Lisa Cook, the first Black woman ever confirmed as a governor on the Federal Reserve board in its 108-year history, is an economist from Michigan State University who has researched racial disparities and labor markets and has been vocal in her support of reparations for Black Americans.
Nominated in February by President Joe Biden, Cook was confirmed after Vice President Kamala Harris broke a 50-50 tie vote in the Senate.
Biden tapped Cook on the “landing team” for the Federal Reserve and banking and securities regulator. It was a historic nomination. One of the few African-American female economists, Cook was a member of Biden’s transition team. She works as a professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State and she’s a member of the American Economic Association executive committee.
The Fed is theoretically independent of politics, and its board governors in Washington, D.C. hold constant votes on monetary policy and oversee the nation’s largest banks. They set interest rates to guide the economy alongside 12 regional reserve bank presidents, five of whom hold a vote at any given time.
Throughout her career, Cook has been supportive of reparations.
“Everybody benefited from slavery. Everybody,” Cook said in a September 2020 EconTalk podcast. “So, I think that we absolutely need some sort of reckoning with that. There are many proposals on the table to study the possibility of reparations, many economic proposals being put forward, and I think they should all be taken seriously.”
“One thing I do support is H.R. 40, which would put in place a commission to study this,” Cook said at a forum at the University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business. “I think that’s absolutely what needs to be done.”
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Racism has held back the U.S. economy for generations, according to Cook.
“We absolutely need some sort of reckoning with that,” Cook continued. “There are many proposals on the table to study the possibility of reparations, many economic proposals being put forward, and I think they should all be taken seriously.”
Black people, Cook said, have been cut out of innovation.
“African-American homeowners couldn’t get mortgages, even though mortgages were fairly rare before the 1930s. But, even still, that would help with financing innovation, and African Americans didn’t have access to that,” she said on the EconTalk podcast. When fixing the racial gap in the innovation economy, “we need to make sure that African Americans are showing up, and women are showing up, where they may not have been welcomed before … there needs to be more and more participation on patent teams. Patenting by women is one order of magnitude lower than it is for men in the patent dataset. That doesn’t make any sense.”
Cook earned a doctorate in economics from the University of California, Berkeley. She has a history of mentoring younger economists, including through the American Economic Association Summer Program, which aims to increase diversity in the field of economics.
Professionally, Cook was a faculty member at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and Harvard Business School from 1997 to 2002. She also spent a year as a senior adviser on finance and development at the U.S. Treasury Department as a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow from 2000 to 2001.
Photo: Nominated for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Lisa Cook speaks at a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee confirmation hearing, Feb. 3, 2022. (Ken Cedeno/Pool via AP, File)