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Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence Hardcover – September 4, 2012
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“…Comes at the perfect time…Mr. Silber offers fascinating subplots and revelations along the way--not to mention a portrait of a tough and colorful man--but his main storyline concerns two of the most dramatic policy changes in economic history, one international, the other domestic. Mr. Volcker played a key role in both.” ―John B. Taylor, The Wall Street Journal
“This detailed account of the economist Paul Volcker's public service in five administartions shows how he maintained his integrity.” ―New York Times (named an Editors Choice)
“Mr Volcker barely made it through his eight years at the Fed. He nearly failed to be reappointed in 1983 and almost resigned in 1986, when defeated on a key vote. It was only in retrospect that his reputation grew; Mr Silber's well-written book should help cement it.” ―Economist
“William L. Silber has written a rich and detailed new biography of a man who has left as deep an imprint on the world economy as anyone of his generation.” ―Neil Irwin, Washington Post
“William Silber, a financial historian and professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University, has the challenge of fitting this lopsided story--his subject, who turned 85 last month, enjoyed his most fruitful years before age 60--into a coherent narrative. He succeeds admirably in Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence. Silber, who had Volcker's cooperation, emphasizes the former Fed chief's independence and willingness to take unpopular stances, a trait as laudable in public life as it is uncommon.” ―Roger Lowenstein, Bloomberg BusinessWeek
“What [Silber] does bring is a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of monetary policy and international finance, along with that rare ability among academics to explain it while weaving an interesting tale.” ―Washington Post
“Paul A. Volcker has finally been awarded a meticulous historical account of exactly how he reached his exalted position … this book is a treasure trove for policy wonks…” ―New York Times Book Review
“Paul Volcker was chairman of the Fed from 1979 to 1987. His foe was inflation--the opposite of the high unemployment fought by Ben Bernanke today. But the pressues on the two men from purists academics and interfering politicians are eerily similar. That makes this fine new biography especially timely.” ―Robin Harding, Financial Times
“I have just finished reading the book Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence by William L. Silber. It is an excellent book, well written, and a book that I could not put down.” ―John Mason, Seeking Alpha
“William Silber weaves a subtle link between the three crises that tested Paul Volcker: gold in 1971, inflation in 1979, and sub-prime mortgages in 2007. He tells the story of Volcker's success in a lively and authoritative style, but unless America heeds the lessons for fiscal responsibility that Silber draws from Volcker's record, the crisis that lies ahead could make those past upheavals seem tame by comparison. Every member of Congress and concerned citizen should read this book.” ―Nouriel Roubini, Chairman, Roubini Global Economics and author of Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance
“By observing the life of Paul Volcker, an extraordinary public servant, William Silber has created an absorbing story about how theories and personalities affect public policies and economic outcomes. This book presents a novel explanation for how Volcker defeated inflation, and at the same time, delivers an important message for the complex economic problems we face today.” ―Thomas Sargent, 2011 Nobel Laureate in Economics
“This book shows how much the character and purpose of a single man can play a fundamental role in economic history. The end of the gold-dollar standard in 1971 and the end of out-of-control inflation after 1979 are the dominant economic events of the last half century. But standard economic models do not tell us why these things happened. William Silber shows strikingly how much the leadership of Paul Volcker lay behind these events.” ―Robert J. Shiller, Yale University, author of Irrational Exuberance
“Paul Volcker's contributions to the health of our economy and society are truly legendary, so all of us can learn from this careful account of his thinking and his courageous actions.” ―George P. Shultz, former Secretary of Labor, Secretary of the Treasury, and Secretary of State
“Paul Volcker championed mystique as the essence of central banking--but always resting on the twin foundations of principle and analysis. Using previously unpublished papers and private conversations, William Silber delves behind the mystique to reveal the principles and analysis that guided this towering figure of international finance over the past 40 years.” ―Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England
“Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence gives an insightful account of the true depth and breadth of America's financial crisis and its heavy political pressures as the country faced potential economic collapse. Volcker is one of the wise men of this period.” ―Henry A. Kissinger
“What makes this book great and not just good is the confidence and authority with which Silber presents his case. Volcker has found his muse. The sheer courage it took Volcker to battle inflation gives today's central bankers something to live up to.” ―Amity Shlaes, author of The Forgotten Man
“This is a well-written and comprehensive book that reveals the many attributes of Paul Volcker. Silber shows that Volcker did not become an instant folk hero. Rather he fought valiantly and successfully to overcome opposition from powerful politicians and institutions while breaking the back of inflation. After reading this book people will understand how Volcker balanced public and private responsibilities while becoming an American financial icon.” ―Henry Kaufman
“Silber provides an overview of American economic history as well as insights into surviving financial crises and the complexities of economic decision making. Its in-depth treatment of its subject and the primary documents and notes it includes would be challenging to find by other means. Recommended” ―Library Journal
“From a fellow economist, an admiring biography of Paul A. Volcker…blessedly free of jargon.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Historians will find rich material and insight in this telling book” ―Booklist
“William L. Silber's new biography is therefore to be welcomed, and Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence will likely be regarded as the authoritative treatment of its subject.” ―Boston Review
About the Author
William L. Silber is one of America's most respected experts on finance and banking. He is currently Marcus Nadler Professor of Finance and Economics and Director of the Glucksman Institute for Research in Securities Markets at the Stern School of Business, NYU. His many books include When Washington Shut Down Wall Street: The Great Financial Crisis of 1914 and the Origins of America's Monetary Supremacy. He is co-author of the standard textbook Money, Banking and Financial Markets and, with Lawrence Ritter, of the classic Money.
