William E. Simon was an important public figure during the turbulent 1970s, serving as Energy Czar and Secretary of the Treasury. In the 1980s he took the lead with Raymond Chambers in developing a new financial device known as leveraged buyouts, simultaneously serving as president of the US Olympic Committee. When Simon passed away in 2000, he left behind five daughters, two sons, a fortune for philanthropy, and an almost finished autobiography giving his perspective on two presidents and the important events in which he was a major participant. His son Bill tied up the loose ends, and Regnery Publishing has now brought the autobiography, A Time for Reflection, to the public.
Simon was a hard charger, a man prepared to make decisions and to take the heat. He was truly an unusual figure among Washington policymakers. Despite the target his clarity of purpose offered, Simon prevailed over the difficult challenges during his watch.
Simon unraveled the energy allocation program, which was tying the country into knots, by over-allocating oil and gas to every area of the country, flooding the market, ending the panic, and terminating the Arab oil embargo.
When New York bankruptcy loomed, Simon faced down New York Mayor Abraham Beame and in exchange for federal loans to a broke city, repaid with interest, forced New York to clean up its financial act and adopt responsible budgeting.
When Great Britain’s bankrupt socialist government came to Washington begging for a bailout, Simon insisted on stringent financial concessions. The State Department, always prepared to give away taxpayers’ money for diplomatic reasons, was prepared to subsidize socialist follies.
Journalists regarded big spending socialists as "compassionate," and people with budgetary standards as mean-spirited. Simon fell into the latter category, which meant open season on the Treasury Secretary. Two reporters spread the rumor by word of mouth, without actually writing it, that Simon had engaged in laundering drug money while senior partner at Salomon Brothers. Confronted by Simon, the unethical journalists defended themselves by claiming that floating stories was a way to get people to come forward with information! Here was Simon sacrificing his family to serve his country and Newsweek’s bureau chief trying to destroy Simon’s reputation.
People who knew Simon well and worked closely with him found him to be a loyal and jovial friend. Others who had run-ins with his principles might see Simon as harsh and overbearing. Perhaps with these different perceptions in mind, Simon’s autobiography is interposed with testimonials from his family and leading figures with whom he had close working association.
Simon was a voice for freedom, both as a public policymaker and as president of the John M. Olin Foundation. Later in life he became an active Catholic and served the poor and the dying. Simon felt the need to prove himself again and again, and in so doing spent much of his life in service to country, philanthropy, and church. His autobiography may inspire others.
Dr. Roberts [send him mail] is John M. Olin Fellow at the Institute for Political Economy and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He is a former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal and a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.