On the Tragedy of Paul Volcker

Volcker, in pursuing financial rectitude, had no allies except the ‘respect’ of the financial world, which, as it turns out, isn’t worth much at all.

By Matt Stoller and cross-posted from his blog, BIG.

In 2009, when the world was falling apart, a lot of people were asking new President Barack Obama to turn to Paul Volcker, the tall and prestigious former central banker whose reputation was of near God-like stature. Obama did, asking Volcker for advice. But Larry Summers, key advisor to Obama, sabotaged the relationship. Volcker encouraged Obama to stop banks from gambling with internal hedge funds, but Summers wanted banks to keep gambling with internal hedge funds. Summers won the bureaucratic fight.

Volcker’s titanic reputation was by then decades old. But so too was Volcker pursuing honesty in finance, and getting pushed out because of it. In 1986, Ronald Reagan essentially fired Volcker from his position as the head of the Federal Reserve because Paul Volcker was trying to crack down on the junk-bond fueled mergers craze that was clearly corrupting America’s savings and loan banks. Felix Rohatyn, a Democratic fixer and Lazard investment banker, pleaded with the Republicans, “if we sacrifice Paul Volcker for the junk-bond mania, we will clearly show the world that we’ve lost any sense of financial responsibility.”

Here’s a story from 1986, at the height of the frenzy.

Volcker lost the battle at the Fed, and ultimately Alan Greenspan, who was on the payroll of one of the largest corrupt savings and loan banks, took over. Volcker, in pursuing financial rectitude, had no allies except the ‘respect’ of the financial world, which, as it turns out, isn’t worth much at all. And the reason, ironically, is because Volcker killed his greatest would-be allies

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