US Federal Reserve

How a Would-be French Teacher Became an Economic Wonk

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Gwendolyn Hallsmith didn't set out to became an expert on sustainable development and monetary policy. Like many women I discovered in my research on economic women for Screwnomics, Gwen got here by simply pursuing what she held dear. She began by protesting threats to the environment, but says that eventually she saw protest alone wasn't enough. You needed a plan of action, a solution, or at least a goal with a community process for reaching it.

The result is a half-dozen books on community and city planning, sustainable development, currency, and local economies. She travels the world to speak to diverse people, who are looking for economic answers.  Most recently, she says in this interview with Crystal Arnold, on Money- Wise Women, a podcast radio show, Gwen spoke to a group in Costa Rica. She discovered there, people with similar goals of sustainability and community to those she fosters in her home state of Vermont. Importantly she fosters methods and action, as well.

What are a sustainable economy's parts? An economy and monetary policy that supports workers, a healthy environment and food system, and local investment in community and local small businesses is a goal. But we face barriers. She talks here about the female hands that help "hold up the sky," whose caring and work is routinely left out of the way we account for the economy.  About sexism in our value system, she says:  "It's not only concentrated in money, it's magnified." The Federal Reserve is part of the topic here, creating and enforcing an artificial scarcity. 

She's doing "An Economy for All of Us" education series on YouTube, and talks about it here. Her analysis uses a 5-part acronym she calls OMMMM, to name the economy's components in order of importance: Ownership, Money, Markets, Management, and Metrics. Her dissection is clear and accessible, and Crystal's comments and questions are more intimate that the typical talk. Listen to this woman-to-woman conversation here:

Wish U Were Here, Janet Yellen

Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chair 2014-2018

Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chair 2014-2018

I’m going to miss the first woman to ever head the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, appointed by President Obama. She has just served the shortest term of any recent Chair. No, she wasn’t ill, newly pregnant, or incompetent; she just wasn’t reappointed by President Trump. She was known for consensus building.

One of two mandates of the Federal Reserve is sustaining employment, helping to finance jobs. Under Yellen’s tenure, unemployment decreased from 6.7 percent in 2014 to 4.1 percent in 2018. Trump took credit, tweeting women’s job rates while pink-hatted women marched on his inaugural anniversary (while the government shut down.) But without explanation or complaint, he’d already replaced Yellen with yet another pale male, William Powell.

Her male predecessors served terms more than twice as long: Ben Bernanke (8 years), Alan Greenspan (19) years, and Paul Volcker (8) years. Longer tenures supposedly help ensure financial stability. In Screwnomics, I complain women like Yellen can and do learn to “mansplain” the economy. Her monetary addresses to Congress delivered like those before her:  a firehose of lukewarm, gushing water-words impossible to take in, and strangely mesmerizing. What’d she just say?? Still, the financial press widely appreciated moderate Yellen.

She exasperated Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who pressured her more than once. Most recently it was over the Wells Fargo frauds. That’s the other Federal Reserve mandate, to regulate the banking system. But then as Janet left, she gave two parting gifts to the country: one was a raise in the long-term Treasury bond rate to cool down an overheated market. The other was the first big-bank punishment of its kind for Wells Fargo, removing board members, along with some real structural changes to address its being overlarge.

Will Mr. Powell stay the course and enforce those penalties on WF? Those rising interest rates? The word is that Trump’s money-men want to further undo regulation, setting freer the already free market, making it a libertine. That hasn’t gone well in our near past. I’m nervous, seeing last week’s near 1600-point DOW drop last week, but generally agree with those like Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism,  who say it’s a needed correction for overvalued bubbles

But I also agree with those who warn this new volatility has less to do with interest rates, than with fears about US national stability. Wall Street on Parade writers, Pam Marten and Russ Marten, say that the stock market, which has shrugged off the President’s low approval rating at home, and a diminishing reputation for steady, credible world leadership, are fools to ignore Trump’s chaos.

The whole world knows about the Republican tax gift to our richest, essentially gutting the government budget, weakening it further. We’re going to spend millions on a military parade, not on veterans health care, and money for ICE, not dreamers. About now, I am mentally writing steady Janet a note that says, Wish you were still here.