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From public politics to private business, Paul Volcker is a living legend of finance. He has established himself as one of the world’s most influential economic thinkers and is regarded as both a figure of fortitude and an instinctive leader who -- throughout his career -- has invariably done what he believed was right, regardless of the consequences.
As chairman of the Federal Reserve Board during one of the most turbulent periods in U.S. monetary history, Volcker instituted tough economic policies that halted the runaway inflation staggering the American economy in the late 1970s and early 80s, and ushered in an era of financial deregulation and innovation. As a financial leader of extraordinary capability, unquestionable diligence, and uncompromising integrity, Volcker’s steadfastness in applying this economic shock therapy is credited as the single most important step on the road to economic renewal in the United States at the time and laying the groundwork for the boom years in the 1990s.
Volcker served in the Federal Government for nearly three decades and under five presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Immediately prior to becoming Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Volcker spent more than four years as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the principal operating arm of the System.
Earlier, Volcker had two tours of duty as an official of the U.S. Treasury, serving as Under Secretary for Monetary Affairs from 1969 to 1974. In that position, he was responsible for developing and implementing Treasury debt management and Federal credit policies. On behalf of the United States, he conducted international monetary negotiations during the transition from the Bretton Woods fixed-exchange rate system to the more flexible system of floating rates that has prevailed since the early 1970s. In the area of domestic finance, among other initiatives, Volcker initiated the auctioning of Treasury bonds, an approach that has now become customary not only in the United States but in many other countries.
In 1979, Volcker was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to fill the most powerful economic seat in government--chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. As chairman, he also had oversight of the 12-member Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which decides the conduct of U.S. monetary policy.
Under Volcker's leadership, the FOMC sought to reign in double-digit inflation by setting strict money supply growth targets, which was in direct opposition to past policies and drew criticism from those who felt the price exacted to cure inflation was too high. Volcker's moves had tremendous impact on the nation's economy and were watched worldwide. Despite the intense pressure and unrelenting denunciation, Volcker’s hard-line actions proved effective, taming the inflation rate, turning the economy around and ending one of the worst economic crises in American history.
Upon leaving Washington in 1987, Volcker became Frederick H. Schultz Professor of International Economic Policy at Princeton University (now Emeritus). He also served as volunteer chairman of a newly formed, privately sponsored Commission on the Public Service. The Commission studied problems arising in attracting, motivating, and retaining the quality of people necessary for Government to function effectively. Both of those activities reflected Mr. Volcker's continuing interest in improving the professionalism and effectiveness of public service. From 2000-2005, Volcker served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the International Accounting Standards Committee, overseeing a renewed effort to develop consistent, high-quality accounting standards acceptable in all countries.
From 2009-2011, Volcker was an economic advisor to President Barack Obama, leading the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. On January 21, 2010, President Obama proposed bank regulations which he dubbed "The Volcker Rule", in reference to Volcker's aggressive pursuit of tougher financial regulations. The proposed rules would prevent commercial banks from owning and investing in hedge funds and private equity, and limit the trading they do for their own accounts.
Volcker was born in 1927 in Cape May, New Jersey, grew up in that state and spent much of his early adult life there. He earned his B.A. at Princeton University in 1949 and an M.A. in political economy and government at the Harvard University Graduate School of Public Administration in 1951. He attended the London School of Economics as a post-graduate student in 1951-52. Among his honorary degrees are those from his three Alma Maters: Princeton, Harvard, and London University. In 1998-1999, Volcker was honored with an appointment as the first Henry Kaufman Visiting Professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University.
Mr. Volcker is Chairman of International House, and Co-chairman of the Financial Services Volunteer Corps. He is also associated as a Trustee or member of the Board of Directors with the American Assembly, the American Council on Germany, the Japan Society, the Group of Thirty, and the Institute for International Economics. Volcker, an honorary chairman and founding member of the Trilateral Commission, also serves on a number of public and private advisory boards.