Rowland Hughes ’17
As director of the U.S. Bureau of the Budget, Rowland Hughes was the money man during the Eisenhower administration, a position that made him one of the most important people in Washington at the time.
“In one way or another,” a U.S. News & World Report writer observed in 1955, “his imprint and his restraining hand are upon everything the Government does that costs money, and that means nearly everything.”
U.S. News described Hughes, who became deputy budget director in 1953 and took over the top job in April 1954, as “courteously and immovably tough when he thinks the money demands of the bureaus and departments are excessive.” Largely responsible for balancing the federal budget during Eisenhower’s first term, Hughes cut corners and insisted the government watch every penny it spent. For example, he saved a million dollars a year by eliminating winter underwear as a mandatory item for the U.S. Air Force in climates where the men didn’t want or need it. Thanks to Hughes’s influence, the first two years of the Eisenhower administration saw a decrease in the federal payroll of $298 million a year and the elimination of 181,000 civilian government employees.
Hughes also acted as an intermediary between Eisenhower and Congress on budget matters. An authority on taxation, he also served as a Brown trustee.
Janet Yellen ’67
When Janet Yellen talks about money, the world listens. As the former chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) and a former governor of the Federal Reserve, Yellen has played a key role in the economic turnaround of the last decade.
Between 1997 and 1999 Yellen and her economic team met frequently with President Clinton, discussing legislative issues, bills, trade policy, the impact of teenage pregnancy on the economy, social security reform, and Medicare—“whatever was going on,” Yellen says. As the author of the CEA’s weekly ten-page briefing, she frequently had the chance to see Bill Clinton in action. “The president is brilliant and is well-versed in a range of public policy issues,” she says. “It was a thrill and a challenge to have the chance to work with him.”
Yellen’s path to the White House was hardly a straight one. At Brown she began as a philosophy concentrator but later switched to economics to study with professors Herschel Grossman and George Borts. “I remember sitting in a classroom and recognizing the role that macroeconomic policies could have in influencing actual economic performance,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘This is a way I could really make a difference.’ ”
Yellen’s first career choice was not public policy but academics. After graduating from Brown she earned a Ph.D. in economics from Yale, then taught at Harvard, MIT, and the London School of Economics. In 1994 she was a professor in the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley when she was named to the Federal Reserve’s board of governors.
Yellen attributes our current run of economic prosperity to a number of factors, particularly to the technology boom of the 1990s and to “hard work, good policy, and good luck.” She says she is proud of whatever effect she’s had in helping turn things around for so many people.
“Unemployment is at its lowest level,” says Yellen, who is back teaching at Berkeley. “Black unemployment has fallen, women on welfare are getting off welfare and succeeding, people who have been on the margins are getting jobs and keeping jobs. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s really about.”