Yellen joins chorus against economist who criticized Black Lives Matter

Key Points
  • Former Fed Chair Janet Yellen called comments regarding the Black Lives Matter movement from University of Chicago economist Harald Uhlig "extremely troubling."
  • Uhlig has been critical of the efforts to defund police departments.
Janet Yellen
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has waded into a thorny political dispute involving a University of Chicago professor who has been critical of the Black Lives Matter campaign to slash police department funding.

Harold Uhlig, an economist at the university and editor of the prestigious Journal of Political Economy, has equated BLM protesters to "flat earthers" and said they should have coordinated their protests with police departments, according to the New York Times.

In subsequent tweets, he has walked back some of the comments and on Tuesday said he was "was trying to make fun of that radical and untenable view of massively cutting funding of police departments. Wrong words, mea culpa. But we all share the same goal." He also said BLM is "a movement that is sorely needed now and applauded by so many."

Earlier, though, he chided the movement:

Yellen has joined a choir of economists who have criticized Uhlig, with some calling for his removal as editor of the journal. 

The central bank leader from 2014 to 2018 said in email to the Times that "the tweets and blog posts by Harald Uhlig are extremely troubling." She added that "it would be appropriate for the University of Chicago, which is the publisher of the Journal of Political Economy, to review Uhlig's performance and suitability to continue as editor.".

Yellen declined further comment. Uhlig and the journal did not respond to emails.

As is the case with most Fed officials, she has avoided involving herself in political issues. She led the San Francisco Fed during the financial crisis and helped guide the central bank off away from near zero interest rates and the extensive bond buying programs instituted during and after the Great Recession.

President Donald Trump chose not to reappoint Yellen, who was replaced with Jerome Powell. She is now a distinguished fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The move to defund the police has come in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police.