Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan called Paul Volcker “the most effective chairman in the history of the Federal Reserve.” But while Volcker, who passed away Dec. 8 at age 92, probably did have the greatest historical impact of any Fed chairman, his legacy is, at best, controversial.
“He restored credibility to the Federal Reserve at a time it had been greatly diminished,” wrote his biographer, William Silber. Volcker’s policies led to what was called “the New Keynesian revolution,” putting the Fed in charge of controlling the amount of money available to consumers and businesses by manipulating the federal funds rate (the interest rate at which banks borrow from each other). All this was because Volcker’s “shock therapy” of the early 1980s – raising the federal funds rate to an unheard of 20% – was credited with reversing the stagflation of the 1970s. But did it? Or was something else going on?
Less discussed was Volcker’s role at the behest of President Richard Nixon in taking the dollar off the gold standard, which he called “the single most important event of his career.” He evidently intended for another form of stable exchange system to replace the Bretton Woods system it destroyed, but that did not happen. Instead, freeing the dollar from gold unleashed an unaccountable central banking system that went wild printing money for the benefit of private Wall Street and London financial interests.
The power to create money can be a good and necessary tool in the hands of benevolent leaders working on behalf of the people and the economy. But like with the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Disney’s “Fantasia,” if it falls in the wrong hands, it can wreak havoc on the world. Unfortunately for Volcker’s legacy and the well-being of the rest of us, his signature policies led to the devastation of the American working class in the 1980s and ultimately set the stage for the 2008 global financial crisis.
The Official Story and Where It Breaks Down
According to a Dec. 9 obituary in The Washington Post:
Mr. Volcker’s greatest historical mark was in eight years as Fed chairman.