A few weeks ago, Ezra Klein wrote about the "subtle, sexist whispering campaign" against Janet Yellen, but I didn't really believe it. (Hey, I'm a white guy). Yellen, the current Fed number two, is so obviously qualified and respected that I thought it was pretty much a given that she'd get nominated for Fed Chair. It's not. And it's getting harder not to think that doesn't have something to do with gender.
Here's the Cliffs Notes case for Yellen. She's been at the Fed for much of the past 20 years, and she's been on the right side of almost every debate during that time. She talked Alan Greenspan out of an ill-conceived zero percent inflation target in the mid-1990s, raised concerns about the housing bubble in the mid-2000s, and highlighted the danger of a credit crunch in 2007. Not only that, but the Wall Street Journal calculates that she has the best forecasting record of any Fed member going back to 2009. Oh, and she's been the architect of the Fed's unconventional policies.
But that isn't good enough for some reason. And that reason sounds pretty sexist. Indeed, as Klein notes, one of the criticisms he's heard of her is that she lacks a certain ... "gravitas" (or is it a Y chromosome?) to be Fed Chair. It's an interesting word choice that's come up again. Here's what Albert Hunt of Bloomberg View says he's heard about who Obama might pick to lead the Fed:
The president, according to people familiar with his thinking, believes Summers has the experience and expertise to succeed Ben Bernanke. No one doubts Yellen's credentials as an economist, but questions have been raised, mainly by those in the Summers camp, about whether she has the gravitas to manage a financial crisis.
I'm going to put this as politely as I know how: This is bullshit. Yes, there have been more absurd attacks on Yellen -- that she'd be a PC-pick or usher in the era a "gender-backed dollar," whatever that means -- but this is plenty absurd too. Offensively so. Look, Ben Bernanke was also a soft-spoken academic with no Wall Street experience before he became Fed Chair, but that didn't stop him managing the financial crisis about as well as anybody could have. (At least the actual panic, not the run-up to it). Did Bernanke, who hired a public speaking coach to help conquer his voice quaver, have gravitas? I don't know. That judgment probably depends on how much you like his beard.