Paul Volcker was the greatest American hero that I have known. I want to convey to you what made him such a great hero, both because I'd like the memory of him to be accurate and because I believe that we have lost sight of what great heroes look like and I hope that looking at one will help us rekindle that memory.
For the nearly 50 years that I watched him or knew him personally, I found Paul to be a man of unwavering character and capability who put working in the service of our country above all else, always putting doing the right and difficult things ahead of the expedient and partisan things.
In 1970-71, I watched how he managed the breakdown of the dollar monetary system with great skill. In 1979-84, I watched him break the back of inflation, which was essential for our economic system's survival and required great character to do the right thing under strong criticism, because tightening monetary policy meant a lot of people had to suffer a lot. At the time, he was the most powerful man in the world, because although the U.S. president could push the nuclear button, Volcker controlled how much money and credit there was in the world, which had a much bigger impact than anything else at the time.
After he left the Fed in 1987, I watched him be chosen to oversee the recovery of Holocaust victim assets from Swiss banks because the world considered him to be the most capable and least biased person to tackle this highly contentious issue. After that, I watched him take on and handle the highly politically charged investigation of corruption in the UN oil-for-food program in Iraq, once again because he was the most principled and capable person who everyone believed would do the right things rather than politically expedient things. Over the last 50 years, I watched presidents from both political parties and heads of states from all important countries in the world rely on his great capabilities and character to provide them with wise guidance. I knew him personally as a man who had great wisdom, humility, and classic heroism in which he sacrificed his well-being for the well-being of others.
Even after he knew that he was approaching his end, when we would talk, he never worried about himself as much as he worried about the well-being of our country and those who served it. When I asked him how he was doing, he would briefly give an accurate summary of his health and then move on to what was most important to him, which was making sure that public servants were well-educated and equipped to serve our nation well.
The below video discussion between us, in which I asked him to pass along his most important principles, might help you better understand this great man and the messages he most wanted to leave behind. When watching it, keep in mind that he then knew that his time was limited.
It is for all these reasons that I assess Paul Volcker to be the greatest American hero that I have ever known.
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