Janet Yellen, Accomplished Woman, Made Money Talking. How Is That Legal?
Politico, which the great Charles P. Pierce calls "Tiger Beat on the Potomac," rang in the new year with a silly article about President-elect Joe Biden's pick for Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen.
I'm reasonably progressive, but I'd taken for granted that anyone qualified to serve as Treasury secretary probably didn't earn a living selling handmade jewelry on their Etsy store. The fact big bad Wall Street paid Yellen millions for her considerable expertise doesn't “complicate" my relationship with the Biden administration, which will remain rock solid for as long as it remains free of Trump family members.
Over the past two years, Yellen reportedly “raked in" (Politico's words) more than $7.2 million in "speaking fees from Wall Street and large corporations including Citi, Goldman Sachs, Google, City National Bank, UBS, Citadel LLC, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Salesforce and more."
Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, brought in nearly $1 million giving nine speeches to Citi alone. She earned more than $800,000 speaking to Citadel, a hedge fund founded by the Republican megadonor Ken Griffin. She also spoke to the law and lobbying firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.
At the risk of sounding like Lucille Bluth, $1 million for nine corporate speeches isn't that much money. It's not like she's shaking down charitable organizations. She's also not scaring straight public high school students. Yellen's not "The Bachelor" host Chris Harrison, who thinks he can charge the same as national treasure Fran Drescher for a personal Cameo message.
There was a lot of whining during the 2016 campaign because Hillary Clinton, a former first lady and secretary of State, had dared earn millions in speaking fees. Clinton made $200,000 per speech to financial institutions. Meanwhile, working-class hero Donald Trump was paid $1.5 million a pop for his verbal diarrhea at The Learning Annex's "real estate wealth expos" in 2006 and 2007. All told, he cleared around $25.5 million without successfully constructing a single monorail.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to someone who tweeted that the "people who belittle Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for being a former waitress are the same faulting Janet Yellen for earning $7.2 million. So, how much exactly should women make?"
a very reasonable thing*— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)1609538127.0
(And I say this as someone who gets highly scrutinized for pretty routine stuff while watching my counterparts get… https://t.co/KkvpiTy19F— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)1609539290.0
Ocasio-Cortez said it's fair to ask and important for us to know how much aspiring public servants earned in the private sector. Of course, it'll almost always be significantly more because the public sector usually pays for crap, and AOC concedes that women are disproportionately criticized for the money they make.
We're also more likely to assume that rich, successful women are “out of touch" with the common folk while not passing similar judgment on wealthy men. Private island owner and Georgia Republican (who'd like to remain a senator) David Perdue sacrifices his colon to Waffle House and he's suddenly just a good old boy, never meaning no harm.
Let's put this into context: Yellen, who is 74 and at the top of her career, earned a combined $7.2 million in 2018 and 2019. The Property Brothers made $500 million in 2018. They're not even up for HUD chair. Part of the HGTV stars' appeal is that they can connect with normal people. Yellen's comparative chump change shouldn't make it impossible for her to relate to the masses. We're fairly certain she won't pose like a Bond villain with her leather-clad spouse while holding up sheets up money. She's Mama Walton compared to Steven Mnuchin.
Bernie Sanders made a lot of money from books sold on Amazon, but that doesn't mean he's in the pocket of Amazon. He's remained critical of the tech giant. I'm confident that despite her speaking fees, Yellen will do her job well. She was the first woman to hold the position of Federal Reserve chair and she'll be the first woman Treasury secretary. It'll be fine.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."