Sunday, January 22, 2023

Yellen: The Trailblazing Economist Who Navigated an Era of Upheaval (Jon Hilsenrath)

Janet Yellen is the first American to serve as leader of the three main financial agencies in the United States: The White House Council of Economic Advisers, the Federal Reserve, and as Treasury Secretary. Her long career has been filled with advocating a combination of Keynesian thinking about government guidance of the broader economy while pushing for lower budget deficits when economic conditions warrant. Her life’s work is chronicled in Jon Hilsenrath’s biography Yellen: The Trailblazing Economist Who Navigated an Era of Upheaval.

Yellen is not just about Janet. Much of the book covers her family – her husband, George Akerlof, is also an economist, and their son, Robert, followed in the family footsteps too. Their story, in addition to Janet’s, is woven beautifully into the book. Janet has cited her husband as a career mentor, guiding and pushing her thinking on economic matters as the two have complimented each other…and occasionally butted heads on economic philosophy or on how to handle economic issues. At the end, these stories help show how Janet’s thinking would evolve and guide important events that she faced in her career such as the Great Recession and its recovery, as well as the years after the onset of COVID-19.

Hilsenrath, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, provides a balanced and fair perspective of Yellen’s life and career. Yellen points out her mistakes and the author fairly covers her life and how her thinking impacted the broader economy. Regardless of political thinking, it’s fair to note that Yellen’s career is remarkable in being the first to lead all of the major financial offices in the United States. Yellen provides a balanced look at the woman who rose to the top of government finance.