Skip to content

Will Jerome Powell’s Inflation Crusade Get as Ugly as Paul Volcker’s?

The Fed had to inflict a lot of pain in the ’80s to convince markets it was serious.

Former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker in 1980.

Former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker in 1980.

Photographer: James K.W. Atherton/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Paul Volcker was feeling a bit forgotten in late 2017 when he started working on his memoir, which I was helping him write. Inflation was no longer feared, exchange-rate crises weren’t big news, and his longtime campaign to improve public administration seemed more quixotic than ever. So the 90-year-old former leader of the Federal Reserve started his book with a self-deprecating joke about a wise old parrot known as “the chairman,” and insisted the title should be The Wise Old Parrot Speaks.

Understandably, the publisher’s marketing staff wasn’t keen on that. Eventually, I threw out the phrase “sustained commitment,” which I’d spotted in some old Fed minutes. Volcker’s face lit up as he translated it into plain language: “Keeping at it!” We had our title.