found support based on the accident of gender to be rather demeaning, or at the very least embarrassing?

    I mean, I’d want to be nice to them, because they meant well, but I really would not want to thank them. Because I would not appreciate it, not really. And I especially wouldn’t want to thank them if anyone else happened to be in a position to overhear the exchange, because I wouldn’t want in any way to seem to have been a party to the whole “choose her because she’s a woman” thing.

    Janet Yellen may be the absolute perfect candidate for Fed chair. She may be the most exquisitely prepared person in the history of the office, for all I know. If so, some of the credit that should have accrued to her has been taken away, unfairly, by the emphasis on her gender. She will likely forever be the “first female Fed chair” whenever people in the future look her up on Wikipedia, or whatever replaces Wikipedia. Or worse, they’ll use that popular-but-ungrammatical construction, “first woman Fed chair.” And unless she is totally lackluster, that will be a shame.

    1. Doug Ross

      It’s not like people were writing letters in support of Snooki or Miley Cyrus to be head of the Fed. She appears to be qualified for the position, so she’s getting support from people in her demographic. No
      big deal. We’ll know in a year or two whether she was both qualified AND capable.

      Your track record shows a history of mainly supporting middle aged or older white guys. Someone has to help overcome that bias…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        One, that’s not true. Women, when they run, are not any more or less likely to be supported by me than men.

        Two, even if it were true, there would be no “bias” to overcome. I’ve never once supported a white guy BECAUSE he’s a white guy, either consciously or unconsciously.

        Nor have I supported a woman because she’s a woman.

        For instance, I endorsed Nikki Haley for the House because I thought we needed a change from the do-nothing ol’ boy who had held that seat forever — a motivation with which you would probably agree.

        That’s probably not a good example, though, given the way things turned out…

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        And actually, it IS kind of like they were supporting Snooki or Miley Cyrus, if their only motivation was that she was a woman. That’s what I meant about it being demeaning. I think Ms. Yellen deserves better, given her impressive resume.

        I prefer the motivation that some of the lefties had that Summers was too big a fan of deregulation. I think they were WRONG, but at least that’s not insulting to Janet Yellen.

        1. barry

          Thanks to Doug, I understand now that candidates for fed chairperson apparently have groupies.

          The only people writing letters or emails about this issue are agenda driven groups, and people that have absolutely nothing else to do.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Speaking of looking things up on Wikipedia…

      Between these last episodes of “Breaking Bad” (and I haven’t seen the one from Sunday night, so don’t tell me anything!), I’ve been rewatching the whole series.

      A couple of nights ago, I was watching an episode from Season 4, and Skyler was looking up “Money laundering” on Wikipedia. Which I appreciated.

      So often in movies and on television, you see characters using invented computer interfaces — entire unfamiliar operating systems, even — rather than do a product placement for Microsoft or Google or some website. And it makes the show or movie seem to be set in some alternative universe. Kind of like back in the sixties, when you’d see a rock band on-screen, they’d usually be playing some monotonous nothing tune that someone improvised just for the show, rather than something people were actually listening to at the time. I hated that.

      So I appreciate it when a show is realistic enough to use actual Wikipedia…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        And yeah, I confess I’m way more interested in “Breaking Bad” than I am in the next Fed chair, even though I know, intellectually, that the latter is more important.

        Now, if people’s motivation to support Janet Yellen was that it would help Walt get the upper-hand against Gus Fring, that would be a motivation that would make sense to me. Or if her policies on the Fed made it easier for Skylar to launder the ill-gotten gains through the car wash — yes, I would completely get that…

        Not that I’m claiming to understand money-laundering. I still find it confusing, in spite of Saul Goodman’s mini-seminars on the subject. But I bet Janet Yellen understands it, which is another reason she’d be a far better Fed chair than I am…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Here’s the kind of burning issue I’m wondering about… How come Walt and Skyler tell customers at the car wash to “have an A1 day,” when the name of the car wash is “A1A?” Shouldn’t it be “have an A1A day?” I realize that would sound stupid, but only marginally more stupid than what they say now.

