This article is about the American central banker. For the German general, see Paul Völckers
Paul Adolph Volcker Jr.
Early life and education
Volcker was born in Cape May, New Jersey
, the son of Alma Louise (née Klippel, 1892–1990) and Paul Adolph Volcker (1889–1960).
All his grandparents were of German origin. Volcker grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey
, where his father was the township's first municipal manager
. Paul Sr. thrived in the role for 20 years as he improved the burgeoning town's economic stability and the local government's effectiveness.
Paul Jr. had four older sisters: Ruth (1916–1991), Louise (1918–1966), Elinor (1922–1923) and Virginia Streitfeld (1924–2011). As a child, he attended his mother's Lutheran
church, while his father went to an Episcopal
church. Volcker graduated from Teaneck High School
where he participated in several student groups and impressed his peers and teachers with his knowledge of politics.
In 1952 Volcker joined the staff of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York
as a full-time economist. He left that position in 1957 to become a financial economist with the Chase Manhattan Bank
. In 1962, Robert Roosa
, who had been his mentor at the Federal Reserve, hired him at the Treasury Department
as director of financial analysis.
In 1963, he became deputy under secretary for monetary affairs. He returned to Chase Manhattan Bank as vice president and director of planning in 1965.
Appointed by the Nixon Administration
, Volcker served as under secretary of the Treasury for international monetary affairs from 1969 to 1974. He played an important role in President Nixon's decision to suspend gold convertibility
of the dollar on August 15, 1971, which resulted in the collapse of the Bretton Woods system
. Volcker considered the suspension of gold convertibility "the single most important event of his career."
Because of his position as under secretary, Volcker served as a board member for OPIC
and Fannie Mae
Across the policies he worked on, he acted as a moderating influence on policy, advocating the pursuit of an international solution to monetary problems and acting as a negotiator with other nations' policymakers.
After leaving the U.S. Treasury, he spent a year as a senior fellow at Princeton
's Woodrow Wilson School
(his alma mater). In 1975, he became president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and he retained that role until he became Federal Reserve Chair
in August 1979.
Chairman of the Federal Reserve
Inflation emerged as an economic and political challenge in the United States during the 1970s. The monetary policies
of the Federal Reserve board, led by Volcker, were widely credited with curbing the rate of inflation
and expectations that inflation would continue. US inflation, which peaked at 14.8 percent in March 1980, fell below 3 percent by 1983.
The Federal Reserve board led by Volcker raised the federal funds rate
, which had averaged 11.2% in 1979, to a peak of 20% in June 1981. The prime rate
rose to 21.5% in 1981 as well, which helped lead to the 1980–1982 recession
in which the national unemployment rate
rose to over 10%. Volcker's Federal Reserve board elicited the strongest political attacks and most widespread protests in the history of the Federal Reserve (unlike any protests experienced since 1922), due to the effects of high interest rates on the construction, farming, and industrial sectors, culminating in indebted farmers driving their tractors onto C Street NW in Washington, D.C.
and blockading the Eccles Building
. US monetary policy
eased in 1982, helping lead to a resumption of economic growth.
The US current account was in permanent deficit by the nineties. Volcker himself tried to remedy the situation by the Plaza Accord in 1986, which called for Germany and Japan to revalue relative to the US dollar.
The combination of the Fed's tight money policies and the expansive fiscal policy of the Reagan Administration (large tax cuts and a major increase in military spending) produced large federal budget deficits
and significant macroeconomic imbalances in the U.S. economy. The combination of growing federal debt and high interest rates led to a substantial rise in federal net interest costs. The sharp rise of interest costs and large deficits led Congress to take some steps towards fiscal constraint.
Paul Volcker, the previous Fed Chairman known for keeping inflation under control, was fired because the Reagan administration didn't believe he was an adequate de-regulator.
In 1983, Volcker received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards
After leaving the Federal Reserve in 1987, he became chairman of the prominent New York investment banking firm, Wolfensohn & Co., a corporate advisory and investment firm run by James D. Wolfensohn
(who later became president of the World Bank
In 1993 he chaired the Group of 30 Report on the Derivatives market entitled "Derivatives: Practices and Principles"
with several appendices and a survey on how practices may have changed since the original 1993 report.