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The background section gives a quick overview of Volcker's family and background and then moves on to his academic background. It is fairly brief and gives a quick overview of how Volcker entered into public service and started academically but never finished his dissertation. The second section then moves into the Bretton Woods Era with the heightening storm relating to the US gold peg. The author discusses the history and mechanism of Bretton Woods, how Volcker was a believer in it and at an early age believed that freely moving capital with floating exchange rates could be destructive and how stable exchange rates was the better exchange rate mechanism and thus needed to be adjusted rather than overhauled. In this, Volcker is shown to be the architect of the dual market for gold with the central bank rate and the public, freely traded market. This was catalyzed by the price of Gold/$ in the UK violently moving up past $35 which was the peg. Other relative exhange rate adjustments were also adjusted, but the origin of the stress came from the excess supply of global dollars that the author pointed at, through the eyes of Volcker, as the source of currency oversupply and hence weakening fundamental value. This crisis resolution process lasted until it couldnt.
The third section is the one of Volcker's tenure as Fed Chairman and is where his resolve and philosophy were among the core focuses. It discusses how Volcker recognized, through the lens of rational expectations, that inflation expectations were embedded in the popular psyche. Those expectations drove the velocity of money and wage bargaining and the eradication of them would require a truly difficult battle. He used a pragmatic mix of interest rate targetting and monetarist theory to control the money supply but also not let the market price of money be a pure function of the supply/demand balance given the Fed's desired quantity growth of money. This consistent and bold approach fed criticism through both governments and caused much suffering in the economy, but eventually overcame the greater economic problem of inflation. The true independence of the Fed can be appreciated through this story.
The final section is on where Volcker and finance is today. It describes the financial crisis and how an overhall of financial services is desired by Volcker and many others. It brings up issues with too big to fail and how Volcker was never a believer in the pure free market philosophy of banking. The material is probably not new to those who have been following Volcker and financial reform in the press over the last few years.
The heart of this book, the second and third sections, are really great to read. I did not know the full history of Paul Volcker but now I feel i understand the history and the monetary policy employed much better. There are many economic and political lessons one can draw from this, but one can read it just as a biography and find it fulfilling. I have taken a lot from this book, especially about such core issues as the Fed's independence and how fiscal dominance can politicize the fed. The balancing of the Fed's responsibilities is an act which requires much balancing, but in this account one can see Paul Volcker did an excellent job and is rewarded by a nation of admirers.
What made it interesting for me was the intimate look at his thinking, planning, and coping with the pressures of his job and the demands of the economy.
Silber clarifies Volcker's steadiness in leading our economic path in a variety of situations over the years. It left me feeling admiration for him, in contrast to my former superficial impression of the guy that put us into a recession because of his high interest rate policy. I highly recommend this book.
1. Published in 2012, this book provides fresh (and timely) historical context on the causal factors affecting the US Dollar
2. Monetary Policy Style: critical contrast between the McChesney/Volcker Feds and the Burns/Bernanke Feds #study
3. The book's mapping of the sequence of political decisions made prior to Gold's top in 1980 is well done (Chapter 11, New Territory)
1. "Five American Presidents (3 Democrats, 2 Republicans), spanning nearly half a century, have called on Paul A Volcker to serve..." (pg 1)
2. "Do not suffer your good nature to say yes when you ought to say no" -George Washington quote hanging in his father's office (pg 15)
3. "I never got along with the coach" -Volcker on his basketball coach @Princeton (1945-1949) #athlete (pg 17)
4. "Morgenstern... left his mark by turning Paul into a professional skeptic" #German born economist, author of Theory of Games (pg 17)
5. "Martin thought economists' forecasts rivaled the accuracy of fortune tellers" #WilliamMcChesnyMartin, one of Volcker's heroes (pg 21)
6. "Kennedy Pledges He Will Maintain The Value of The Dollar" @NYTimes headline #1960, Gold was $35/oz - #perspective (pg 23)
7. "Gnomes are imaginary, but speculators are not." #1960s roots of our friend @DougKass macro machinations? (pg 27)
