Nov 25, 2020

Biden taps Janet Yellen.

Biden taps Janet Yellen.

The pick will shape the future of the economy.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 10 minutes.

Janet Yellen, the former Chair of the Federal Reserve, has been nominated Treasury secretary. IMF Staff Photograph/Stephen Jaffe


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I am taking Friday off. This will be my first five-day break from Tangle since election season started months ago, and I am very much looking forward to it. Given how intense the political scene has been for so many Americans, I’d also encourage you to do the same: enjoy a few days away from the noise, spend some time with the people and things in front of you, and get a break. I’ll be back on Monday with everything you missed.

In the meantime, I wanted to once again plug the subscription-for-donation campaign I’m running right now. Between now and Tuesday, I am giving half of any new subscription revenue to Heavenly HARVST, an organization that feeds the hungry with chef-quality food pouches that have an 18-month shelf life. I was blown away by the initial response yesterday — hundreds of dollars have already been raised — and would be so grateful if you participated. If you are already a subscriber, I encourage you to go to Heavenly HARVST’s website and donate.

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A year ago…

One year ago today, we were talking about Michael Bloomberg formally announcing his presidential candidacy, Trump pardoning Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who was accused of war crimes, and one of the first stories ever published about Joe Biden’s stutter.

Quick hits.

  1. Joe Biden says he will send an immigration bill to the U.S. Senate with a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in his first 100 days as president.
  2. The Squad (Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley) is trying to block Joe Biden’s former chief of staff, Bruce Reed, from serving in the current administration.
  3. Donald Trump is planning to pardon former national security advisor Michael Flynn before he leaves office. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts in 2017, but reversed his guilty plea and is still ensnared in a court case over the allegations.
  4. YouTube demonetized One America News Network and has prevented them from posting news videos after they promoted a fake cure for COVID-19.
  5. Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to three criminal charges and billions of dollars of damages for its role in the opioid epidemic, but many people still want criminal charges pursued against individuals involved in the scandal.

What D.C. is talking about.

Janet Yellen. Several news outlets are now confirming that Yellen will be nominated as the next Treasury secretary, the person in charge of overseeing the Department of the Treasury and for coordinating the White House’s fiscal policy. Currently held by Steve Mnuchin, this post has drawn more attention than ever in the last eight months as Mnuchin has tried to navigate the COVID-19 crisis and negotiate coronavirus relief packages with Congress on behalf of the White House.

Yellen is the former chair of the Federal Reserve and one of the most respected financial minds on the planet. Tapping the 74-year-old Yellen is the strongest sign yet that the Biden administration is going to move away from the Trump era of deregulatory tax-cutting and move toward things like combating economic inequality and climate change. And it comes at a time when the U.S. economy is in the worst shape it’s been since The Great Depression. If confirmed by the Senate, which seems a near guarantee, Yellen would also become the first woman to hold the position in its 231-year history. She would also become the first person to have ever led the Treasury, the Fed and the White House Council of Economic Advisers, according to Reuters.

The move from Chair of the Federal Reserve to Treasury Secretary means Yellen would be moving from monetary policy (central banks working to ensure full employment, economic growth and price stability) to fiscal policy (the tax and spending policies of the federal government). It would be a new kind of role for Yellen, who is a seasoned economist but has maintained a rather non-partisan profile in her years at the fed. Still, her decades of experience in public service can tell us more than a bit about what she might do, and there were plenty of reactions to the news.

What the right is saying.

The right is actually quite happy with this pick. Not because Yellen is their perfect or preferred choice, but because she is someone who is seen as smart, pragmatic, experienced and nonpartisan. Given some of the other options who were out there, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Yellen is someone the right can get behind — and she is almost certain to be confirmed. Tiana Lowe summed this position up well in the Washington Examiner: “Biden was never going to pick anyone who could reasonably be called fiscally conservative. Considering that Warren was on the table, Yellen, who has called our debt ‘unsustainable’ and our monetary policy unfixed in the long run, is about as good as the Right and the markets could have hoped for.”

Others offered tepid criticism or outright praise.

“Ms. Yellen is an economist by training but she’s a political economist by experience,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote. “Most recently she was Chair of the Federal Reserve during President Obama’s second term. But she has also done stints as president of the San Francisco Fed and the White House Council of Economic Advisers. That’s a gold-plated political resume, and she has a reputation for always knowing her brief… She believes in the Keynesian precept that federal spending spurs economic growth—the kind of spending matters less than the amount—and in recent months has called for much more in federal Covid-19 relief. This no doubt appeals to Mr. Biden, who is fond of the Obama spending spree of 2009-2010, and it will certainly make Ms. Yellen a popular choice.

“Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took the courageous step last week of ending the Fed’s extraordinary pandemic-related powers under the Cares Act, and markets have defied doom-and-gloom predictions by reacting well to the decision. But both the Fed and the Biden transition team criticized Mr. Mnuchin for taking back the Treasury money to backstop the expanded Fed programs,” the board added.

In The Washington Examiner, Bruce Yandle praised the pick.