The Group of 30 is a "consultative group on international economic and monetary affairs." Volcker was their Chairman emeritus.
In 1996, he took up the chair of the Independent Committee of Eminent Persons (Volcker Commission
) to look into the dormant accounts of Jewish victims of the Holocaust lying in Swiss banks. This included a "massive accounting of Swiss bank records." In the midst of a contentious process (the committee was formed by three Jewish representatives and three representatives of Swiss banks), he was able to bring about an agreement among the parties for a settlement of $1.25 billion.
In 2000 he accepted the Chairmanship of the IFRS Trustees, the not-for-profit funding arm of the International Accounting Standards Board (later the IFRS Foundation). The IFRS Foundation is a private sector enterprise based in London which seeks to develop a single global accounting model, subject to adoption country by country under their rules of law.
In April 2004, the United Nations assigned
Volcker to research possible corruption in the Iraqi Oil for Food program
. In the report summarizing its research, Volcker criticized Kojo Annan
, son of then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
, and the Swiss
company Cotecna Inspection SA, Kojo's employer, for trying to conceal their relationship. He concluded in his March 2005, report that "there is no evidence that the selection of Cotecna, in 1998, was subject to improper influence of the Secretary General in the bidding or selection process."
While Volcker did not implicate the Secretary General in the selection process, however, he did cast serious doubt on Kofi Annan, whose "management performance ... fell short of the standards that the United Nations Organization should strive to maintain."
Volcker was a director of the United Nations Association of the United States of America
between 2000 and 2004,
prior to his being appointed to the Independent Inquiry
by Kofi Annan.
As of October 2006, he was the chairman of the board of trustees of the influential Washington
-based financial advisory body, the Group of Thirty
, and a member of the Trilateral Commission
. He had a long association with the Rockefeller family
, not only with his positions at Chase Bank and the Trilateral Commission, but also through membership of the trust committee of Rockefeller Group, Inc., which he joined in 1987. That entity managed, at one time, the Rockefeller Center
on behalf of the numerous members of the Rockefeller family. He was a chairman and an honorary trustee of International House
, the cultural exchange residence and program center in New York City. He was a founding member of the Trilateral Commission
and a long-time member of the Bilderberg Group
In January 2008, he endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
On April 8, 2008, he was the featured speaker at The Economic Club of New York
. Volcker discussed "what appears to be in substance a direct transfer of mortgage and mortgage-backed securities of questionable pedigree from an investment bank to the Federal Reserve," and offered his detailed analysis and evaluation of interrelationships among the U.S. capital markets, Federal Reserve policies, and the economy as whole.
Paul Volcker appeared in the Charles Ferguson
's movie Inside Job
. He was interviewed about current Wall Street CEO pay, claiming it is "excessive."
Volcker was an economic advisor to President Barack Obama
, heading the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board
During the financial crisis, Volcker was extremely critical of banks, saying that their response to the financial crisis was inadequate, and that more regulation of banks is called for.
Specifically, Volcker called for a break-up of the nation's largest banks, prohibiting deposit-taking institutions from engaging in riskier activities such as proprietary trading
, private equity
, and hedge fund
Volcker left the board when its charter expired on February 6, 2011, without being included in discussions on how the board would be reconstituted.
On January 21, 2010, President Barack Obama proposed bank regulations which he dubbed "The Volcker Rule
," in reference to Volcker's aggressive pursuit of these regulations.
Volcker appeared with the president at the announcement. The proposed rules would prevent commercial banks from owning and investing in hedge funds and private equity, and limit the trading they do for their own accounts.
According to SEC Commissioner Luis A. Aguilar
, "[t]he success or failure of the Volcker Rule will depend on the manner in which banking entities comply with the letter and spirit of the rule, and on the willingness of regulators to enforce it."
Volcker was known to defy the stereotype of a Wall Street insider. A profile in The Week
for February 5, 2010, stated that Volcker does not agree with the conventional wisdom that "financial innovation" is necessary for a healthy economy. In fact, he likes to say, "the only useful banking innovation was the invention of the ATM
On April 6, 2010, at the New-York Historical Society
's Global Economic Panel, Volcker commented that the United States should consider adding a national sales tax similar to the Value Added Tax
(VAT) imposed in European countries, stating "If, at the end of the day, we need to raise taxes, we should raise taxes."
