Keeping At It: The Quest for Sound Money and Good Government is Paul A. Volcker’s memoir produced with the aid of Christine Harper. Written in first person, it is hard to discern the diligent work of Ms. Harper. And it is obvious that the content is a testament to the stewardship of Mr. Volcker.
As an undergraduate economics student during Volker’s stint at the head of the Federal Reserve, I was familiar with his work. And an admirer. The book was published in 2018 and I regret so much time passed before I crossed it off the to be read list. The memoir is important both as an historic account and as a forewarning.
A timeline of Volcker’s life is followed by a chapter on his youth and then one on the college experience. And a third on his early career. These chapters give insight on events that shaped the dedicated public servant. They also introduce the first bit of history as the United States still followed the gold standard. And how that changed.
Personally, I found these chapters intriguing. Perhaps because Paul Volcker was already established as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve when he first appeared on my radar. I was impressed by his early years. It is easy to see how the persistence, the keeping at it, evolved from his upbringing.
Public Service Begins
After the introduction and back story, the memoir dives into the thick of things. Public service at agencies in both New York City and Washington, D.C. bouncing between the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury. The tone of the writing changes from background information to economic substance. These middle chapters benefit by a reader’s knowledge, background, and interest in economics. Furthermore, an understanding of monetary policy is also useful.
Volcker began his Washington, D.C. service under President Kennedy and served presidents representing both political parties through the tenure of President Obama. His non-governmental ventures centered on financial management. But what he is most remembered for is his ending of stagflation while serving as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve from his appointment under President Carter in 1979 to the end of his second term in 1987 under President Reagan.
These chapters give a glimpse at how partisan politics can hamper decision making. Keeping at it until inflation was controlled needed a tightrope act, balancing among the political personalities. Volcker succeeded against the odds.
Keeping At It- A Forewarning
Perhaps the most important part of the memoir, Keeping At It, is the message of ethics. And the importance of good government. Volcker witnessed multiple market failures and policy failures. Yet, to this reader, his greatest concern seems to have surfaced in the last years of his life. He talks in general terms, but the implication is quite clear. There is danger in the current anti-government populism.
His legacy, The Volcker Alliance, remains in place. The task is to promote good governance. The two current initiatives involve Diversity in Government and Truth and Integrity in Government. More can be discovered by visiting the website The Volcker Alliance .
Recommendation for Keeping At It
Paul Volcker’s memoir needs a discerning audience. It is not an easy read. But I think it is an essential book for anyone interested in finance, governmental service and ethics in management. Historians will find the details accurate and of interest. I can easily see the memoir included in a graduate economics or finance course.
Keeping At It is a valuable insight into the thoughts of one of (if not the best) economic minds of my lifetime. One can only hope the current Fed Chairman has read the content for once again we are at the beginning of a financial crisis.
(Note: This post was penned September 20, 2022. It is obvious from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s address on September 21, 2022, that he has indeed read the memoir as he stated, “My main message has not changed since Jackson Hole. The FOMC is strongly resolved to bring inflation down to 2%, and we will keep at it until the job is done.”)