Volcker advocated gold price suppression in 1973
8:25p ET Monday, October 20, 2008
Dear Friend of GATA and Gold:
The Wall Street Journal reports tomorrow that former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker has become a close adviser to the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama. So it may be good for gold's friends to see the following quotation from Volcker's memoirs, which, as far as we can tell, have been published only in excerpts and only in The Nikkei Weekly in Japan, this particular excerpt having been published on November 15, 2004. Volcker wrote of the events of February 12, 1973:
"That day the U.S. announced that the dollar would be devalued by 10 percent. By switching the yen to a floating exchange rate, the Japanese currency appreciated, and a sufficient realignment in exchange rates was realized. Joint intervention in gold sales to prevent a steep rise in the price of gold, however, was not undertaken. That was a mistake."
Of course maybe Volcker's wonderful idea will not have as much utility now, since there already long has been "joint intervention in gold sales" by Western central banks, to the point where the gold seems to be running out. But at least Volcker's reminiscence is one more piece of evidence that rigging currency markets and the gold market in particular is seldom far from the thoughts of central bankers, even as some of their admirers in the financial press keep denying that they'd ever do such a thing.
The relevant excerpt from Volcker's memoirs can be found here:
And in PDF format here:
CHRIS POWELL, Secretary/Treasurer
Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee Inc.
* * *
Volcker Makes a Comeback as Part of Obama Brain Trust
By Monica Langley
The Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
NEW YORK -- At 81 years old, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker is getting a second chance to shape his legacy with a presidential hopeful more than 30 years his junior.
Mr. Volcker has emerged as a top economic adviser to Sen. Barack Obama during a presidential campaign dominated by a global financial crisis. Their growing bond is paying dividends for each man.
Mr. Volcker delivers gravitas and credibility to Sen. Obama, people in the Obama camp say, as well as ideas and approaches to the economic crisis. "Volcker whispering in Obama's ear will make even Republicans comfortable, because he's a hero of the right and a supporter of a strong dollar," says John Tamny, a supply-side economist and Republican.
On Tuesday, Mr. Volcker is scheduled to appear on the campaign trail with Sen. Obama for the first time. At a round-table discussion with voters in Lake Worth, Fla., he'll "give his view on the state of the economy and the credit markets, and what needs to be done to fix them," says one campaign adviser.
Longtime Fed watchers are amused that Mr. Volcker, known for his muttered statements during Fed meetings in the 1980s, will be in a political role on the stump.
For Mr. Volcker, a connection with Sen. Obama could help burnish his record as Fed chairman. The cigar-chomping central banker from 1979 to 1987, he received blame for driving up interest rates and tipping the U.S. into the deepest recession since the Great Depression. But Mr. Volcker is just as well known for taming the runaway inflation of that era. His stock has risen in recent months as his gruff warnings about the risks of deregulating the financial sector have come to look prescient.
His successor's reputation, meanwhile, has come under a cloud. Alan Greenspan is under criticism that the low interest rates and deregulatory ideology of his tenure contributed to today's crisis.
With nearly every day presenting a fresh financial emergency, Sen. Obama has persuaded Mr. Volcker, who travels the globe for economic meetings and occasionally disappears on fly-fishing trips, to be at the ready; Mr. Volcker now keeps a cellphone on him at all times. And though he still doesn't own a computer (his assistant prints out emails for him), he's gotten used to Sen. Obama's rapid-fire messages sent from a BlackBerry device.
The Obama-Volcker relationship continues to evolve, campaign advisers say. At the start, Sen. Obama sought advice from Mr. Volcker and other outside voices through his economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, a 39-year-old University of Chicago professor. But starting with the demise of Bear Stearns Cos. in March and continuing today, Sen. Obama speaks directly and often with Mr. Volcker about the intricacies of the financial crisis and possible solutions. They've become "collaborators," as one aide puts it.
For example, when the U.S. Treasury put forth a plan to set up a $700 billion rescue fund to buy up toxic assets, Sen. Obama quickly backed it on the advice of Mr. Volcker. Like other prominent economists, Mr. Volcker also advocated early on for the recapitalization of banks. On this advice, Sen. Obama proposed direct-equity infusions in banks in his frequent conference calls with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. The idea, initially rejected by Mr. Paulson, was finally proposed last week by the administration, in an effort to get banks lending again to businesses and each other.
