Meet the most powerful woman in banking

Yellen is a distinguished academic, especially known for her work on unemployment. She has even written about out-of-wedlock child-rearing, gang behaviour and the brain drain; she cares about the real world and her work involves careful analysis of behavi

The nomination of Janet Yellen to be the next chair of the US Federal Reserve is an excellent one, especially with all the uncertainty over the US government shutdown and fears over breaching the debt ceiling. The US economy needs continuity in its monetary policy and Yellen, whom I supported for the job, guarantees a seamless transition from Ben Bernanke. Best of all, it’s one for the doves. She will have no trouble at all being confirmed by the US Senate, even though folks such as Rand Paul will vote against her because they don’t believe there should be a central bank. She needs only 60 out of 100 votes to be confirmed, and will be.

The appointment of Professor Yellen has been welcomed by economists no matter what their economic persuasion, Keynesian or monetarist, saltwater (Harvard) or freshwater (Chicago). There have been few if any dissenting voices. Her CV is second to none. She is definitely the number-one central banker in the world; Mark Carney was just the best central banker available in the banker draft when George Osborne chose him to lead the Bank of England.

Yellen, who is only five feet tall, obtained her PhD from Yale, where she was supervised by the Nobel economics laureate James Tobin. She taught at Harvard and the LSE before moving to the University of California, Berkeley. She first worked at “the Fed” as an economist in the 1970s and then returned as a governor from 1994-1997, when I met her as a feisty but “small lady with a large IQ”, as the New York Times has said. She was chair of Bill Clinton’s council of economic advisers from 1997-1999.

From 2004-2011 Yellen was the president and chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and, as the 12 bank presidents do, attended Fed rate-setting meetings. In 2010 she returned to the Fed as a governor and vice-chair. She is married to the Nobel economics laureate George Akerlof; they have a son who is an economist at the University of Warwick.

Yellen is a distinguished academic, especially known for her work on unemployment. She has even written about out-of-wedlock child-rearing, gang behaviour and the brain drain; she cares about the real world and her work involves careful analysis of behaviour.

The new Fed chief is especially concerned about long-duration unemployment and its consequences. Her view is that, for now, inflation can go on the back burner –which is music to my ears, given my recent work showing that a 1 percentage point increase in unemployment lowers well-being by over four times as much as an equivalent increase in inflation.

Yellen has been influential in developing the forward guidance on interest rates that the Bank of England has copied. There will be no rate rises any time soon on her watch unless something dramatic and good happens. I couldn’t ask for better than that.

Pint-sized engagement, going all the way to the top: Janet Yellen, the world's top central banker. Image: Getty

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

This article first appeared in the 17 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Austerity Pope

OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images
Show Hide image

Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.