Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Delaying Gratification is not easy for Central Bankers

Why Volcker quit smoking;

The most visible cigar smoker of distinction in recent history is Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. But Volcker gave up his trademark shortly before he resigned from the Fed last June. At his final hearing before Congress as Fed chairman, Volcker was paid a rare tribute by Senator Christopher S. Bond, a Missouri Republican and an ardent cigar smoker. The Senator said he regretted Volcker's decision to leave and also his decision to give up cigars. He said he thought Volcker's wreath of smoke had given him ''a Delphic aura'' that impressed everyone. (But not Senator William Proxmire, the Wisconsin Democrat, who praised Volcker's work but said he would not miss the cigar smoke.) The oracle's cigars were often the 25-cent variety, but not always. A few days after the hearing, Volcker sent Senator Bond two boxes of fine Havanas left in his collection.

What led Volcker to the fateful deci-sion to renounce cigar smoking when he relinquished his post as the second most powerful man in America? ''My wife said she just couldn't stand them any more,'' Volcker says. ''And my daughter said I would have no grandchildren unless I gave up cigars.''

Volcker, now chairman of James D. Wolfensohn, an investment banking house, as well as part-time professor of international economic policy at Princeton, says he had more and more trouble with his conscience about smoking in the presence of nonsmokers at the Fed. And when a doctor scolded him for his habit, Volcker acknowledges, ''I began to worry.''

Volcker is not the only eminent cigar lover to yield to pressure from family, physicians and miscellaneous foes of tobacco. Milton W. Hudson, a senior vice president and economic adviser at Morgan Guaranty, says that, despite Lewis Preston's example, he gave up his cigars ''because of the glares I got and sometimes the explicit insults.'' He adds: ''I was thoroughly intimidated. It just wasn't worth it.''

*The photo shows Volcker at a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee, June 22, 1981.

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