The withdrawal of Lawrence H. Summers from candidacy for Fed Chair has triggered a surge in world stock markets, as well as rejoicing among feminist groups, the labor movement, the left wing of the Democratic Party in Congress, particularly among those on the Senate Banking Committee, and the vast majority of the economics profession pretty widely across the ideological and methodological spectrum. Even many Austrian economists who would prefer that the Fed be shut down have admitted when pushed that they prefer Yellen over Summers. All that is needed now is for President Obama to appoint Janet L. Yellen to the post, the main rival of Summers. He may be about to, but why might he be holding back?
According to Ezra Klein, there is "pique" in the White House that so many would not go along with the desire the president to support his openly preferred choice, Summers. The other reason he gives is particularly weird, that she seems "like a kindly grandmother," see "Five reasons Obama should name Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve". Klein's five reasons are obvious sorts such as that she is the most qualified candidate and this would break the glass ceiling. But this last odd remark about "kindly grandmother" must be coming from the WH and looks like the last gasp of sexism there. First she lacked "gravitas" and then we did not want a "female-backed currency" (OK, that was the ed page of the WSJ), but now we get this weird slam on kindly grandmothers? Frankly, some of the more formidable individuals I have encountered in my life have been kindly, but firm, grandmothers.
So, as a matter of fact, Janet Yellen is not (yet) a grandmother, although she does have white hair and at 67 (I think) old enough to be one. And she is kindly and nice. Her (and George Akerlof's) son, economist Robbie Akerlof (now at Warwick, last I heard) has so far failed to followed through on his reproductive responsibilities to sire an offspring, thereby making his kind but firm mother an actually existing grandmother. In the meantime, maybe this is what the world needs, a kindly but firm (and she is firm) grandmother. Let for now the world economy be her grandchild.
I shall not diss the remaining possible candidates, both the official one, Donald Kohn, an experienced Fed hand who preceded Janet as Fed Vice Chair, and the others often mention such as the macroeconomically smart Christina Romer, the globally experienced Stanley Fisher, or yet another former Vice Chair, Alan Blinder, all of whom I would have taken over Summers. But, very simply, when one puts together experience, knowledge, ability to forecast the economy, and that kindly but firm personality, Janet Yellen is simply superior to all these candidates, even if one or the other might have an edge on her on this or that particular desirable characteristic. She beats all of them for the total package, which is also the message from Ezra Klein.
So, Mr. President, what the world economy needs now is this particular firm but kindly grandmother look-alike, Janet Yellen, please!