World Justice Project
Volcker served as an honorary co-chairman for the World Justice Project
. The World Justice Project works to lead a global, multi-disciplinary effort to strengthen the rule of law
for the development of communities of opportunity and equity.
In 2013, Volcker founded the nonprofit organization the Volcker Alliance
to address the challenge of effective execution of public policies and to rebuild public trust in government. The nonpartisan Alliance works toward that objective by partnering with other organizations—academic, business, governmental, and public interest—to strengthen professional education for public service, conduct needed research on government performance, and improve the efficiency and accountability of governmental organization at the federal, state, and local levels.
Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
Volcker married Barbara Bahnson, the daughter of a physician, on September 11, 1954. They had two children, Janice, a nurse and a Georgetown University graduate,
and James, a research assistant and a New York University
who was born with cerebral palsy
. They also had four grandchildren.
His younger sister died young, and two of his three older sisters, Louise and Ruth, never married. His other older sister, Virginia, was married to and divorced from Harold Streitfeld; they have five children.
Volcker was an avid fly-fisherman
who recounted in 1987, "The greatest strategic error of my adult life was to take my wife to Maine on our honeymoon on a fly-fishing trip."
Volcker was known as "Tall Paul" for his height of 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m),
standing exactly a foot (30 cm) taller than his first wife, Barbara, when they first met.
She died on June 14, 1998, having suffered from lifelong diabetes, as well as rheumatoid arthritis.
Over Thanksgiving, 2009, he became engaged to Anke Dening, a long-time assistant.
They married in February 2010.
Volcker died in New York City on December 8, 2019, at age 92. He had reportedly been treated for prostate cancer
since being diagnosed the year prior.
Volcker received honorary degrees from several educational institutions, including: Baytown Christian Academy
, Hamilton College
(1980), University of Notre Dame
, Princeton University
, Dartmouth College
, New York University
, University of Delaware
, Fairleigh Dickinson University
, Bryant College
, Adelphi University
, Lamar University
, Bates College
(1989), Fairfield University
(1994), Williams College
(2004), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
(2005), Brown University
(2006), Georgetown University
(2007), Syracuse University
(2008), Queen's University
(2009), Amherst College
(2011), and at the University of Toronto
- Changing Fortunes, Paul Volcker and Toyoo Gyohten, Crown, May 26, 1992, ISBN 978-1-58648-752-2
- Forbes Great Minds Of Business, Fred Smith, Peter Lynch, Andrew Grove, Paul Volcker (Author), Pleasant Rowland, John Wiley and Paul A. Volcker, Simon and Schuster Audio, October 1, 1997, ISBN 978-0-671-57722-3
- Good Intentions Corrupted: The Oil for Food Scandal And the Threat to the U.N., Paul Volcker, Jeffrey A. Meyer and Mark G. Califano, Public Affairs Gorgias Press, August 28, 2006, ISBN 978-1-58648-472-9
- Keeping at it: The Quest for Sound Money and Good Government (Memoir); Public Affairs 2018, ISBN 978-1541788312
In 2015, Paul Volcker had a rock band named after him.
A political rock band named Volcker from Portland, Oregon, formed in early 2015, and released an eponymous album on January 27, 2016.
The group planned to release their second album, Gorge on Fire
The band was featured on BBC Radio 4's Economics with Subtitles
on August 28, 2016.
- Mehrling: So you didn't read at that time the classic banking texts, for example, Bagehot’s Lombard Street?
Volcker: Well I read some of Bagehot, and I read a lot of Hawtrey. I remember I read a lot of Hawtrey.
Mehrling: Currency and Credit? The Art of Central Banking?
Volcker: I don’t remember the names of the books, just being in London. In those days I used to read The Economist and the Financial Times, so I kept up with what was going on in the money markets.
Paul Volcker interviewed by Perry Mehrling
(April 18, 2000) in Inside the economist’s mind: conversations with eminent economists
(2007) edited by Paul A. Samuelson
and William A. Barnett.
- “The American standard of living must decline”; as Chairman of the Federal Reserve under Carter and Reagan, October 1979. archive.is, New York Times, David McNally, "Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance", books.google.com.
