Chairman of the Federal Reserve is arguably the most important unelected office in America. It wields enormous influence over the financial health of the nation, and indeed the world. So it is incumbent upon members of the Senate Banking Committee, which could hold confirmation hearings before the end of November, to ask the right questions of the President’s Fed nominee, Janet Yellen. Professor Yellen is clearly qualified, having held the number two position at the Fed under current chairman Ben Bernanke, and has previously chaired the San Francisco Federal Reserve. What is in question is the direction she will take monetary policy during the next four years.
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In the early days of the Industrial Revolution a number of English textile workers saw their livelihoods replaced by automated machines. Faced with joblessness, poverty, and starvation the group, calling itself the Luddites, protested by writing ballads, broadsides and, most notoriously, by destroying a few automated textile looms.
Today, the Luddites are generally seen as wrong-headed and backward technophobes, when in fact they were not anti-technology, but, in the words of Ronnie Bray, “anti-starvation.” Suffice it to say, that had automation delivered on its promise to maintain or create jobs, at least in the short term, there would have been no Luddite backlash.
The Luddites are invoked each time some Cassandra questions the wisdom of the direction of our ongoing hi-tech revolution. Such revolutions, it is believed, are good for society and economies. The old jobs may be going away, but they will be replaced by new ones.
And, indeed, for decades, our leaders have been preaching new mostly minimum wage service sector openings, while we wait for something better to come along.