Economics H195A
Senior Honor's Thesis Seminar
University of California, Berkeley
Fall 2001
Professor Martha Olney

Interview with  Prof. Janet Yellen
Interview conducted by Nicole Roberts

      Janet Yellen is both a professor in the Economics department and at The Haas Business School.  She served as Chair of the Presidentís Council of Economic Advisors from 1997 until 1999 and served on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System from 1994 until 1997.  She states that her research interests are unemployment and labor markets, monetary and fiscal policies and international trade and investment policy.

      Yellenís main focus of research for the greater portion of her career has been unemployment.  Her motivation for this subject stems from her desire to understand what appropriate policies might look like and because unemployment is a puzzle and problem.  Since markets clear, unwanted unemployment should not happen, yet this unemployment persists.

      Since Washington, she has not yet fully returned to doing the kinds of research she was working on before her work there.  Therefore, most of her recent research involves looking at topics she focused on in Washington, such as sustainable employment.  This research looks at what went right in the 1990ís to answer questions about how to achieve sustainable employment through policies today.  She and Alan Blinder have co-authored a short book that was recently published as a response to a project that Solow and Kruger ran about sustainable employment.  This short book looks at the conduct of monetary and fiscal policy and how each contributed to good economic performance.  They wanted to determine what part of the good times could be attributed to good policy, and what part was attributed to good luck.  They disentangled these by looking in part at supply shocks of productivity and the decline in benefits costs for firms.

      Professor Yellen thinks that a good question must be phrased as a question.  A good question can have an answer but that without a question it becomes difficult to begin research.  She thinks this question can come from the world around you and the things you observe everyday.  And she feels that seeing how your views might apply in the real world, or researching to find out if your views have merit bring about good questions and research.  Also, when others review and critique your work, often your find new avenues to explore.

      For example, Yellen (and her husband) thought that the legalization of abortion would be an excellent anti-poverty measure.  They asked the question, would legal abortion be a way of alleviating poverty as giving women a tool to get rid of unwanted pregnancy?  They then noticed that around the time of legalization, out of wedlock pregnancy grew.  From looking at the world around them they found the legalization of abortions led to a chain of events that made poorer women worse off than before.

      Yellen also suggests that data can come from many places.  These may include traditional sources as well as those outside government sites.  Often one can learn something from reading first hand accounts from sociologists and data that is anecdotal can be helpful.  She also suggests using field research or surveys, and that often finding how others have found their data on the topic youíre interested in leads to new sources of data for you

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Page prepared by Prof. Martha Olney
Last updated 10/22/2001