Paul Volcker: the banking ace who crushed inflation

Paul Volcker, who died last week aged 92, was an inspirational figure whose controversial policies helped inaugurate the modern era.

Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Paul Volcker © Getty Images

If anyone came to epitomise the power of the independent central banker before the phenomenon became fashionable it was Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman who has died aged 92, says the Financial Times. "A towering figure in every sense" he stood at 6ft 7in Volker helped shape American policy for six decades, serving under multiple US presidents, from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama. Appointed to chair the Fed by Jimmy Carter in 1979, his defining achievement was vanquishing "the scourge of inflation that ravaged America's prestige and power in the 1970s and early 1980s".

An inspirational figure

Volcker became an inspirational figure to his successors. Ben Bernanke, who chaired the Fed from 2006 to 2014, kept on his bookshelf one of the chunks of wood that Volcker received during the anti-inflation campaign. As he observed this week, Volcker "personified the idea of doing something politically unpopular, but economically necessary".

Paul Adolph Volcker Jr was born in New Jersey in 1927. He was the grandson of a German immigrant tea and coffee salesman. His father was an engineer who, as "city manager" of suburban Teaneck, helped steer the local community through the Depression, says The Daily Telegraph. From him, Volcker "first acquired beliefs in... the importance of economic stability and the relative unimportance of his own material wealth". In later life, he famously favoured drugstore cigars and cheap, ill-fitting suits.

After Princeton and Harvard, where he took a masters in public administration, Volcker joined the US Treasury. In 1957 he moved to the private sector, joining Chase Manhattan as head of research. Volcker went on to interlace long stretches of public service with a lucrative career on Wall Street most prominently at investment bank Wolfensohn & Co. But his reputation for "austere integrity" and stubborn "probity" made him a popular choice as an independent arbiter, says The New York Times. Those qualities were put to good use after the 2008 banking crisis when he framed what became known as the "Volcker Rule" essentially restricting banks from making investments not intended to benefit customers, but to increase their own bottom lines.

The end of the age of respect

Recommended

Harley Finkelstein’s Shopify: the “Amazon for entrepreneurs”
Entrepreneurs

Harley Finkelstein’s Shopify: the “Amazon for entrepreneurs”

Shopify started as a snowboard shop that baulked at gifting its customers to Amazon. Now,it is an essential part of the internet’s infrastructure. Har…
15 May 2021
Anthony Tan: the Malaysian business scion taking on Uber
People

Anthony Tan: the Malaysian business scion taking on Uber

Anthony Tan has always been unabashedly ambitious and, in taxi-hailing apps, saw his chance to get into the history books. The competition, though, ma…
8 May 2021
António Horta-Osório: the tennis ace who saved Lloyds Bank
People

António Horta-Osório: the tennis ace who saved Lloyds Bank

António Horta-Osório was determined to rescue Britain’s largest high-street bank from disaster, and he succeeded, if at the cost of his own health. Ca…
2 May 2021
Cazoo’s Alex Chesterman: “I’m not an innovator, just a copycat”
People

Cazoo’s Alex Chesterman: “I’m not an innovator, just a copycat”

Serial entrepreneur Alex Chesterman likes to improve the consumer experience by spotting what’s broken, then fixing it. That’s been a successful strat…
24 Apr 2021

Most Popular

How will Joe Biden’s capital gains tax rise affect crypto prices?
Bitcoin & crypto

How will Joe Biden’s capital gains tax rise affect crypto prices?

The US president wants to increase capital gains tax – and that’s going to hit a lot of American cryptocurrency speculators. Saloni Sardana looks at h…
14 May 2021
Inheritance tax planning: the rules around gifting
Inheritance tax

Inheritance tax planning: the rules around gifting

There are plenty of legal ways to minimise an inheritance tax bill. Perhaps the simplest is to give away assets to reduce the size of your estate. Dav…
11 May 2021
Are we nearing the end of the negative bond yield era?
Government bonds

Are we nearing the end of the negative bond yield era?

As inflation gets going, the era of the negative bond yield – that investors have to pay governments for the privilege of lending them money – might b…
14 May 2021