President Donald Trump says he is “very close” to picking a person for the most important economic post in the United States, the head of the Federal Reserve. Current Chair Janet Yellen’s term expires early next year and she is one of at least five candidates for the job.
Besides Yellen, the candidates include Fed board member Jerome Powell, former Fed governor Kevin Warsh, Stanford University economist John Taylor and Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn.
Moody’s Analytics economist Ryan Sweet says a new Fed chief is likely to continue current policy at least for a while because “rocking the boat” could rattle financial markets.
The Fed’s job is to manage the world’s largest economy in ways that maximize employment and maintain stable prices. During recessions, the bank cuts interest rates in a bid to boost economic growth and create more jobs.To cope with the most recent recession, the U.S. central bank slashed interest rates nearly to zero.
The jobless rate fell from 10 percent to the current 4.2 percent, and the economy stopped shrinking and began growing slowly.
Critics of the record-low interest rates said keeping rates too low for too long could spark strong inflation and damage the economy. However, the inflation rate has been below the two percent level that many experts say is best for the economy.
As a member of the Fed’s board and later as Chair, Yellen supported low interest rates and a slow, cautious return to “normal” rates. Experts also say she improved communication between the Fed and financial markets, which reduced uncertainty and reassured investors.
Trump criticized Yellen during the campaign, but then as president, praised her work. Analysts Tom Buerkle of “Reuters Breaking Views” gives the Fed credit for taking effective action during a crisis when Congress was reluctant to act.
Another candidate is former investment banker Gary Cohn, who now heads the National Economic Council at the White House. He has reportedly been working on efforts to reform taxes and boost spending on U.S. infrastructure.
Fed Board member Jerome Powell is also a candidate. He is a Republican with a background in private equity who served in a top Treasury Department post. Powell supported Yellen’s approach of slashing interest rates during the crisis, and returning them to historic levels as the economy recovers.
When rates were cut to nearly zero, Fed officials took the further step of buying huge quantities of bonds in an effort to push down long-term interest rates to give additional economic stimulus. The complex procedure is called “quantitative easing.”
“Ryan Sweet of Moody’s Analytics says when the next recession appears, Powell will be more willing to use tools like quantitative easing than more conservative candidates like Kevin Warsh and John Taylor.
Warsh is a former member of the Fed’s board, a lawyer, and a former executive of a major financial firm with experience at the president’s National Economic Council.
John Taylor of Stanford University and the Hoover Institution is an eminent economist who has served on advisory councils for presidents and congress and written books on economic topics. Taylor came up with an equation, called the “Taylor Rule,” that considers inflation as well as slack in the economy as a way to set interest rates. Some conservatives say the Taylor Rule would improve policymaking.
Critics say the economy is too complex to be managed by a computer, and the Taylor Rule would make the Fed less independent and effective.
Tara Sinclair of Indeed.com says independence is a “key part” of having an effective monetary policy. She says the interest rate-setting process and other decisions need to be separate from Congress and the administration so interest rates and other policies are based on long-run economic needs.
The president is expected to announce his choice in early November.