Stairway to Yellen

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
October 26, 2022

Just as snow is followed by little boys on sleds, to paraphrase the economist Arthur Okun, so too is it inevitable fate that Joe Biden will likely begin reshuffling his cabinet and advisers after the midterms. Among those rumored to be departing at some point in early 2023 is Janet Yellen, the 76-year-old Treasury secretary. And why not? After more than 20 years in and out of government, Yellen has nothing left to prove in Washington. She has served as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under Clinton; served a four-year term as chairman of the Federal Reserve under Obama and Trump; and then, in a bit of a surprise, Biden chose her for a coveted position in his cabinet. 

Yellen, of course, is the first person to serve in all three distinguished roles and the first female Fed chair and Treasury secretary. She also served as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and as a vice-chair of the Federal Reserve. As Treasury secretary, she’s had to contend as best she can with rising inflation—the worst in 40 years—and helped to shepherd the so-called  Inflation Reduction Act through Congress. In other words, she’s pretty much done it all, as far as America’s important economic positions are concerned.

Is it time for Yellen to make some money, perhaps, giving speeches, writing books, and serving on corporate boards? For what it’s worth, she says it’s not. When my former Columbia Journalism School classmate and longtime Wall Street Journal reporter Jon Hilsenrath asked her about leaving Washington sometime soon as part of the reporting for his new book about Yellen, she declared that she intends to stay: “It’s been good work and I like doing it, so why would I leave?” She said the same thing to my friend Stephanie Ruhle, on MSNBC, on Monday. But assuming what I’m hearing is accurate, and that Yellen is on her way out at some point in the new year, who might be her worthy successor?