Ridiculously condescending comments have been made about Janet Yellen — that she lacks “gravitas,” or that choosing her to lead the Federal Reserve would be a decision “driven by gender.” But it’s a mistaken assumption to think that those who favor her over Larry Summers are only doing so because she is female, or merely because they are still smoldering over Summers’ questionable comments about women while president of Harvard. Many people (several prominent male economists among them) support her because she is clearly the more qualified candidate. To quote from Ezra Klein’s excellent post on the subject:
“If you take Yellen as an example, she has more direct Fed experience than Ben Bernanke did, or than Alan Greenspan did, or than Paul Volcker did. In order to be competitive for the job, she needed to be much more qualified for it.”
This is not to say Larry Summers’ titanic oafishness is not a factor. There are so many egregious moments from his career that I wanted to include in this cartoon, but couldn’t — the fact that he sided with Ken Lay and Enron during the California energy crisis, even after some economists were raising the possibility of market manipulation; his dismissive attitude toward climate change while Chief Economist of the World Bank, and subsequent opposition to the Kyoto Protocol; his opposition to the Volcker Rule as part of the Dodd-Frank banking reforms; his memo to Obama significantly underestimating the amount of stimulus needed. The list goes on and on. Seriously, no woman who has been as wrong about as many things as Larry Summers would ever be considered to lead the Fed.
Yet the meme of the “brilliant” Summers persists. I’m sure the man has written some smart academic papers and may well possess great intelligence, but that’s not the same thing as getting it right. If you want to understand what’s sticking in the craw of Summers opponents, it’s that we’ve seen this story before. It’s the simple unfairness of of having to work so much harder to reach the top, and if you do, you’re seen as the “gendered” pick. It’s symbolic of every time a highly-qualified woman hits the glass ceiling when forced to compete with a loud, arrogant blowhard with a strong sense of self-entitlement and undeserved mystique of greatness.
I hold out some hope that Obama will make the brave decision here.