The 1970s were rough times economically in America. Unemployment was high, gas lines were long, and interest rates and inflation were through the roof.
That is the economy that Paul Volker inherited when he took over as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
When Volker took over the FED, the top federal fund interest rate stood at 17%.
Confronted with an enormous challenge Volker decided to turn off the credit spigot and raise interest rates. That decision was incredibly unpopular at the time. Members of both parties—including President Reagan—decried Volker and the Federal Open Market Committee’s decision.
The rate increase was intended to cut the flow of the money supply in the economy with the hope that inflation would fall and that the market would naturally return interest rates to normal.
The federal funds rate reached just below 20% in 1981 before falling below 7% at the end of Volker’s two terms as Fed Chairman. President Reagan, despite being an early critic of Volker, re-nominated him for the position in 1983.
Despite the political pushback, Volker stuck to his guns.
Today, we received the sad news that Paul Volker has passed away at the age of 92.
He lived a consequential public life which saw him serve in many government positions including Fed Chair and an adviser to President Obama during the Financial crisis of 2009.
Volker was a Democrat, however, he served in both Republican and Democratic administrations with equal dedication.
During his time in the Obama Administration, Volker chaired Obama’s recovery advisory board that advocated for stricter limits on risky investment practices that many have cited as the reasons for the 2007-2009 Financial crisis.
Volker helped advocate for the controversial government financial-intrusion law that became known as “Dodd-Frank.” He most famously advocated for what would become known as the “Volker Rule.”
The Volker Rule banned banks from using their own capital to make high-risk bets.
The Hill reported that “he served in the Treasury Department during the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations, shaping the U.S.’s response to a deteriorating global financial order.
As Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, Volcker was a driving force behind Nixon’s decision to abandon the gold standard, which tied the U.S. dollar to a fixed amount of gold. Carter’s appointment of Volcker to the Fed and the economic crunch to follow likely played a role in his defeat to Reagan, who nonetheless re-nominated Volcker in 1983.”
Jerome Powell, current Chairman of the Fed paid tribute to Volker, saying “His life exemplified the highest ideals-integrity courage, and a commitment to do what was best for all Americans. His contributions to the nation left a lasting legacy.”