          Of course, I realize that’s a little bit thrown in to emphasize the banality of their cover business. It’s supposed to shout, “Corny!” It makes me feel a little bad, though, because the show seems to be mocking small-business people’s often lame efforts at marketing. Hey, if you were clever with words, maybe you’d do something other than run a car wash. But I don’t think people whose talents run more to running an unremarkable small business should be mocked because they’re not so great at repartee…

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        An example of WHY I don’t get money-laundering… I just don’t see how ANY money could flow through the car wash if it didn’t have a legitimate source. I don’t see how that would hold up to scrutiny.

        Skylar parked across the street from the car wash and got a very realistic idea of its income from watching it for a day or two. Why couldn’t the Feds do the same to catch money-launderers?

        Maybe money-laundering only works if it doesn’t attract attention; I don’t know…

        1. Doug Ross

          It is rumored that many of those beach shops that sell towels, t-shirts, etc. in Myrtle Beach are used for the same purpose.

          1. Silence

            I just figured that people would buy all kinds of crap on vacation, and so they all were profitable. But laundering money is certainly a possibility.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            What’s always seemed unlikely about those places is that the market could support so many of the same-branded souvenir shop within such a short space — like sometimes only a block or so from each other.

            Not even Starbucks, not even McDonald’s, is that ubiquitous.

            After we sort this out, maybe we should tackle the question of why there are so many Russians on the Grand Strand in recent years…

        2. Silence

          Money laundering works with any cash based business. You lose a little on the business side, but launder the money by adding the illegal funds to the businesses income – basically make phantom sales. You then owe taxes on the profits, pay your taxes and make your bank deposits. Now it’s all legit.
          For a local example, you will notice that Lanny Ray Gunter II of Chapin, convicted of running a gambling business also owned the Wild Hare Sports Bar. A bar or restaurant takes in a lot of cash and is very easy to launder money through. The taxmen look for cash businesses that under-report their taxable income. Not over-report it. The IRS knows how much a pizza shop or car wash should earn, they can look at your expenses and figure out how many pizzas you should have sold, or cars you should have washed. If you report on the high-side, they don’t care…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            You know, one of these days somebody is going to wonder why you know stuff like that. The way we wondered how Shepherd Book on “Firefly” knew a lot of the stuff he knew… and we never found out, because they cancelled the series.

            If the business has to be cash-based, I would imagine that the opportunities are shrinking. Occasionally I’ll get $20 cash to keep in my wallet, but often as not, I have NO cash on me. I even pay for tiny purchases, like picking up a sweet tea at Lizard’s Thicket, with my debit card.

            I leave a huge and obvious trail, so that one day, when I drop off the grid, the Watchers will be totally unprepared. One minute, they’re drowning in data, and the next, I’m gone…

            Wait. I probably shouldn’t have disclosed that…

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Hey! Mystery solved about Shepherd Book:

            His background is explored further in the comic book Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale. Book was born Henry Evans, a boy who was raised by an abusive father. He ran away from home and began life as a petty criminal before being recruited by the Independence movement and moving out to the Border Worlds. Long before the Alliance begins the Unification War, forward-thinking Browncoats assign Evans to be a long-term mole. He sheds his old identity by killing a random passerby and stealing his identification card, becoming Derrial Book. His Browncoat superiors keep tabs on him by surgically removing one of his eyes and replacing it with a camera. He joins the Alliance military and quickly moves up in rank. Becoming an officer, Book intentionally leads a risky operation that results in a humiliating defeat for the Alliance. He is forced to retire from the Alliance military. It is implied that the Alliance covers up the loss, therefore not officially punishing Book. Homeless, he visits a soup kitchen and finds God while contemplating a bowl of soup. He takes refuge at an abbey where he becomes a shepherd before leaving on Serenity to become a missionary.

            But you know, if they didn’t show it on the actual TV series, it’s not real…

          3. FParker

            I watched a documentary about a drug dealer who laundered $80 million dollars through his single car wash run by himself and his wife.

  9. Brad Warthen Post author

    I thought this was a fairly decent argument as to why Summers would have been a bad choice:

    I haven’t been rallying for Yellen, but I’m glad Summers is out because I don’t see why closeness to Obama should determine who gets to be Fed chair. The most important reason Summers was the front-runner seems to have been his longtime working relationship with the president. But chair of the Fed is a lasting position in an institution outside the White House. Being Fed chair is more like being Supreme Court justice than being a White House adviser: You’re supposed to be independent. President Obama didn’t choose Sonia Sotomayor because they were pals, and he shouldn’t insist on personal affinity in making this choice either.

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