Fed Chairman G. William Miller, 81
Monday, March 20, 2006
G. William Miller, 81, an engineer, lawyer and corporate executive who served as Federal Reserve chairman and treasury secretary during the Carter administration and oversaw the corporate bailout for Chrysler, died March 17 at his home in Washington. He had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a degenerative lung ailment.
Early in his career, Mr. Miller was credited with turning the small, Rhode Island-based textile-manufacturing company Textron Inc. into a global conglomerate. Its goods included Sheaffer pens, Speidel watchbands, Polaris snowmobiles and the Bell UH-1 "Huey" helicopters that were essential military hardware during the Vietnam War.
Involvement in Democratic politics led to his appointments by Carter. He oversaw the U.S. central bank from 1978 to 1979, when stagnant growth and high oil prices, inflation and unemployment were being dubbed "stagflation."
At first he spoke of a broad agenda to tackle inflation and unemployment, but he was soon chided by some Wall Street observers for being overcautious.
During his brief tenure, he was said to act too slowly in increasing interest rates while inflation became unwieldy, but Mr. Miller spoke of concern that higher interest rates would prompt a major downturn in the economy. His successor, Paul A. Volcker, was credited with far greater skill in taming inflation through a major increase in interest rates.
As Treasury chief from 1979 to 1981, he became a key advocate for the $1.5 billion loan guarantee program that saved Chrysler and thousands of jobs there. This prompted criticism of rewarding mismanagement and not allowing fair play between the U.S. auto industry and creeping competition from Japan.
"The administration does not favor, as a general proposition, government aid to private corporations," Mr. Miller said at the time. But he added that under a restructuring plan at Chrysler, he staved off substantial unemployment, welfare payments and lost income taxes.
"If we don't have Chrysler," he said, "part of the market for fuel-efficient cars that it could serve will be picked up by foreign suppliers, and we would lose it forever for the United States."
He also supervised the freezing -- and partial unfreezing -- of $12 billion in Iranian funds held in the United States during the Iranian hostage crisis, when militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held American diplomats hostage for 444 days.
After his government service, Mr. Miller founded G. William Miller & Co., a Washington private investment company that he likened to a discreet, Swiss-style merchant bank.
George William Miller was born March 9, 1925, in Sapulpa, Okla. His father, a businessman, moved the family to the Texas Panhandle town of Borger to start a furniture store during an oil boom. When his business failed during the Depression, his father found work in a carbon black plant.
After attending a junior college in Amarillo, Tex., Mr. Miller graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., with a bachelor's degree in marine engineering. He was a 1952 graduate of the University of California at Berkeley's law school.