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Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence Hardcover – 11 Oct 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press (11 Oct 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608190706
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608190706
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 3.7 x 24.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 419,208 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


--Winner of the China Business News 2013 Financial Book of the Year.

--Short-listed for the 2012 Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Book Prize.

--One of the Best Business Books of 2012 (Bloomberg Businessweek).

--Named one of 2012's Great Leadership Books by the Washington Post.


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. (Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England)

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)

Book Description

Shortlisted for the 2012 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award

The biography of a true financial hero, Fed chairman Paul Volcker, who saved America's financial system from collapse--based on complete access to Volcker's papers and candid firsthand testimony from Volcker himself.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Athan on 30 Jan 2013
Format: Hardcover
Rather than a biography, this book is a blow-by-blow account of Volcker's life as a public servant. It is truly gripping. If you enjoyed books like "Too Big to Fail" and "Lords of Finance" or even "Barbarians at the Gate," beware of picking it up, you will not rest until you have finished it.

I sure couldn't.

While I was at it, I managed to pick up some international economic history. I already knew, for example, that by the end of the sixties the US was running out of gold to stand behind the convertibility of the dollar: at the parities to gold of the dollar and the Deutschemark, for example, people in the US were finding it irresistible to "buy VW Beetles instead of Buicks." But I had no idea that it was Volcker's idea to rattle France and Germany with the threat of a free-float to force the 15% devaluation of the dollar which he deemed adequate to stop the run on the Treasury's gold. Or that the 8% devaluation that was negotiated as a compromise (with Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, no less) was the beginning of the end for Bretton Woods because it caused tremendous instability while proving inadequate to achieve its primary goal. Or that the stab in the back came from the UK! Volcker basically was the midwife for the end of Bretton Woods, but in his heart he wanted it to continue. That's what the book alleges, at any rate, and I have every reason to believe it.

Somehow, the author, who is clearly in Volcker's thrall, deems this to have been a success. Regardless, you cannot help falling for Volcker too. The principal theme of the book is that Volcker was a tireless, persistent and highly principled pragmatist. The first example, which I mention above, is probably the only questionable example, the rest are good enough for me.
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Format: Hardcover
The sub title "Triumph of persistence", refers to the adoption of the "Volcker rule." Volcker said, "The problem to day is to look ahead and anticipate. And I tell you, sure as I am sitting here, that if banking institutions are protected by the tax payer, and they are given free reign to speculate, I may not live long enough to see the crisis, but my soul is going to come back and haunt you." (Page 284).

The Volcker rule is 71 pages long with an additional 850 page preamble and is part of the Dodd-Frank act that in 2010 covered 3400 pages and since that time has grown to more than 10.000 pages and is still not final. One can wonder how employees can figure out what is allowed and what is not and for government supervisors to determine if the rules are adhered to. The Volcker rule is based on the right intention but the implementation must be very difficult, might even be impossible.

