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On The Dangers Of Mathing While Female, Federal Reserve Edition…

August 8th, 2013 · 5 Comments
Macroeconomics · Policy

Funny story- a few nights ago, I got a call from my roommate, who had just left the apartment to go to a bar. Apparently the person he was meeting was running late, so he decided to check the news on his phone. I get a call from the roommate and, despite the fact that I was fixing up a room in the apartment and was covered in purple paint, I actually picked up the phone. The conversation went something like this:

Roommate: “So I was reading CNN Money just now, and a article about the picks for the next Federal Reserve chair came up.”
Me: “Mmmhmm…” *paint paint*
Roommate: “I was going to send you the article- I thought you would find it interesting because it talked about the focus on gender in the decision…”
Me: *rolls eyes* “Ugh, not more of that” *wipes paint off of clothes*
Roommate: “But then I realized that I didn’t need to send it to you because you were quoted in it.”
Me: “Actually, you do, since I haven’t seen it.”
*gets paint on phone* “@#$!”
Roommate: “IS everything ok?”
Me: “Yes, but let’s hope that I’m better at economics than I am at home improvements.”

Despite not being able to internalize the concept of comparative advantage enough to understand that money can be used to procure not only goods but also services (painting is only fun for like the first 3 hours), I am apparently qualified enough to speak on the subject of gender, which I infer as a result of the fact that, despite what some readers assume, I am guilty of mathing while female.

The article is here, and it says pretty much what you’d expect, i.e. “can we please stop making being female a thing in this context?” Seriously- how is it appropriate or reasonable to look at a person who is immensely qualified for a job and start making snarky comments about a gender-backed currency? Anyway, I thought I’d share the whole Q&A with the author of the article:

Is gender a valid part of the conversation, or simply not relevant? Are women underrepresented in central banking, and is that a problem?

Gender is not a valid part of the conversation, and it’s sort of embarrassing that there is so much focus on it rather than on the substantial differences between Janet Yellen and Larry Summers. Women are, by definition, underrepresented in central banking, given that they comprise less than 50% of the CB population, but it’s not necessarily a problem that is directly related to central banking, if for no other reason than the fact that women are a minority originates at a much earlier stage. (I would be surprised if the percentage of central bankers that are female is noticeably different from the percentage of people who study fields within economics that lead to careers in central banking that are female.)

1) Who is most likely to be the next Federal Reserve chair?
a) Lawrence Summers
b) Janet Yellen
c) Other (write in)

I honestly don’t know whether Summers or Yellen is more likely, though the media seems to be saying that the Obama administration favors Summers.

2) Who, in your opinion, should be the next Fed chair?
a) Lawrence Summers
b) Janet Yellen
c) Other (write in)
Please explain your answer.

Janet Yellen, no doubt. If you compare the backgrounds of Yellen and Summers, Yellen edges out Summers in the academic category- both have Ph.D.’s from top schools, and both got tenure at top schools (Yellen at UC Berkeley, Summers are Harvard). I give Yellen the edge here because she is specifically known as a good teacher, which I feel is at least peripherally relevant to the Fed Chair job. In terms of general policy experience, it’s close again- Summers was Treasury Secretary under Clinton and Director of the White House United States National Economic Council for Obama, and Yellen was the Chief Economic Adviser to Clinton. I guess here I would give Summers the edge, but Yellen, as the CEO of the San Francisco Fed, the current Fed Vice Chair, and even a Fed economist back in the 70’s, clearly outshines Summers in terms of central-bank-specific experience. Overall, therefore, I consider Yellen to have a stronger background. Furthermore, for all the talk about doubt regarding Yellen’s aptitude for consensus building, I certainly don’t find a vote of no confidence while Larry Summers was President of Harvard to be indicative of anything near an ability to build consensus- I mean, he couldn’t even build a consensus with Cornel West. 🙂 Regarding gravitas and other conversations about “intangibles,” I find them to be mostly useless speculation that has no basis in actual evidence.

That said, experience is not the only relevant factor- it’s reasonable to choose a Fed Chair based on desired views, and Yellen is generally more of a “dove” on monetary policy, implying that she would be looser with monetary expansion than Summers. Personally, I think Yellen’s approach is correct, especially since inflation concerns have repeatedly been shown to be unfounded. Furthermore, recent studies regarding the accuracy of Fed members’ predictions have put Yellen at the top of the group, which is impressive.

3) Will gender play a role in the upcoming appointment of the next Fed chair?
a) Yes
b) No
Please explain your answer.

I really can’t tell, though I have a suspicion that many will assume that gender was a factor if Yellen is appointed. Obama has shown a proclivity to place women in high-ranking positions, but he hasn’t placed subpar candidates merely because of their gender, and he certainly doesn’t have a subpar candidate here.

4) Are women underrepresented in the economics profession? If yes, is this a problem? Why?

Yes, but I can’t tell if this is a problem. If it stems from a genuine lack of interest, then there is no reason to artificially encourage women to go into economics, and no one has been able to rule out this explanation. The main practical reason that it could be a problem is if women approach the subject in a way that is importantly different than the approach that men take, since then the profession would be losing out on valuable variation in insight and viewpoint. This may or may not be the case, and it’s hard to tell for sure. (It’s also obviously problematic if discrimination is present, but again, there is not conclusive evidence of this.)

5) Globally, 19 of 189 central bank leaders are women (according to the Central Bank Directory 2013). Last year, only 22 of the 122 attendees at the Kansas City Fed’s Jackson Hole symposium were women. Is this a problem for monetary policy? Why?

I don’t think so, since I find it hard to believe that women would have a systematically different view from that of men on monetary policy issues. For example, Yellen is a “dove” on monetary policy, whereas the Fed Board member who has dissented at several recent meetings due to worries about monetary policy being too expansionary is also female. (Esther George, and I am assuming that I’m not making a terrible gender assumption based on name!) Therefore, like men, it’s not like women all share the same view on monetary policy.

But no, please, let’s have conversations about how Janet Yellen is asexual instead. No really, that happened, despite the fact that Yellen is married – to Nobel Laureate George Akerlof no less- and has a son who is an economics professor in the UK. (Full disclosure: her son was one of my classmates.) That’s certainly going to the path to functional monetary policy and a healthy economy.

Tags: Macroeconomics · Policy

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Links for 08-09-2013 | The Penn Ave Post // Aug 9, 2013 at 2:02 am

    […] yesterday so this is a bit long, apologies, I've been a bit distracted the last few days: On The Dangers Of Mathing While Female… – Jodi Beggs The Nudge Debate – David Brooks […]

  • 2 Links for 08-09-2013 | Symposium Magazine // Aug 9, 2013 at 3:04 am

    […] On The Dangers Of Mathing While Female… – Jodi Beggs […]

  • 3 RepubAnon // Aug 9, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    As many have noted, isn’t it funny that race and gender only come up as indicating that a candidate may be unqualified for folks that are not white males? The same people that disparage non-white-male candidates also loudly proclaim that we live in a colorblind society.

    The XKCD cartoon “How It Works” describes the phenomenon very well:

  • 4 Meg // Aug 9, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Pure anecdote here, but I’m pursuing a CS Ph.D. instead of an Economics Ph.D. because the CS departments and conferences were less outright sexist. My research is cross-disciplinary, but in one group I don’t get subjected to lectures about how innately unfit women are for the work I’m doing.

  • 5 Kaleberg // Aug 9, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    My impression is that if Summers gets the job it would be because he has a penis. That’s the usual job requirement for a lot of power jobs.

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