There is an oft-quoted story that Jack Kemp, when asked if he planned to run for president in 1988, stated that he would rather be appointed to the world’s most powerful position: chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Paul Volcker, who served in that elevated capacity for eight years, first entered government service during John F. Kennedy’s presidency and served in various capacities under Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan.
Volcker, who stepped down from his post early in 1987, will undoubtedly be remembered for the harsh steps he took to curb the inflation that was plaguing the nation in 1979 when he became chairman. In 1979, inflation stood at 13.3 percent; by 1986, it was down to a 1.1 percent rate. In the interim, the Federal Reserve Board, under Volcker’s leadership, had switched from interest-rate targeting to money-supply targeting--imposing tight controls on the nation’s money supply while allowing interest rates to float to a record high.
Based on interviews with Volcker, his family, and his associates, this informal biography, while lacking the index, photographs, and footnotes that one expects in a serious treatise, provides fascinating insights into Volcker’s economic thought as influenced by his early environment and education. The reader seeking a scholarly appraisal of Volcker’s career will have to wait for a definitive biography, but anyone interested in behind-the-scenes details of economic policy-making and bureaucratic infighting during Volker’s tenure at the Federal Reserve Board will want to read VOLCKER: PORTRAIT OF A MONEY MAN.