“Janet Yellen is a known quantity — and a highly regarded one at that,” he wrote. “By her actions, she has shown that she has a hard-headed appreciation of facts, data, economic realities, and their logical and consistent application… When it comes to economic policy, Yellen has shown that she believes strongly (some might feel too strongly) in the ability of the federal government, by way of fiscal, monetary, and regulatory policy, to spur economic activity. She also believes that while there are always special cases that need to be considered, the nation is best served when trade is open rather than closed. She believes that long periods of deficit spending may be tolerated when unemployment is high and interest rates are low, but that in the long run, a nation cannot sustain itself by just going deeper into debt… Biden should get high marks for his nomination.”

What the left is saying.

The left is thrilled with the pick. By all accounts, Yellen is a strike: she appeases the right, she’s got a resume that is nearly impossible to puncture, and she’s going to usher in a big enough stimulus to help the millions of Americans struggling right now.

Catherine Rampell, one of the most respected economic columnists at The Washington Post, wrote the definitive progressive piece in support of Yellen, saying she was “incomparably qualified to serve as the next treasury secretary.”

“A former economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Yellen is a brilliant researcher, adept at formulating complicated models and synthesizing large quantities of data,” Rampell wrote. “She communicates clearly and effectively, a skill necessary for calming markets. And on a more humanistic level, she thinks rigorously about the values a society should pursue, its practical interest in pursuing those values, and what economic tools are most effective for achieving them…

“Yellen has long been committed to using the tools of her discipline to understand and critique fundamental questions about equity,” Rampell added. “For example, some of her better-known research (co-authored with her husband, Nobel laureate George Akerlof) relates to fair wages. The paper hinges on the premise that paying workers fairly — ‘what they deserve’ — leads to greater effort and, therefore, higher productivity… This was, to put it mildly, an unusual preoccupation for the chair of the central bank, whose statutory mandate is maximum employment and stable prices. Even on that more fundamental issue, Yellen helped shift the conventional wisdom about how much lower unemployment could fall without stoking greater inflation. To those who aren’t regular Fed watchers, that may sound like an abstract or subtle achievement. But it was a sea change in the world of monetary policy. In practical terms, it meant helping the most marginalized Americans find work, and greater economic security.”

Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent took a look back in The Washington Post and made the case that Yellen is a perfect fit for the Biden administration.

“For his entire career, the president-elect has located the center of the party and planted himself there,” they wrote. “Biden’s platform was more progressive than those of either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, because the party moved left and he moved with it. You can see that reflected in his picks as well: They’re essentially a collection of establishment figures who are progressive enough to avoid angering many on the left — and might even appeal to them…

“Janet L. Yellen, who would become treasury secretary, is deeply qualified (she chaired President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and led the Federal Reserve). But she’s being praised by progressives as a sharp break with Obama’s first treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, and for her commitment to fighting unemployment and inequality. That’s a reminder that many who worked for Obama are now regarded on the left as being too conservative, particularly those with Wall Street ties.”

My take.

Yesterday, I wrote about how Joe Biden’s soon-to-be Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been wrong on just about every major policy decision he’s been involved in. One could argue Yellen is just the opposite.

Before the 2008 financial crisis, Yellen was one of the first policy makers to warn that some of the popular economic models and forecasts were overlooking issues in the housing market that would be catastrophic. She was right. When she was nominated in 2014 to chair the Federal Reserve, many thought she’d need to blow up the fundamentals in order to bring more people back into the Labor Market. She resisted, and she has been “unquestionably vindicated,” as Sam Bell recently wrote. While at head of the Fed, conservative policy makers tried to publicly pressure her into raising interest rates. She resisted, and once again she has been vindicated. She was Vice Chair of the Fed from 2010 to 2014 before taking over the top spot in 2014, and over that time she saw unemployment go down, the stock market go up, and inflation remain flat. As The Washington Post put it, she left the position in 2018 to a “standing ovation” — from just about everyone.

She has been criticized for taking it too easy on Wells Fargo and on Wall Street for some of their crimes, and that criticism is not without merit. But ultimately, Obama and Congress are at the top of that “blame pyramid”, not Yellen. In short, she’s been right on just about everything, is respected by just about everyone, and is not drawing any serious pushback that I can find. It’s rare that I come across a consensus pick like this in Tangle. And, as always, a consensus like that draws some skepticism from me, but the truth seems to be Yellen is just damn good at every job she takes and has a damn good track record. The broad support seems truly well-earned.

In the gushy profiles and off-the-record comments about Yellen, there is another positive sign: perhaps her strongest personality trait is that she’s skilled at building consensus and buy-in. At a time when this country is so divided and the economy is hobbling through the pandemic, I really don’t see anyone who inspires as much confidence and soothes the nerves the way this pick does. She’s got my enthusiastic thumbs-up, perhaps in a way no other Cabinet pick will, and my optimism that we’ll see a continued economic recovery in 2021 is stronger than it’s ever been.

Blindspot report.

As part of a partnership with Ground News, an app and website that tracks the political bias in news reporting, I feature parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you what stories folks on the left and right miss each week because of their media echo chambers.

The right missed a story about how two of Donald Trump’s tax write-offs are now ensnared in federal investigations, one federal and one civil.

