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Economics

Who Is Janet Yellen? A Look at the Front-Runner for the Next Fed Chairman

The leading candidate to succeed Bernanke at the Fed is the exact opposite of Larry Summers
Yellen with Clinton in the Oval Office, 1997
Yellen with Clinton in the Oval Office, 1997Photograph by Ruth Fremson/AP Photo

It’s not surprising that classmates of Janet Yellen at Fort Hamilton High in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn consistently describe her as an overachiever. Under her picture in the school yearbook, The Tower, Yellen is listed as the class scholar and member of the honor roll, the boosters club, the psychology club, and the history club, as well as the editor-in-chief of the Pilot, the school newspaper. When she graduated in 1963, she cleaned up, winning the Phi Beta Kappa award, the Mayor’s Committee Scholastic Award, the math award, science award, and the overall English department prize, in addition to being class valedictorian. “Janet is pretty much now what she was then: a straight arrow,” says Charles Saydah, a classmate. “She was a classic liberal, which meant you were antiwar, antibomb, but she was never strident about it. She was obviously the smartest person in the class—it wasn’t even close.”

Yellen, currently vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, is the front-runner to replace Ben Bernanke when he steps down as chairman in January. As President Obama’s awkward dance played out this summer with his preferred candidate, Larry Summers, Yellen carried on in her nonconfrontational manner, illustrating some of the marked differences between herself and Summers. “If you say something incorrect around Larry Summers, what he would say is, ‘Did you go to graduate school? Have you studied economics at all?’ ” says Kevin Hassett, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who worked as an economist at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors when Yellen joined the board in 1994. “Janet would say, ‘Have you thought about it this way?’ She has the ability to move toward consensus.”