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September 10, 2013

Why Janet Yellen, Not Larry Summers, Should Lead the Fed

The controversy over the choice of the next head of the Federal Reserve has become unusually heated. The country is fortunate to have an enormously qualified candidate: the Fed’s current vice chairwoman, Janet L. Yellen. There is concern that the president might turn to another candidate, Lawrence H. Summers. Since I have worked closely with both of these individuals for more than three decades, both inside and outside of government, I have perhaps a distinct perspective.

“But why, one might ask, is this a matter for a column usually devoted to understanding the growing divide between rich and poor in the United States and around the world? The reason is simple: What the Fed does has as much to do with the growth of inequality as virtually anything else. The good news is that both of the leading candidates talk as if they care about inequality. The bad news is that the policies that have been pushed by one of the candidates, Mr. Summers, have much to do with the woes faced by the middle and the bottom.

The Fed has responsibilities both in regulation and macroeconomic management. Regulatory failures were at the core of America’s crisis. As a Treasury Department official during the Clinton administration, Mr. Summers supported banking deregulation, including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which was pivotal in America’s financial crisis. His great “achievement” as secretary of the Treasury, from 1999 to 2001, was passage of the law that ensured that derivatives would not be regulated — a decision that helped blow up the financial markets. (Warren E. Buffett was right to call these derivatives “financial weapons of mass financial destruction.” Some of those who were responsible for these key policy mistakes have admitted the fundamental “flaws” in their analyses. Mr. Summers, to my knowledge, has not.)”

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Read Joseph Stiglitz’s full New York Times opinion piece here

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