The issue: Next up is restoring pride and professionalism to public service
Paul Volcker is Washington’s all-purpose troubleshooter, the guy presidents turn to for solving economic problems no one else wants to touch.
HE WAS A PERSUASIVE voice in one of President Richard Nixon’s more controversial decisions: taking the United States off the gold standard. Volcker strongly endorsed the move.
Modern U.S. political history is full of Volcker Commissions, including one that was charged with recovering the Swiss bank accounts of Jews killed in the Holocaust.
He became chairman of the Federal Reserve Board in 1979, when the nation faced ruinous double-digit inflation. Through blunt-force economics, he broke the back of inflation, one of the few economic ills that haven’t greatly troubled us since. He stepped down in 1987.
From 2009 to 2011, Volcker led a panel of economic advisers charged with devising ways to get the country out of the recession. During legislative attempts to prevent another Wall Street meltdown, he successfully lobbied for the “Volcker Rule,” which limits speculative proprietary trading by commercial banks.
As a semi-private citizen — Volcker is never far from the center of government — he has argued for deficit reduction and tax reform in terms that apparently are too sensible for the current state of U.S. politics.
He has been a longtime advocate of — and, yes, headed commissions on — reforming the presidential-appointments process. He argues, persuasively, that too many presidential appointments require Senate approval, that there are too many political appointees in general and that the vetting process is too long and complicated.
NOW, AT AGE 85, he’s “finished with commissions,” he says. Instead, he’s taken on another challenge with the Volcker Alliance, a new group whose mission is strengthening government. He thinks public administration has fallen out of favor in major universities and generally is poorly taught by people who lack “the confidence to know what they’re teaching.”
“This is a profession that needs shaking by the neck,” he said in a Q-and-A with The Washington Post.
Volcker has from time to time styled himself “the patron saints of lost causes.” Let’s hope that restoring pride and professionalism to public service isn’t one of them.