Amara Omeokwe, Wall Street Journal, February 1, 2022
Economist Lisa Cook has often focused her research on policies that promote broad economic opportunity, particularly for racial minorities and women, an approach she could soon bring to the central bank and its policy making.
President Biden has nominated Dr. Cook, a professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University, to join the Federal Reserve Board of Governors as it prepares to start raising interest rates in March to fight the highest inflation in decades, while the economy is still healing from a downturn earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Her past scholarship and interviews with current and former colleagues suggest she would be likely to weigh monetary-policy decisions with an eye to their effects on economically disadvantaged Americans and economic inequality. Dr. Cook’s confirmation hearing, alongside two other Fed nominees, is set for Thursday before the Senate Banking Committee. If confirmed, she would be the first Black woman to serve on the board.
Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee will likely press Dr. Cook during her nomination hearing about her views on the Fed’s inflation-fighting goals and whether she sees a central-bank role on topics such as racial inequality.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), the committee’s ranking member, and other GOP members on the panel have often expressed concerns that the Fed could exceed the limits of its remit by delving into such issues. The Fed is primarily tasked with a so-called dual mandate of fostering stable prices and maximum employment.
Committee Chairman Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) said of Dr. Cook and Mr. Biden’s other recent Fed picks, “There is no question that these nominees are qualified.” He added, “In my meetings with them, they made clear that they understand how our economy works—and who makes it work.”
Trevon Logan, an Ohio State University economics professor who has co-written research with Dr. Cook, said it would be shortsighted to view her work on issues such as economic inequality along racial and gender lines as irrelevant to the Fed’s dual mandate.
That thinking “leads to lower levels of growth and innovation and an economy that misallocates resources. So I think it’s really important to push back against that thinking to say, ‘What kind of economist wants misallocation of resources?’ ” he said.
Dr. Cook’s research interests were also shaped by her experiences growing up in Milledgeville, Ga., during the 1960s and 1970s amid the civil-rights movement and its aftermath. Her parents, who were active in civil-rights groups, worked to shield their children from the harsh realities then for Black people living in the desegregating south, said Pamela Cook, Dr. Cook’s sister.
In one of her research papers, Dr. Cook linked mass violence and discrimination against African-Americans between 1870 and 1940 to a decline in patents obtained by Black people. She has used the findings to argue that a lack of economic opportunity for some can have negative implications for the broader economy, including by discouraging innovation.
Dr. Cook cares about “the institutional settings that exist that allow for us to grow as an economy,” Dr. Logan said. “These are things that I think people don’t think about in terms of the Fed, but these are things Lisa is thinking about that does add an element of diversity that goes beyond her demographics.”