The left missed a story about House Republicans calling for investigations into violence against Trump supporters after the pro-Trump rally in Washington D.C.

Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Your take on Antony Blinken as Biden's choice for Secretary of State is largely critical. Who are some alternative choices that you think would be more effective picks and what specific foreign policy objectives are most important for Biden's Secretary of State to prioritize?

— Peter, Madison, Wisconsin

Tangle: Now that it’s done, I’m not sure opining on any other options is worth everyone’s time, but folks like William Burns or Sen. Chris Coons were both rumored to be on the table and I would have preferred either of them to Blinken.

What I do think is worth talking about is the priorities I hope Blinken pursues.

First and foremost is a coordinated, planned and well-executed withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq. I’ve written previously about my support for Trump’s stated goal of bringing our troops home from the Middle East and spending the billions of dollars we would have spent there on programs at home. What I don’t support is lame-duck session firings of top National Security leaders to install loyalists of the loser of the election who try to execute such a withdrawal by shooting from the hip. Trump faced opposition to this plan from within his own ranks, as many presidents do, but Biden could unify the Trump-right and most of the left by pursuing a well planned troop withdrawal abroad and spending that money domestically. I’m not optimistic that will happen, given that he tapped Blinken, but it’d be my number one goal if it were my presidency.

The second and most obvious issue for me is exerting all the pressure we can on China to release the Uighur Muslims from the detention camps where they’re being held against their will. Of all my foreign policy gripes with the Trump administration, the fact they have essentially ignored one million minority Muslim people being imprisoned for nothing more than their religious beliefs is the single most grotesque human rights violation on the planet. I want to say that again: there are more than one million people being imprisoned in camps for the “crime” of their religious beliefs in China, and we are doing next to nothing about it, save some weak symbolic sanctions. How can the U.S. be a humanitarian beacon when we won’t even so much as impose financial punishment for such a crime?

Third, and similarly, is addressing the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time: the war in Yemen. The United States has continued to support Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaigns in Yemen for years, even as they have killed thousands of innocent civilians, displaced many thousands more, and have now left millions starving to death across the region. In 2019, Congress passed a bipartisan bill to end the U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen, but President Trump vetoed it. It was one of the worst decisions of his presidency, in my estimation, and undermined many of his proclamations that he was committed to reducing our involvement in counterproductive and deadly wars abroad.

There’s plenty more — like deterring North Korea from nuclear armament or reclaiming the world power center from Russia, but these would be the things I am most interested in. It’s the kind of “humanitarian” foreign policy I’m interested in seeing our country embrace — one that’s focused more on righting some huge wrongs than it is on claiming oil fields or seeking vengeance. But there are diplomatic ways to go about it, non-military interventions, and I’ll be keeping an eye on whether the Biden administration prioritizes these issues or not.

A story that matters.

With Thanksgiving here, millions of Americans are going to be relying on charity to feed themselves, The Guardian reports. Less than half of U.S. households with children feel “very confident” about having enough money to afford food for the next month, according to the latest census bureau pandemic survey. 5.6 million households struggled to put food on the table in the last week. Via The Guardian:

“Across the country demand has not let up, and food banks do everything they can to make sure families have food on the table for Thanksgiving. There’s no end in sight, but we can’t be the only solution,” said Zuani Villareal, spokeswoman for Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks nationwide. Since the start of the pandemic, four of every 10 people seeking food aid are first timers.

Doing good.

This is a challenging time for millions, and I want to do something good for the holidays. Heavenly HARVST is a small charity where the money goes directly to supplying food for those in need. I’ve donated frequently and always feel good about where my money is going. If you’re already a subscriber, I encourage you to consider donating to Heavenly HARVST directly. If you’re not a subscriber and become one between now and next Tuesday, half of your subscription will go directly to Heavenly HARVST.

Subscribe and donate!


  • 1.7 million. The number of copies of Barack Obama’s memoir he sold in the first week of his book being on sale.
  • 30%. The percentage of Americans who say they will ignore the CDC recommendations to not gather with people who don’t live in their household for Thanksgiving.
  • 40%. The percentage of Republicans who say they will ignore the CDC recommendations to not gather with people who don’t live in their household for Thanksgiving.
  • 23%. The percentage of Democrats who say they will ignore the CDC recommendations to not gather with people who don’t live in their household for Thanksgiving.
  • 53%.The percentage of American adults who said they would get a potential coronavirus vaccine, according to new polling.
  • 49%. The percentage of American adults who said they would get a potential coronavirus vaccine, according to polling earlier in November.
  • 68%. The percentage of Republicans who say Trump is more in touch with the party’s rank and file than Congressional Republicans.

Have a nice day.

A new wildlife overpass in Utah appears to be working, with animals using it to cross Interstate 80 safely rather than taking to the streets. “A video shared by the state's Division of Wildlife Resources on Twitter shows everything from small chipmunks to bears, coyotes, beavers, and even large moose using the bridge to safely continue their predetermined journey,” The Drive reported. 46 deer, 14 moose, and four elk were killed on that stretch of road in 2016 and 2017 alone, and now other states like Colorado are considering implementing similar overpasses.

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