Paul Volcker, the towering former Fed chairman and economist, has died at age 92

paul voclker

  • Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker has died at age 92.
  • Volcker served as Fed chair from 1979 until 1987, helping to reign in persistently high inflation and reset the economy from the 1970s.
  • After his time as Fed chair, Volcker continued to serve in various capacities including as a critical advisor to President Barack Obama during the financial crisis.
  • Volcker is survived by his wife and two children.
  • Visit for more stories.

Paul Volcker, the 12th Chairman of the Federal Reserve and a legendary economist, died Sunday at the age of 92.

He is survived by his wife Anke Dening and two children, Janice and James.Advertisement

Volcker was known as a towering Fed chairman - both for his impressive height (he stood 6 feet 7 inches) and also for confronting difficult economic circumstances with which he was faced.

Following his time at the top of the US central bank, Volcker continued to be active in economics and financial regulation, helping to lead President Barack Obama's response to the 2000s financial crisis.

From staff economist to Federal Reserve chair

Volcker's career prior to becoming Fed chair alternated between the public and private sector, with roles as a staff economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Chase Manhattan Bank, and the Treasury Department during the presidencies of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon.

During his time in the Nixon administration, Volcker served as Under Secretary for International Affairs. As part of the role, Volcker helped the US moved completely off the gold standard, which redefined the international monetary system.

After leaving the Treasury, Volcker became the president of the New York Fed in 1975 until his selection for Fed chair in 1979.

Confronting economic challenges with the 'Volcker Shock'

The US was in the midst of a nearly decade-long battle with economic "stagflation," a period in which both inflation and unemployment were persistently high, when Volcker was appointment as Fed chair by President Jimmy Carter.Advertisement

Prices were rising by nearly 10% year-over-year. To get inflation under control, Volcker undertook a series of adjustments known as the "Volcker Shock," in which the Fed tightened the money supply while allowing the market to determine interest rates. The Fed's funds rate hit a record high, and the US economy got hit hard as a result.

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Volcker stared down political pressure from Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan, as well as lawmakers from both political parties. Farmers, car dealers, and other business owners protested Volcker's moves. House Majority Leader James C. Wright Jr. even called for Volcker's resignation. Sen. Ted Kennedy suggested the Fed be rolled into the Treasury Department. Advertisement

Despite the pressure Volcker, pushed on.

Eventually inflation dropped to a more manageable level, unemployment ticked down, and Volcker eased up on the tight money rules. Many economists credit Volcker's policies as a significant contributor to the end of stagflation.

Reagan reappointed Volcker in 1983, and he served in the role until stepping down in 1987.Advertisement

A strong advocate of financial reform

Even after departing the Fed, Volcker continued as a leading figure in economics and financial reform.

In 1996, Volcker chaired the Independent Committee of Eminent Persons, which became known as the Volcker Commission, to help identify the financial accounts of Holocaust victims held by Swiss banks. The commission found 46,000 accounts in 59 Swiss banks that were likely opened by Jews who died during the Holocaust.

Volcker was also economic adviser to Obama during his run for president and was eventually appointed to chair Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board following the collapse of the US banking system in 2008. During that time, the former Fed chair became a leading critic of what he saw as banks' excessive risk taking and lackluster response to the crisis.Advertisement

"Wake up, gentlemen, your response is inadequate," Volcker told a room full of bankers and investors at a Wall Street Journal conference in 2009.

His most well-known contribution from this period was the "Volcker Rule," which banned banks from using their own funds for trading, known as proprietary trading. Volcker also concerned much of his work with trying to encourage more people to engage in public service, chairing two National Commissions on the Public Service and speaking extensively about what made good governance and why government should encourage people to engage with the public sector.Advertisement