Appended to the New York Times obituary of Paul Volcker, and published in the print corrections column of the December 17, 2019 New York Times:
Because of an editing error, an obituary on Dec. 10 about the former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul A. Volcker misstated the equivalent in today's money of $89,500, his salary in 1987, his final year at the Federal Reserve. It is about $203,000, not $312,000.
What better demonstration than this correction can there be of the limits of a system of fiat currency, even as administered by widely respected public servants such as Volcker?
The $89,500 is now worth less than half of the $203,000 that the Times says would now be "equivalent." In other words, you would need more than two of today's dollars to be "equivalent" to a dollar in 1987. And to figure out this equivalency is a calculation so complex and dependent on bureaucratic assessments of the consumer price index that not even the New York Times editors charged with editing Paul Volcker's obituary can reliably get it right.
What will 89,500 1987 dollars be worth in a decade from now, in 2030 dollars? $300,000? $400,000? $800,000? $1,000,000? No one knows. It depends on whether we have Volckers or Greenspans at the Fed, and also on who is at Treasury and in the White House.
Most importantly it depends on whether the Congress will rise to its responsibility under the Constitution. Article I gives Congress the enumerated power "To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures." If Congress keeps passing the buck, as it were, to the Federal Reserve system, the value of a dollar will be something that eludes the understanding of even the shrewdest New York Times editors. Where does that leave the rest of us attempting to make long-term financial decisions—borrowing to buy a home with a 30-year mortgage, saving for retirement—when we don't know for sure whether one of today's dollars will be worth three of tomorrow's dollars, or two of tomorrow's dollars, or some other number?