Chairman Paul Volcker Died at age 92
I first met Volcker when I was a junior international economist in Washington in the late 1960s. He was the Treasury Under Secretary for International Economics. I was going to a luncheon at the National Press Club for the Indian Finance Minister. As I got on the elevator, Paul Volcker and John Kenneth Galbraith — among other things he was the US Ambassador to India under Kennedy –followed me on. I am 6’2″ — or at least I was back then — but they were both well over 6’6″. I honestly believe that was the only time in my life that I was the shortest economist in the room.
This was back when they had the annual International Monetary Fund( IMF) meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. The standing joke was that they had the meeting in Nairobi so everyone could compare Volcker to an actual giraffe.
I met Volcker several times over the years under various circumstances. He was certainly an impressively imposing man at 6’7 and smoking the most humongous cigars I ever saw, along with his blald head.
I think he can be respected for having consistant views and defending the independence of the Fed, even as it can be argued that his tight monetary policies were overly strong and more than what was needed to break the entrenched inflation coming out of the 1970s. While the US Phillips Curve appeared to be upward sloping during much of the stagflationary 1970s, and the ratex gang claimed it should be vertical when expectations fulfilled (and recently seems to have been nearly flat), it was noticeably downward-sloping when he showed that the Fed can indeed keep that economy horse from drinking the water, even if it cannot necessarily make the economy horse drink the water.
Something I heard in the day from variouis Fed staff people I knew was that he was indeed iimposing as Chair. When staff people made presentations to the Board of Govs, he rarely said anything. But if he did, it meant that the speaker had messed up, and Volcker would basically reduce the speaker to shreds on the spot. He was definitely formidable, and was the last time I saw him a few years ago in his late 80s. They do not make them like him anymore, for better or for worse.