Sen. Obama's team of economic advisers includes two former Treasury secretaries, Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, and in some decisions, Mr. Volcker doesn't reign supreme. The candidate's latest proposal, for example, a $60 billion stimulus package, was initially fought by the former Fed chief on the grounds that Americans were already overspending. Moreover, he is unlikely to take a long-term role in any Obama administration.
But for now, and going into the campaign's final weeks, aides say Sen. Obama is increasingly relying on Mr. Volcker. His staff now routinely reviews policy proposals and speeches with Mr. Volcker. Conference calls and face-to-face meetings of the Obama economic team are often reorganized to accommodate his schedule.
When the team discusses the financial crisis, "The most important question to Obama: What does Paul Volcker think?" says Jason Furman, the campaign's economic-policy director.
The two men have developed an ease with each other, say aides, even as their styles appear to differ: Sen. Obama, who tends to use the Socratic method from his law-school training, examines all points of view and debates them. With a more formal and direct demeanor, Mr. Volcker likes to go straight to solutions.
In last week's final presidential debate, after Republican John McCain raised questions about his rival's ties, Sen. Obama said, "Let me tell you who I associate with. On economic policy, I associate with Warren Buffett and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker ... who have shaped my ideas and who will be surrounding me in the White House."
Some Democrats have speculated that, if elected, Sen. Obama could name Mr. Volcker to a post, possibly even as Treasury secretary, for a limited time. Banking and Wall Street executives are pushing the two campaigns to name a new secretary shortly after the election to reassure markets during the transition. The Obama campaign wouldn't comment on possible appointments.
"I just want to be helpful, because I believe Sen. Obama -- in his person, in his ideas, and in his ability to understand and articulate both our needs and our hopes -- brings the strong and fresh leadership we need," Mr. Volcker said in an interview in New York. Mr. Volcker wouldn't provide details of his policy suggestions or his personal relationship with Sen. Obama.
After leaving the Fed 20 years ago, Mr. Volcker stopped smoking cigars, became a professor at Princeton University and spent more time fly-fishing. His corner office overlooking Fifth Avenue is filled with photographs and statues of fish, as well as a pillow inscribed: "Work is for people who don't know how to fish."
Following a stint as chairman of a boutique investment-banking firm, Mr. Volcker largely steered clear of joining any Wall Street companies. He set up his own office in Rockefeller Center, where he consults for companies and governments. He has served on a few corporate boards, such as UAL Corp., Prudential Insurance Co. of America, and Nestle SA. He also participated on commissions including the United Nations committee to investigate corruption in its oil-for-food program, and an inquiry launched by Swiss banks to determine which accounts belonged to Holocaust victims.
The bond between Messrs. Obama and Volcker started with a dinner invitation. In June 2007, Mark Gallogly, co-founder of Centerbridge Partners, a New York private-investment firm, and an early supporter of Sen. Obama, invited a dozen financial executives to meet the senator, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. President Gary Cohn, Merrill Lynch & Co. President Greg Fleming and Mr. Volcker.
Along with the invitation, Mr. Volcker received from Mr. Gallogly a "briefing package" containing some speeches by Sen. Obama and news articles about him. Mr. Volcker also read the two books written by the senator.
In the private dining room at a Capitol Hill restaurant, Mr. Gallogly seated Mr. Volcker directly across from Sen. Obama, who at the time was considered a long shot to win the Democratic nomination over Sen. Hillary Clinton. Returning late that night on a flight to New York, Mr. Volcker told the group he was "genuinely impressed" with the Illinois senator.
That message was eventually passed along to Sen. Obama's advisers in New York, Michael Froman, a friend from Harvard Law School and a Citigroup Inc. executive, and Jenny Yeager, a fund-raiser. Ms. Yeager told Obama headquarters in Chicago that Mr. Volcker seemed "interested" in the candidate, but in two months no one had followed up with the ex-central banker for fund raising or anything else.
When Sen. Obama's economics adviser, Mr. Goolsbee, heard about Mr. Volcker's interest, he immediately got excited. "Paul Volcker is a legend! We don't want to use his contacts for money, we want to pick his brain," he recalls saying to a campaign operative.
