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Bernanke Prepares His Legacy, Obama Prepares to Pick a Successor

12:00 AM, Jul 20, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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But that is the least likely selection from a rich talent pool. The person most likely to be asked to replace Bernanke is Janet Yellen, now vice chair of the Fed. Her academic credentials are in good order (teaching posts at Harvard and the London School of Economics), and she has experience running the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank. Yellen so abhors the economic and social consequences of unemployment that she is deemed the candidate most likely to keep policy on the easy side, and the economy growing. That would suit a president whose party faces hard-fought congressional elections in 2014—and heighten conservatives’ fear of future inflation.

A Yellen appointment would please the considerable feminist wing of Obama’s party, which the selection of another talented economist and late entrant into the race, Larry Summers, definitely would not. For sheer IQ, Summers is without peer. And his experience includes a stint as secretary of the treasury, another at the Council of Economic Advisers, and still another as Obama’s chief economic adviser. But Summers has two strikes against him. Strike one: He was forced to resign as president of Harvard after publicly observing that women have “different availability of aptitude at the high end” from men in science and engineering, rather than from discrimination. Strike two: He is impatient with lesser mortals, a group that includes almost everyone, not a good thing in a job that demands consensus-building. Still, it takes three strikes to get called “out,” so he remains a possibility.

The final candidate often mentioned is Roger Ferguson, Fed vice chairman from1999-2006. Ferguson received a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard with numerous honors, and has been a fellow at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He has the added political advantage, as Obama undoubtedly sees it, of being an African-American. Women voters upset if Yellen is passed over, especially for Summers, would find it impolitic to voice loud complaints at the appointment of a talented black. Such is the stuff of American politics these days.

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