Janet Yellen: ‘Public Policy Should Address Human Suffering’

In her first and only interview since being confirmed as Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen speaks in-depth to TIME.

Yellen on the American economy: “I think we’ll see stronger growth this year. Most of my colleagues on the Fed’s policy­making committee and I are hopeful that the first digit [of GDP growth] could be 3 rather than 2…. The recovery has been frustratingly slow, but we’re making progress in getting people back to work, and I anticipate that inflation will move back toward our longer-run goal of 2 percent.” On the housing market, which had a brief lull this fall: “I expect it to pick back up and I do expect a further recovery.”

On the Fed’s QE program: “You know, a lot of people say this [asset buying] is just helping rich people. But it’s not true. Our policy is aimed at holding down long-term interest rates, which supports the recovery by encouraging spending. And part of the [economic stimulus] comes through higher house and stock prices, which causes people with homes and stocks to spend more, which causes jobs to be created throughout the economy and income to go up throughout the economy.”

On banking reform: “I felt that the Fed had always been the agency that picked up the pieces when there was a financial crisis, and it was invented to do exactly that. But we never had as active a program to attempt to assess threats to financial stability as was called for…. I think Dodd-Frank is a good road map and lays out most of the steps that are necessary. But we may also need to take some further steps that have not been taken yet.”

On her overall philosophy: “[The job] isn’t just about fighting inflation or monitoring the financial system. It’s about trying to help ordinary households get back on their feet and about creating a labor market where people can feel secure and work and get ahead.”

On her career epiphany at Brown University: “I … remember learning about how there were policy decisions that could have been taken during the Great Depression to alleviate all that human suffering – that was a real ‘ah-ha’ moment for me. I realized that public policy can, and should, address these problems.”

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