Silk Speaker Series brings local Federal Reserve president to campus

Economics professor Suparna Chakraborty (left) and San Francisco Federal Reserve CEO Mary Daly (right) discussed economics and inequality in the U.S. during an online Silk Speaker Series event. Photo Illustration by Dominique Cadenas Calvo/FOGHORN Photos courtesy of USF Office of Marketing Communications

Paavani Lella

Staff Writer

About 1,800 viewers tuned in via various social media platforms on Feb. 16 to watch Silk Speaker Series guest Mary C. Daly, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, according Kellie Samson, media relations specialist at USF. 

Daly, who was born and raised in Ballwin, Missouri, was a high school dropout before she went on to get her doctorate in economics. During the event, Daly revealed that she originally wanted to become a psychologist, but after she realized she was better at studying large groups of people than helping people, she shifted her focus to economics. “Economics really is the psychology of people. The economy is only a collection of all of us, and if it doesn’t work for all of us, then we really don’t have a good economy at all,” Daly said. 

She later explained her role as CEO and the importance of having everyone’s voice heard. “The people who founded the [Federal Reserve] in 1913 were really focused on having geographic representation, recognizing that the central bank is really only as good as its knowledge about the people it serves directly,” Daly said.

Daly explained that the Federal Reserve is composed of 12 regional banks, and that one of her most important responsibilities is being familiar with the communities she serves. “Ultimately, I don’t do my job well unless I am representing the communities that I’m responsible for, and that would be the nine Western states, and all the different communities in them: be it rural communities, urban communities, communities of great wealth, communities of much less wealth,” she said. “How are we thinking about each and every one of those individuals so that we deliver our best in public service?”

The event was moderated by economics professor Suparna Chakraborty. Along with having a background in applied macroeconomics and international finance, Chakraborty was a research associate with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and an American Economic Association fellow at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

In an interview with the Foghorn, Chakraborty said she felt well-prepared for the event because she has similar research interests to Daly. “You need to know the subject so you can engage the speaker in a meaningful conversation. It’s definitely a very intellectually satisfying moment because you’re sharing the platform with someone who does a lot more applications,” she said. “While we are on the academic side of things, it’s a very eye-opening experience to see how academic knowledge translates into policy.”

However, Chakraborty also felt that it was a challenge to host the event via Zoom. “In person, one of the benefits is you can see your audience. You have audience members sitting in front of you, so you can take cues from the body language or the expressions of the audience. You can then either probe onto a topic a little bit more, or if the audience members are satisfied with a certain line of inquiry, you then can change the pace a little more,” she said.

When registering for the event, viewers were asked to state any questions they would like Chakraborty to ask Daly. 

During the discussion, Daly was asked to describe the biggest challenge she has had to tackle since she took over as chief executive of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank. Daly said she took it to heart when more than 1,800 employees had to start working from home during the pandemic.

“We have to pivot them very quickly and make sure that they’re productive, but also hold the space for them to be humans in a pandemic,” Daly said.“While it was challenging to make sure that got done, it was a top priority and it kept me moving day in and day out. Maybe that’s what we’ll learn from the pandemic: Life shouldn’t be about trade-offs between work or family, it should be an integration of work, and family, and community. That’s how we have the most productive people.”  

Paavani Lella is a freshman biology major and a Deputy News Editor at the Foghorn. She’s previously covered campus life and the administration. She can be reached at plella@dons.usfca.edu

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