Another complication is the "too big to fail" issue. Volcker said. "the proposed restrictions are a part of a broader effort designed to help deal with the problem "too big to fail" and the moral hazard that looms so large as an aftermath of the emergency rescue of financial institutions.(page282), Eight bank have been classified as having "systemic importance" and have increase their capital ratio to create sufficient cushion to deal with something that goes wrong without costs to taxpayers. Volcker discussed this issue with Geithner and Summers and told them that in theory more capital would work, though there was never enough to eliminate all risk. As a practical matter, Volcker did not trust the bankers to comply with the regulations, "over time, they will reallocate that capital the way they want to," And he did not trust the regulators to remain vigilant. (Page 283).
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 30 reviews
46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Shallow 29 Oct 2012
By Louis S. Barnes II - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My reaction to Silber's book is undoubtedly distorted by my own experience. I am aged 63 years, most of my working life in or near fixed-income markets, daily watching the Fed; one of its greatest admirers, and also an admirer of Mr. Volcker.
"Volcker" has some limited use to an amateur audience, but is too shallow even there, a kind of Classic Comics version of Fed history, or an as-told-by sports biography. Its adulation of Mr. Volcker is not so bad: Mr. Volcker is as unassuming and self-deprecating as any person who has lived an important public life. Still, Silber's only significant source work is Mr. Volcker himself.
We are living through a very difficult time, a predicament without precedent, and thus without empirical guideposts. There have been thousands of similar financial crises, but nothing of this scale, nor after a period of such extraordinary computer-assisted financial innovation. Central banks everywhere are struggling to invent apropriate policy while critics accuse them of everything from money-printing and say they should shut down altogether to accusation of inaction and insufficient imagination. This book fails to elucidate, especially for non-professional readers better served by "Lords of Finance" and "Secrets of the Temple."
Silber's book does have a few pages of useful anecdotes (Barbara's story, Reagan's diary), but repeated awful stretches. Mr. Volcker (as all central bankers) is annoyed by "speculators" who refuse to behave in ways comfortable for central bankers. Page 26 repeats "speculators" ten times in two paragraphs. The book is a useful financial history skim, but the same depth could be found in a Wiki entry. In several spots Silber has Volcker simultaneously in favor of and opposed to devaluation, and Silber is repeatedly on both sides of "monetarism" as actual strategy and cover story.
Perhaps the one most useful anecdote (earning the second star here), shining light on the Volcker interior: his refusal to allow Sargent Shriver to bring a gold medal he had been awarded in Europe into the US; an exception had been made for Olympic medals, but not this one. Mr. Volcker's great strengths -- unbending courage and integrity -- from time to time resulted in rigidity, rules for rules' sake, possibly including today's "Volcker Rule."
A short professional critique makes three points. How was it possible to write this history without a single mention of oil as a component of the Great Inflation, and how the Fed then or in the future might better deal with similar "price shocks"? Or to fail to explain to any audience the distinction between price shock and morphing into a wage-price spiral? How was it possible to leave out any mention of the savings and loan industry? Mr. Volcker's ultra-high-rate strategy in 1979 threw the entire $3 trillion (constant dollars) industry over the side without any plan at all, callous and narrow policy. Subsequent policy error (mostly Reagan and Congress) later made S&Ls all the worse (still on Mr. Volcker's watch), but 75% of 7,000 S&Ls were insolvent at Mr. Volcker's hand alone by 1982. A third significant omission involves Mr. Volcker's embarassing and institution-damaging last year as Chairman; Mr. Silber offers nothing but Mr. Volcker's version and some newspaper clippings.
The Fed is a unique American institution, a star chamber as important as the Supreme Court but a recent invention of Congress, its functions nowhere in the Constitution, and its members with no guide as powerful and reliable as stare decisis. Yet, rather frequently and inescapably the economic future of this country rests upon Fed governors. Part of Mr. Silber's struggle to find depth is traceable to Mr. Volcker still treating Fed operations 30 years ago as state secrets. Mr. Volcker has written no memoir (and better Mr. Greenspan had not written his self-serving volume). I hope that first-class historians will one day, while the actors are still alive, dig at the tale of Volcker's Fed (and the others) as studies in leadership and a desperately important aspect of democratic government.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Readable and Insightful History of Monetary Policy 7 Sep 2012
By Thomas Gresham - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The reader of this book learns a good deal about Paul Volcker's character and personal life, including, for example, the poignant sacrifices made by his wife so that he could remain in public life. And the reader does become privy to illuminating conversations between Mr. Volcker, U.S. presidents, and other leaders. Primarily, however, the book is an extremely readable and insightful history of monetary policy in the United States from the 1930s through the 1980s along with a brief discussion of the Volcker rule.
The history told in this book is clearly-- if not chillingly-- relevant to understanding the stresses and challenges of today's world financial system: Mr. Volcker had to choose how much to accommodate fiscal imbalances, if not irresponsibility; politicians seem to need a crisis to take remedial actions; Too-big-to-fail had its roots in the rescue of all creditors of Continental Illinois; and defaults of Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina could have wiped out the capital of the largest U.S. banks.
In short, the book is well written, thoughtful, and relevant.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Timely Historical Context on the US Dollar and Gold 21 May 2013
By Keith McCullough - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Summary Thoughts

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)

