“It’s hard to overstate the enthusiasm among economists over Joe Biden’s selection of Janet Yellen as the next secretary of the Treasury. Some of this enthusiasm reflects the groundbreaking nature of her appointment. She won’t just be the first woman to hold the job, she’ll be the first person to have held all three of the traditional top U.S. policy positions in economics — chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, chair of the Federal Reserve and now Treasury secretary.
And yes, there’s a bit of payback for Donald Trump, who denied her a well-earned second term as Fed chair, reportedly in part because he thought she was too short.
But the good news about Yellen goes beyond her ridiculously distinguished career in public service. Before she held office, she was a serious researcher. And she was, in particular, one of the leading figures in an intellectual movement that helped save macroeconomics as a useful discipline when that usefulness was under both external and internal assault.
Before I get there, a word about Yellen’s time at the Federal Reserve, especially her time on the Fed’s board in the early 2010s, before she became chair.
At the time, the U.S. economy was slowly clawing its way back from the Great Recession — a recovery impeded, not incidentally, by Republicans in Congress who pretended to care about national debt and imposed spending cuts that significantly hurt economic growth. But spending wasn’t the only issue of debate; there were also fierce arguments about monetary policy.
Specifically, there were many people on the right condemning the Fed’s efforts to rescue the economy from the effects of the 2008 financial crisis. Among them, by the way, was Judy Shelton, the totally unqualified hack Trump is still trying to install on the Fed board, who warned in 2009 that the Fed’s actions would produce “ruinous inflation.” (Hint: They didn’t.)”