As U.S. debates immigration, Fed’s Fisher tells his dad’s story

February 22, 2013

When Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher and inveterate QE3 critic spoke Thursday evening at a black tie insurance industry event in booming Dallas, he left monetary policy out completely. As he often does with a speech directed at fellow Texans, he bragged on the Lone Star State, its job-generating prowess and its resilience since the Great Recession.

And then, in a tale he rarely tells publicly but that has particular resonance amid the rancorous national debate on immigration, he talked of another spectacular success: his dad. “This man is why, despite the current slow economic recovery we are experiencing outside of Texas, despite the fiscal tomfoolery of our national politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, despite the negativism and bad news that pervades the headlines, I have great faith in this country,” he said.

At age five, Fisher’s father was convicted of being a “neglected child” in Queensland, Australia, having been found sleeping under bridges and in doorways with his drunken father. He was sent to a reformatory, then to an orphanage, then to a series of foster families, one of which tied him up in the yard at night by the ankle and woke him “ in the predawn hours to deliver milk by horse drawn carriage.” His teeth rotted. He went to South Africa, drove buses, married, and sailed to the United States, “only to discover that his record and lack of documentation made him inadmissible.”

He took a bus to Tijuana, sold cars and outsmarted racetrack bookies, and after eight years won U.S. citizenship. Broke, he hired himself out to work in Shanghai, then returned to Los Angeles where he spent a lifetime selling tools and silver in Mexico, “aeroplanes in Indonesia, used cars in Florida, men’s suits in New York, women’s undergarments in the Caribbean…doing anything and everything he can to make a buck to support his family.”

Fisher, of course, attended Harvard, Oxford and Stanford, made millions managing money and now is one of just 19 men and women who set monetary policy for the most powerful economy in the world.

“It’s a hell of a story. It’s a quintessential American story,” Fisher said, never once acknowledging the political backdrop against which he told it. At every fancy dinner in every fancy hotel he attends – and he attends quite a few – he said, “I say a silent little prayer, a prayer of thanks, to what American openness to gutsy immigrants has given me.”

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