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Former Fed economist blasts her profession as racist, sexist, elitist

A former senior economist at the Federal Reserve critiqued the economics profession at large, calling it "a disgrace," while also naming prominent economists who she claims have sullied the field.

In a scathing blog post Wednesday, on her personal blog Macromom, Claudia Sahm, a former principal economist at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, wrote that her profession suffers from systemic issues of racism, sexism and elitism that stymie young professionals' careers and compromise the quality of our economic policy. 

"The lack of diversity and inclusion degrades our knowledge and policy advice," she wrote in a lengthy post, entitled "Economics is a disgrace." 

In her post, Sahm details incidences of harassment that she claims she and other female colleagues experienced while working in the male-dominated field of economics. She also claims she had a male "tormentor" at the Fed who routinely sabotaged her work. According to Sahm, another female colleague, then new to the Fed, was asked by male colleagues at lunch if she "satisfied" her husband.

Nonwhite men are also subject to rampant harassment, Sahm wrote in her post. 

"We drive away talent; we mistreat those who stay; and we tolerate bad behavior," she continued. 

She underscored, too, that her experience is not unique at the Federal Reserve, writing: "All the women I know at the Board have had their expertise and accomplishments devalued. I am not special."

Fed Chairman Powell responds

When asked about Sahm's post at a press conference Wednesday, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said that while he hadn't read it, "there's been a lot of pain and injustice and unfair treatment that women have experienced in the workplace, not just among economists but among economists at the Fed."

"That's been going on for far too long. And, you know, like every other organization, the Fed could have done more and should have done more," he added.

Powell also said the Board is "doing a lot to foster a respectful climate, particularly for women, but for all people, so it's a very high priority for us as an organization."

The Fed declined to issue a statement beyond Powell's remarks.

In particular, Sahm accuses German economist Harald Uhlig of exacerbating the field's "race problem." Uhlig is the lead editor at the Journal of Political Economy from the University of Chicago Press and recently drew fire for criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement.

Sahm wrote that some of Uhlig's former students allege he made racially insensitive as well as sexist remarks during lectures at the University of Chicago, where he currently teaches and was head of the economic department from 2009 to 2012. Sahm says a student told her that Uhlig once suggested a make-up lecture take place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Uhlig disputes the allegations, telling CBS MoneyWatch: "There is no history of racist comments, on the contrary. There is no history of undermining women, on the contrary."

He said that while students were amenable to his proposal of holding a lecture on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in the end, he decided not to proceed. Uhlig said his suggestion that class be held on the federal holiday commemorating the civil rights leader was never meant to "undermine the importance of his remembrance."

The "Sahm Rule"

Sahm also levied an attack on economist William Dudley, the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who she says tried to devalue her expertise by claiming she did not deserve credit for her eponymous "Sahm Rule," which signals the start of a recession by measuring changes in the unemployment rate. 

In an email to CBS MoneyWatch, Dudley said he believes Sahm deserves full credit for the Sahm Rule, which he called "insightful and noteworthy."  He also said that in an earlier email to Sahm he never suggested she shouldn't get credit, but was simply pointing out that "economists at Goldman Sachs had identified one empirical regularity that plays an important role in the Sahm Rule earlier." Dudley was one of those Goldman Sachs economists. He said he wanted her to be "aware" of this and did not intend to "upset" her. 

Sahm concluded her blog post by announcing her resignation from the field of economics. "Until we make progress, I will no longer identify as a member of the American Economics Association or the economics profession. Congrats," she wrote. 

Sahm is currently the director of macroeconomic policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a nonprofit organization that promotes economic growth and stability. 

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