Standard bearer for Bundesbank independence
His response, worded in a polite yet assertive tone, came just 24 hours later.
"Might I point out that far-reaching credit policy measures belong to the remit of the Central Bank Council, to the meetings of which the esteemed Federal Ministers of Economics and Finance are regularly invited." This is how Privy Councillor Wilhelm Vocke responded, in a letter dated 8 November 1955, to a request by the then Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer one day earlier
"not to take any far-reaching measures without first having consulted the Federal Government". This brief exchange of correspondence bears all the hallmarks of Wilhelm Vocke's character – a clear-headed attitude and a firm belief in his interpretation of monetary stability. It was not least this steadfastness which caused Vocke's relationship with the then Federal Chancellor to "gradually deteriorate" over the years, as Vocke noted in 1973 in his memoirs. Adenauer used a speech in 1956 to attack the Central Bank Council head on:
"What we have here is a body that answers to no-one, not even a parliament, not even a government." He went on to criticise the central bank's latest decisions as
"disastrous … for the man on the street". But Vocke faced down the political pressure and, in so doing, anchored central bank independence as a cornerstone of society.
Appointed to the Reichsbank's Board of Directors at just 33
After studying law and economics, and following a brief sojourn at the Würzburg tax office and the Imperial Patent Office, Wilhelm Vocke switched in 1913 to the Imperial Ministry of the Interior where he worked in the Banking Department and also advised the Reichsbank, which he joined in April 1918 as an assistant to the Reichsbank's Board of Directors. Just over a year later, at the age of 33, Vocke was appointed to the Reichsbank's Board of Directors by Reich President Friedrich Ebert and given the title of Privy Financial Councillor, or Privy Councillor for short.
Initiator of the memorandum against Hitler
Wilhelm Vocke retained his seat on the Board of Directors even after the Reichsbank was declared independent in the early 1920s. After the National Socialist regime seized power, Reichsbank President Hjalmar Schacht was also given the post of Reich Economics Minister in 1934, even though he was not a member of the Nazi Party. Schacht backed the financing of German rearmament via the central bank by creating what were known as Mefo bills, but he only informed his fellow board members later on, as Vocke wrote in his memoirs. When, towards the end of the 1930s, it became increasingly plain that this form of financing rearmament was fuelling inflation, the Reichsbank's Board of Directors set out to apply the handbrake, composing a letter to the "Führer and Reich Chancellor" in January 1939 that called, amongst other things, for the government deficit to be covered forthwith by raising new taxes. Wilhelm Vocke was the man who drafted this memorandum. Adolf Hitler did not take kindly to this correspondence, and in a curt response, dismissed the entire Board of Directors and placed the Reichsbank under his direct command.
Wilhelm Vocke held no official posts throughout the Second World War.
"I was not persecuted, but I was ostracised," he later wrote.
"I loved my job as long as I didn't have to work under Hitler's regime." It was probably his good connections to the Bank of England that aided his return to the central bank after the Third Reich collapsed in 1945. He was soon appointed deputy chairman at the Reichsbank headquarters for the British Zone in Hamburg, before the Central Bank Council elected him President of the Board of Managers of the Bank deutscher Länder in 1948.
Vocke was a staunch defender of monetary stability throughout his tenure as President. As early as 1955, he called on both sides of industry to exercise "moderation" in wage policy so as not to endanger price stability. Like his successor Karl Blessing (1957-69), Wilhelm Vocke resisted the appreciation of the Deutsche Mark, a step which the then Federal Minister of Economics Ludwig Erhard pushed through. And he cautioned back in 1956 that equities were not being given the attention they deserved as a form of investment. Wilhelm Vocke left the Board in 1957, as did Karl Bernard, the President of the Central Bank Council. The media marked Vocke's departure with a series of critical articles. The headline in the Nordwestdeutsche Rundschau newspaper, for instance, read
"Chancellor didn't forget his grudge – industry also in favour of removing Vocke". In retirement, Vocke held a speech in New York in 1958 in which he explained his take on monetary policy, summing up his philosophy with the following words:
"It is the policy of gaining and retaining confidence." Wilhelm Vocke died in 1973.