Starting in late summer 2007, Mr. Goolsbee had regular discussions with Mr. Volcker. He incorporated Mr. Volcker's ideas, including his early concern that the housing downturn would snowball into a larger financial crisis, into Sen. Obama's policy positions. In a September 2007 speech at Nasdaq, Sen. Obama predicted that because of oversight lapses and abusive practices that cause the public to doubt financial results, "the markets will be ravaged by a crisis in confidence."
In early January 2008, when Sen. Clinton was pounding her rival over his lack of experience and stature, Sen. Obama phoned Mr. Volcker to ask for his endorsement. (At that time, billionaire investor Warren Buffett had refused to take sides between the Democratic contenders, saying he would support whoever got the nomination.) Mr. Volcker, a long-time Democrat who had mostly stayed out of partisan politics, agreed, and wrote out his statement in longhand.
The presidential candidate's first big economic address took place in March at Cooper Union in New York. Mr. Volcker's fingerprints were evident in the speech. The one-time central banker had long been vigilant about strong regulatory oversight; as Fed chairman he rejected big banks' attempts to repeal Depression-era laws to engage in more risky practices like investment banking.
New financial institutions and instruments have since led to the repeal or relaxation of those laws, and Mr. Volcker told Sen. Obama that the U.S. regulatory structure must be strengthened and updated for the 21st century.
With Mr. Volcker sitting in the front row, Sen. Obama told the audience at Cooper Union that the current financial-regulatory framework must be "revamped." He faulted deregulation for the growing economic crisis. "Our free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it."
Once Sen. Obama became the expected Democratic nominee in June, and the economy became the central campaign issue, his chats with Mr. Volcker picked up. Mr. Goolsbee would get emails from Sen. Obama's traveling aide Reggie Love or his senior strategist David Axelrod with the message: "BO wants to call Volcker. What's his number again?"
In the past two months, financial crises have come one after another, picking up speed with the federal government's July rescue of big mortgage insurers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As the contagion from the subprime mortgages and risky mortgage credit swaps threatened to topple other institutions, Sen. Obama asked for "emergency meetings" with his economic team, about a dozen advisers including Mr. Volcker and Mr. Buffett.
At the first group meeting in Washington in late July, Sen. Obama said he wanted to hear from each adviser on the worsening economic downturn and asked Mr. Volcker to go first. "The very health of the credit markets is at stake," Mr. Volcker said, according to one attendee. He urged strong action to restore confidence, particularly in the U.S. banking system.
When Sen. Obama raised the prospect of a package of spending and tax measures to "stimulate" the economy, Mr. Volcker disapproved. "Americans are spending beyond their means," he told the group. A stimulus package would delay the belt-tightening and savings needed, he added, proposing instead better regulation and assistance to banks.
Laura Tyson, economics adviser for President Bill Clinton and a professor at University of California, Berkeley, disagreed. "Americans can't help but spend beyond their means because they've had no income growth while their costs on gas and food have skyrocketed." She suggested spending money to rebuild infrastructure and create jobs. Even as some others agreed with Ms. Tyson, Mr. Volcker didn't budge. Sen. Obama delayed putting out a new stimulus package, but stressed that he wanted to find the "right balance" of possible assistance.
When the bailout bill became a political football and the markets seized up, Sen. Obama called the second in-person meeting of his financial team on Sept. 26 in Miami. Mr. Volcker initially said he would have to call in because he was leaving for Europe that day. Sen. Obama, according to campaign aides, called him with a personal plea.
The next morning, the senator seated Mr. Volcker beside him, an arrangement that was photographed by the media entourage covering the campaign. Mr. Volcker told the group he had changed his mind about an economic-stimulus package due to the global recession, but he couldn't stay to hear the discussion about the approach because he had to catch a plane to Europe.
In the past two weeks, with the stock market's drastic volatility and weak economic indicators, Sen. Obama presented his $60 billion package, which contains tax cuts and spending to provide public-works jobs to struggling Americans.
On Monday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke endorsed the idea of another stimulus package, giving a boost to Democratic lawmakers who are considering one. But congressional Republicans have so far shown little interest in a second spending bill.
* * *
Join GATA here:
New Orleans Investment Conference
Thursday-Monday, November 13-18, 2008
New Orleans Marriott Hotel
* * *
Help Keep GATA Going
GATA is a civil rights and educational organization based in the United States and tax-exempt under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. Its e-mail dispatches are free, and you can subscribe at http://www.gata.org/.