WASHINGTON — As the Federal Reserve’s new leader, Janet Yellen won’t have to go far to bounce ideas off a fellow economist. The kitchen table will do just fine.
Yellen is the first Fed leader in the central bank’s 100 years to be married to an equally renowned economist — a Nobel laureate, no less. In 35 years of marriage, Yellen and George Akerlof have partnered on groundbreaking research on everything from the collapse of East Germany to out-of-wedlock births to the way generous pay for a baby sitter shows how wages motivate workers.
Colleagues say that as economic thinkers, the two complement each other. And they say their partnership reflects a philosophy of consensus and collaboration that’s likely to surface in Yellen’s leadership beginning with this week’s meeting of the Fed’s policy committee — the first since Yellen succeeded Ben Bernanke as chair on Feb. 3.
The committee includes critics of the Fed’s policymaking whose views Yellen doesn’t tend to share. They include, for example, Richard Fisher, head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, who recently said the central bank is “distorting financial markets” by acting to depress short- and long-term interest rates.
As Akerlof’s collaborator, as a professor and as the Fed’s vice chair, Yellen has been known for forging consensus. When she worked with Akerlof, the two drew upon each other’s differing strengths, according to colleagues and former students.
“Janet is very balanced and grounded. She thinks clearly and has a lot of common sense,” said Andrew Rose, an economist who collaborated with them at the University of California, Berkeley. “George is much more artistic and has these leaps of brilliance.”
Rose described Yellen as a mother who was devoted to helping her son with his Pinewood Derby car in the evenings. She would sit at favorite restaurants while drafting economic papers. In debating ideas with her husband, seemingly any assumption of how the economy functioned was ripe for debate.