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How Biden's Diverse Economic Team May Impact His Policies


President-elect Joe Biden will introduce today his team tasked with rebuilding this devastated economy. Four are women, including Janet Yellen, his nominee for treasury secretary, and three are people of color. Wally Adeyemo will be Yellen's deputy. Neera Tanden is his pick for budget director. And Cecilia Rouse has been chosen to chair the Council of Economic Advisers. But what does the gender and race of the picks say about what kinds of policies they may put in place? Our next guest has some thoughts on that. She is economist Lisa Cook. And she served as an adviser under President Obama. And she is a professor at Michigan State University. Her work is focused on the impact racism has had on holding back the economy. Good morning.

LISA COOK: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Yellen, Tanden and Rouse have worked to increase worker earnings and reduce racial and gender discrimination in the economy, for example. What does that signify about the priorities of this team?

COOK: It suggests that the Biden team has a really good grasp of what is happening in the economy, not just in the pandemic economy, but the broader economy and the more long-standing economy in that he is not just interested in the aggregate, but in the distribution of income and well-being in the economy. That's what it suggests to me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What you're talking about is inequality, essentially.

COOK: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We mentioned the diversity in these appointments. How much does that matter?

COOK: It matters a great deal. One of the things that Janet Yellen has said, and certainly said as chair of the Federal Reserve - the first woman to be so - that the financial crisis was actually a result of not having enough diversity of lived experience of the economists who were judging the data related to the crisis. So it says to me that we really need people in positions of economic policymaking who have different types of lived experience, who have different backgrounds, who understand the data from many different perspectives. So given that she really pushed forward on diversity efforts at the Federal Reserve when she was chair and before that, it seems to me that this is a really important priority for economic policymaking.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've written about this extensively, that representation matters, that teams with women on them, for example, are more productive, that having diverse leadership allows for more creative solutions to problems. But isn't there also some sort of magical thinking when we've seen that simply having a Black or brown person in a certain job translates automatically to more equality? There needs to be systemic change. So what do you see happening there to sort of change what we've seen so far?

COOK: I think you're exactly right. It is not a panacea. It's not a magic formula. Having more representation doesn't automatically mean that. However, different people with different lived experiences may be able to say more about the economy and how it's playing out, how different people are experiencing the economy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This pandemic, of course, has impacted communities of color disproportionately, not only when it comes to health, but also economically. What do you think first needs to happen? - and just in a few seconds.

COOK: The thing that first needs to happen is that there has to be greater relief that comes to state and local governments, aid that comes to small businesses - aid that is not necessarily in the form of debt, but also in the form of grants. And I think that foreclosure and forbearance relief have to happen as well. There's a lot that needs to be done to address the pandemic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. Economist Lisa Cook is a professor at Michigan State University. And she is a member of the Biden-Harris transition team. Thank you very much.

COOK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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