Content Highlights

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.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
A great blow by blow account of the demise of inflation during the Carter adn Reagan years 13 Sep 2012
By Sam Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a well researched biography written by a nonacademic. It is particularly strong on the period of Volcker's tenure as a Federal Reserve Chairman when he stopped inflation cold. It might also be read as a history of the rise of monetarist policy with a heavy accent on Volcker. It's a blow by blow retelling of the various high low points of the Volcker years and his interaction with Carter and Reagan administrations as well as congress. There are plenty of anecdotes and on the whole Volcker's strong character comes across. The author makes no bones about being both a friend and an admirer so the book on the whole is very laudatory. Those wanting an unbiased account will have to look elsewhere not that the book suffers in any way because of this. I found the rest of the book, the parts covering the early years as well as the post fed years as being less interesting, although invaluable in understanding Volcker. There are even examples of Volcker's early schoolwork and report cards. One thing is certain is that all presidents have subsequently picked chairmen who were less likely to be independent thinkers, and less likely to cross the President, which is not too surprising after reading this book. The consequences of a less independent Fed has been the inevitable return of inflation such that it now has become an accepted Fed target and goal. We have come full circle to high stagnant unemployment with increasing inflation. What is the likelihood that a President will court political suicide by appointing a Fed Chairman who will bring monetary restraint regardless of short term economic consequences?
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Every monetary system needs a Paul Volcker 14 Dec 2012
By Reuters Breakingviews - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
William Silber's biography of Paul Volcker is rightly sympathetic to the man whose determination and integrity conquered U.S. inflation. When needed, he overcame opposition from politicians and academic economists. Yet once his work was done, policy slid back and his abilities were wasted.

Silber traces Volcker's career from his earliest days at the money market desk of the New York Federal Reserve. He was a Democrat when he served in the Treasury Department in the 1960s, but even then he was skeptical of the administration's Keynesians and their inflationary policies. The Republican President Richard Nixon brought him in as Treasury undersecretary for monetary affairs, where he helped negotiate the end of the Bretton Woods system and expressed distrust of the Fed's expansionist policies.

Volcker was not promoted by Nixon, who valued his intellect but distrusted his party affiliation and independence. So he returned to the private sector in 1974, only to be appointed president of the New York Fed the next year. It was there that he established his reputation as an unswerving proponent of anti-inflationary policy. President Jimmy Carter promoted him to run the whole Fed in August 1979.

He showed both intelligence and boldness there. With only a tenuous majority on the Federal Open Market Committee, Volcker announced a new policy on Oct. 6 that year: the Fed would track money supply growth, wherever that might lead interest rates. Initially, it led them steeply upward, from around 12 percent to a peak close to 20 percent in April 1980. When the money supply shrank after Carter introduced direct controls on consumer credit in March 1980, Volcker responded with sharp rate cuts, 10 percentage points in two months.

Volcker stayed firm while Carter wavered. The president removed credit controls in May 1980, money supply increased rapidly, and the Fed increased rates in October, possibly costing Carter re-election a month later. Volcker kept squeezing the monetary tourniquet; the federal funds rate peaked above 20 percent in January 1981 and was reduced painfully slowly, remaining at 14 percent in July 1982, by which time inflation was running below 5 percent and the U.S. economy was in the deepest recession between 1937 and 2008.

During this period Volcker had steadfast support from President Ronald Reagan, but not from his more pragmatic economic advisers. Curiously, Volcker was also opposed by Milton Friedman, generally thought of as the most distinguished inflation-hating monetarist around. Friedman accused the Fed chairman of steering the economy towards the rocks through over-tight policy. Then again, Friedman supported Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's loosening of interest rates after 1995; the high priest of monetary orthodoxy was himself less than orthodox.

Despite a strong recovery and a rising stock market, by 1987 the Reagan administration pragmatists had tired of Volcker's independence and offered little opposition when he decided to retire for a more lucrative career in the private sector.

It was an opportunity missed. Volcker could now be in his ninth term as Fed chairman - a tenure shorter, after all, than that of several U.S. senators. Silber does not explore this fascinating alternate history possibility and does not give us the means with which to do so, never telling us what Volcker thought about Greenspan's abandonment of monetary targets in 1993 and the post-1995 expansionism of Greenspan and his successor Ben Bernanke. Instead, he concentrates on Volcker's efforts after 2009 to promote the Volcker Rule separating proprietary trading from commercial banking - in which Volcker was only an adviser, not a principal.

President Bill Clinton could have appointed Volcker Treasury secretary in 1992, but didn't. In the end, there was demand for Volcker's determined intelligence and steadfastness only in a crisis. If the Fed's current ultra-loose policies have the same effect as the policies of the 1960s and 1970s, a similarly-minded successor may be needed.

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