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Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard had just committed something close to heresy in central banking circles. Speaking at a conference this year in mid-town Manhattan, she suggested that developed economies should confront common risks with coordinated action.

That drew a challenge from the audience. Laurence Meyer, a former Fed governor who runs an analysis firm in Washington, said domestic policy priorities take precedence at the U.S. central bank.

“The world has just changed fundamentally,” Brainard shot back during the Feb. 26 exchange. “What China does matters to the U.S.”

After a year lying low as the newest member of the Fed Board, Brainard...

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