8. "All I can remember after that was a word flashing in my brain like a yellow caution sign" #Samuelson #Keynes policies (pg 31)
9. "Hayek's words forever linked inflation and deception deep inside my head. And that connection, which undermines trust in government" (pg 33)
10. "Charles de Gaulle pursued Gold the way Henry VIII did wives." #1965 context #zeigeist of the times very different than today (pg 42)
11. "If the US could change the rules in March 1968 and stop selling Gold... it could amend them further" #1968, Martin #StrongDollar (pg 50)
12. "Failure to maintain those promises undermines trust in America. And trust is everything." #1969, epic #StrongDollar quote by #JFK (pg 53)
13. "Preserving the Dollar's status had been the focus of Volcker's favorite committee" #1969 Volcker Group, de Gaulle resigned 1969 (pg 60)
14. "Chairman Martin wants to raise the discount rate." But #LBJ wanted nothing of it (neither did Nixon) #USD credibility 1969 (pg 69)
15. "Soon after becoming Fed Chairman in February 1970, Burns began to ease..." sound familiar? #Bernanke, didn't work either (pg 72)
16. "We can't afford to risk a downturn, no matter how much inflation" -Nixon #1970 w/ #Burns Fed, conflicted/compromised (pg 73)
17. "August 15, 1971... Nixon stunned the world in a televised Sunday night address" #GoldStandard, gone - thanks Nixon (pg 79)
18. "The Coming Devaluation of the Dollar" @NYTimes May 1971, yep #sad - where it all started #Burns/Bernanke (pg 101)
19. "If I have to talk to Burns again I'll do it. Next time I'll just bring him in" -Nixon, goodbye "independent" #FederalReserve (pg 105)
20. "I don't give a shit about the Lira" -Nixon, #1972 Dollar Debauchery (pg 110)
21. "The difficulty is that no one is ever prepared to move except in a crisis" -Volcker #1973 (Shultz announced a 10% USD devaluation) (pg 117)
22. "Burns exploited Volcker's fixation with public service to persuade him to accept the Presidency of the Federal Reserve of NY" #1975 (pg 125)
23. "The public's resentment made sense, considering that consumer prices surged by 12% during 1974", #output of 1971 Policies To Inflate (pg 129)
24. "Whip Inflation Now" #WIN buttons for Jimmy Carter, elected into office #1976 to do a job he didn't accomplish; #1970s = Stagflation (pg 133)
25. "It's the same old story - lack of confidence in US government policies" -Currency Analyst (in #Frankfurt), sound familiar? (pg 139)
26. "Volcker participated in the Dollar rescue by requesting an increase from 8.5% to 9.5% in the discount rate" #1978 (pg 140)
27. "I am not particularly eager to make a major move now or in the fore-seeable future." -Volcker #1979, so #Gold rallied one last time (pg 156)
28. "I think there's a need to come in here as inconspicuously as possible... at diverse hotels" -Volcker #1979, no #Bernanke style #leaks (pg 165)
29. "The price of Gold hit an all-time high of $850 an ounce on Monday, January 21, 1980" #study history vs causal #Fed factor (pg 182)
30. "Jimmy Carter ended his honeymoon with Paul Vocker on October 2 , 1980, a month before the presidential election" #compromised (pg 190)
31. "Partisan politics ought not be around the Dollar" -William McChesney Martin #Patriot #1980
32. "Milton wants to abolish the Fed" -Arthur Burns #1980, the American #zeitgeist was very 2011 @RonPaul #libertarian (pg 194)
33. "Do we really need the Fed" -Ronald Reagan #1980 message resonated with common sense (pg 195)
34. "We obviously have a credibility problem - by "we" I mean the United States" -Volcker #1980 in "To Be or Not To Be a Central Banker" (pg 197)
35. "People have to change their expectations and their behavior... that is always an uncomfortable process" -Volcker #1980 (pg 198)
36. "I was very pleased to read a prediction that the price of gold will nosedive below $300/oz" -Reagan #1980 #StrongDollar leadership (pg 200)
37. "None of us really understands what's going on with all these numbers" -David Stockman (#Reagan's Budget Director) #classic (pg 209)
38. "He now refers to you as Paul rather than Chairman Volcker" #Reagan understood #StrongDollar tax cuts #commodities (pg 214)
39. "I think we'll re-appoint Paul Volcker for about a year and a half. He doesn't want a full term" -Reagan #1983 #winning (pg 233)
40. "Having 2 or 3 $40B institutions in trouble is a horse of a different color" -Volcker in #1984 as #ContinentalIllinois was imploding (pg 243)
41. "Keynesians such as Samuelson said it was impossible, monetarists such as Friedman said Fed was doing wrong" #1985 Volcker right (pg 247)
42. "Volcker resigned twice, but only one stuck" post #1985, James #Baker politicized everything all over again #PlazaAccord (pg 252)
43. "The role you have played has been invaluable" -Margaret Thatcher on #Volcker #1987 (pg 265)
44. "I may be old but I am persistent" -Volcker #2010, #Volcker Rule
45. "Foreigners hold Dollars because America has demonstrated fiscal and monetary integrity" #basic, pure #Constitution (pg 298)
An easy read that will educate people on how central planning has become so causal to American Purchasing Power (US Dollar) and inflation/growth expectations.