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In memory of Volcker’s gravitas

By Taipan
12 Dec 2019

I don’t often write rave tributes about high profile people but Paul Volcker warrants one this week.

It's rare for me to call someone a mountain of a man and truly mean it, but Volcker, who died on Sunday, was just that. The former Federal Reserve chairman, who stood at more than two metres tall, was a commanding presence among world leaders and he will be missed.

It's not that I don't appreciate current Fed chair, Jerome Powell. But Volcker's reign was one of prestige and power. US presidents may not have always agreed with him, and throughout his efforts to control inflation I know many Americans thought poorly of him, but Volcker was a man of conviction. His intelligence, ability to read the market and understand the long term effects of financial decision making is not so prevalent in the world of economics and banking today (with the exception of yours truly, of course).

But jokes aside, I still remember having a mix of emotions when Barack Obama invited Volcker to help his administration make a response to the financial crisis. In some ways, I was in awe that Volcker had returned, while another part of me scoffed at some of his proposed reforms. The Volcker Rule, which I have no doubt we will speak about for years to come, undoubtedly created hurdles for banks.

One his last acts this year, aged 92, was to pen an opinion piece for the Financial Times. In it, he warned of US president Donald Trump's open attacks on the Fed and what it stands for, and he encouraged readers to support open markets and constructive policies.

I’m not one usually given to quote others, but his final words stood out: "Today's generation faces a different, but equally existential, test. How we respond will determine the future of our own democracy, and, ultimately, of the planet itself."

By Taipan
12 Dec 2019