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WASHINGTON: A researcher focused on how discrimination has harmed the American economy and the damage downturns do to the poor, Lisa Cook would bring a new perspective to the US central bank.

If confirmed by the Senate, Cook would be the first Black woman to serve as one of the seven members on the powerful Federal Reserve Board of Governors, which guides the country's monetary policy and throughout its 108-year history has largely been a domain of white men.

The daughter of a Baptist chaplain and a professor of nursing, Cook bears physical scars from racism after she was attacked as a young child while involved in an effort to integrate racially segregated schools in the state of Georgia.

She has dedicated much of her research as an adult to previously unmeasured economic scars of discrimination on the productive capacity of the world's largest economy.

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Cook is one of President Joe Biden's picks to fill open seats on the Fed board, along with Philip Jefferson of Davidson College, who would be the fourth Black man to serve on the body.

For the powerful post of Fed vice chair for supervision, which oversees the nation's banks, Biden tapped former Fed governor Sarah Bloom Raskin, who is white.

If all of the nominees are confirmed, women would comprise a majority on the board for the first time in the central bank's history.

Focus on discrimination

Cook is a professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University, and earned an economics degree from Oxford University and a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.

She speaks five languages, including Russian, and also specializes in international development economics, having worked on topics such as Rwanda's recovery following the 1994 genocide.

"That experience convinced me of the enormous responsibility economists have," she said in a video on her university's website, where she highlights her focus on non-traditional data sources.

"It is absolutely vital to ask the right questions and to seek the right data."

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Growing up in an area of the United States where public swimming pools were destroyed rather than allowed to be integrated, Cook has looked at lynchings and patents issued to Black entrepreneurs, arguing that discrimination has held back the entire society, not just the direct victims of the injustice.

"My own research demonstrates, for example, how hate-related violence can reduce the level and long-term growth of the US economy," she wrote in a November 2020 column in The New York Times.

Fed focus on inequality

Critics say Biden's choices would politicize the Fed's stewardship of the economy at a critical time, with inflation at a 40-year high and millions of jobs lost during the Covid-19 pandemic still missing.

Others, including conservative political commentator George Will, have questioned Cook's credentials.

But central bank watchers dismiss those concerns as racially motivated.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell, who is also awaiting confirmation after Biden nominated him to a second term in office, has repeatedly stressed the importance of ensuring economic opportunities extend to disadvantaged groups -- a notable change of focus in an economy where Black workers face far higher unemployment rates than other racial groups.

"The politics around this are really kind of shameful," Grant Thornton chief economist Diane Swonk told AFP, calling Cook a "phenomenal" candidate for the post.

Her experience will fill "huge holes" in the ranks at the Fed which was "late on the uptake" in recognizing the costs of inequality, Swonk told AFP.

"You want to improve the quality of decision making by diversifying the pool of decision makers."

The struggle is not new to Cook, who in interviews has said male economists often discouraged her from pursuing a careers in the profession.

David Wessel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a longtime Fed watcher, dismissed the criticisms about qualifications.

"The people who are against her are describing a caricature," he said in an interview. "The double standard that's going on here is ridiculous."

He predicted Cook, who also worked at the White House Council of Economic Advisers under former president Barack Obama and on Biden's transition team, would be confirmed despite the opposition.

When it comes to monetary policy, she and her fellow nominees will bring a new perspective but likely follow Powell's lead on policy as the Fed prepares to raise interest rates multiple times this year, Wessel said.


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