Nothing about Evans, 54, hints at the unconventional. He's a mild-mannered policy wonk who reads economic literature on the treadmill. Known as Charlie, he lives in Glen Ellyn, Ill., with his wife and two children. He loves to play golf.
His willingness to step out on his policy views are rooted in his training and research, his faith in the Fed's mission and a belief that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.
The Federal Reserve is America's central banking system, managing the nation's currency, money supply and interest rates. It is composed of the presidentially appointed Board of Governors and 12 regional banks located in major cities. The Fed pulls strings in the economy by expanding or shrinking the money supply, partly through the control of interest rates that private banks charge each other. Its decisions do not have to be approved by the president or lawmakers, but it is subject to congressional oversight.
Evans joined the Chicago Fed's research department in 1991, a few years after finishing his doctorate in economics from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Martin Eichenbaum, his adviser at Carnegie Mellon who had moved to Northwestern University, recruited him to Chicago from the University of South Carolina, where Evans was teaching.
The pair joined Lawrence Christiano, another Northwestern economics professor who briefly taught at Carnegie Mellon, to begin looking at how monetary policy affects the economy. Their research ran counter to the conventional wisdom in the 1980s that the economy was best left to its own devices and that growing or contracting the money supply had little influence.
The trio studied years of economic data and started building models to match the data. After about 10 years of research, they came up with a formula that recognized the importance of monetary policy, turning conventional wisdom on its head.
"That work has caused all three of us to change our views about how the economy was put together," Christiano said.
They weren't the only economists coming to the same conclusion around the same time. This new way of thinking about monetary policy has been embraced by economic giants such as Bernanke and has influenced central bankers around the world.
But Evans had no idea how quickly his theories would be tested in the real world.
He rose from head of research at the Chicago Fed to president in 2007. He succeeded Michael Moskow, a popular business figure in Chicago who had led the regional bank for 13 years. Moskow had convinced Evans to stay at the bank in 2003 when Evans was considering leaving to become a professor at Oberlin College.
Evans is the first to admit he had little idea what he would encounter in his first few months on the job.
"I think most people thought (Moskow) was handing over a pretty good situation in terms of the economy," Evans said.
But financial markets started to swoon in the second half of 2007. At his first FOMC meeting in September, Evans voted with the rest of the committee to cut short-term interest rates, called the federal funds rate, to 4.75 percent from 5.25 percent.
It was a big cut, and more followed as the banking crisis intensified in 2008 with the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. By the end of the year, the central bank had dropped short-term interest rates to roughly zero.
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