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- ^ Appelbaum, Binyamin; Hershey Jr., Robert D. (December 9, 2019). "Paul A. Volcker, Fed Chairman Who Waged War on Inflation, Is Dead at 92". NYTimes.com. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
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- ^ "Derivatives Practices and Principles" (PDF). Retrieved November 30, 2017.
- ^ "Derivatives: Practices and Principles: Follow-up Surveys of Industry Practice". Archived from the original on September 24, 2015.
- ^ "Group of 30 Current Members". Retrieved November 30, 2017.
- ^ Treaster (2004), p. x.
- ^ "Annual Report of the IFRS Trustees Foundation" (PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on September 11, 2015.
- ^ Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-for-Food Programme – Second Interim Report (29 March 2005) Archived August 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine p.77.
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- ^ Miller, Judith; Preston, Julia (January 31, 2005). "2 Inquiries on Iraq Aid Are at Odds". The New York Times. Retrieved December 16, 2019. In a report last week, the conservative Heritage Foundation contended that Mr. Volcker had a conflict of interest that 'threatens his credibility' as head of the commission because he had not disclosed that he was a director of the United Nations Association of the United States of America, which the report called 'a pro-U.N. advocacy group.'
- ^ "The Volcker Investigation into the U.N. Oil-for-Food Scandal: WhyIt Lacks Credibility". The Heritage Foundation. February 1, 2005. Retrieved December 16, 2019. When Volcker was appointed to head the Oil-for-Food investigation in April 2004, it was not widely known by the public, the world's media, and the U.S. Congress that he was a director of the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) and the Business Council for the United Nations (BCUN). Volcker is listed as a director in the 2003-2004 UNA-USA annual report, as well as in the annual reports for 2001-2002 and 2000-2001.
- ^ "The Volcker Interim Report on the United Nations Oil-for-Food Program: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, One Hundred Ninth Congress, First Session, February 9, 2005"(PDF). U.S. Government Printing Office. 2005. p. 11. Retrieved December 16, 2019. It is inconceivable that Kofi Annan was unaware of Mr. Volcker’s close ties to the United Nations Association when he appointed him to head the Oil-for-Food investigation, and it could well have been an important factor influencing his decision.
- ^ Calmes, Jackie (January 31, 2008). "Volcker Joins List of Obama Backers". Washington Wire. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
- ^ The Economic Club of New York: April 8, 2008 Transcript 101st Year, 395th Meeting, (8 April 2008) p. 2, and pp. 5–8.
- ^ 101st Year, 395th Meeting, (8 April 2008)Archived October 31, 2008, at the Wayback Machine pp. 2, 5–8.
- ^ Kudlow, Lawrence (June 27, 2008). "Where's Bernanke's Inner Volcker?". Townhall.com. Townhall.com. Archived from the original on September 18, 2012. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
- ^ "Transcript of Third Presidential Debate". October 15, 2008. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
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- ^ McGrane, Victoria (January 4, 2010). "'Big is bad' catches on in Congress". The Politico. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
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- ^ David Cho, and Binyamin Appelbaum (January 22, 2010). "Obama's 'Volcker Rule' shifts power away from Geithner". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
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- ^ "Spotlight" in The Week, 2010 February 5 (Volume 10 Issue 449), p. 38.
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- ^ a b Treaster (2004), pp. 83, 86, 110.
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- Official biography from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York
- The Independent Inquiry Committee into The United Nations' Oil-for-Food Program official website
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Paul Volcker on Charlie Rose
- Paul Volcker at IMDb
- "Paul Volcker collected news and commentary". The New York Times.
- Interview transcript from PBS Commanding Heights, September 26, 2000
- Time for Paul Volcker To Resign, Nile Gardiner, PhD, The Heritage Foundation, April 21, 2005
- Current Economic Recovery Fragile, Corporations Undergo "Healthy Changes," Former Fed Chair Paul Volcker Says in Ubben Lecture, Paul Volcker, DePauw University, October 8, 2003
- Rethinking the Bright New World of Global Finance, Paul Volcker, International Finance, Spring 2008
- How to Reform Our Financial System, Paul Volcker, The New York Times, January 30, 2010
- Statements and Speeches of Paul A. Volcker in FRASER
- Paul A. Volcker Papers at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University
- Former Fed Chairman Blasts McKinsey and Hedge-Fund Billionaires
- "Other People's Blood," Tim Barker, n+1, Spring 2019
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