It’s been a common witticism in recent months: When asked about the possibility of pernicious inflation down the road as a result of the massive amount of money being pumped into the financial system right now, most economists and analysts brush off the question and slyly remark that they’d welcome a little inflation at this point, as a sign the U.S. economy was rebounding rather than getting mired in a deflationary trap.

But Paul Volcker, longtime Federal Reserve chairman now hailed for his aggressive actions to kill inflation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, doesn’t seem to be amused. Mr. Volcker, who is also part of President Obama’s economic team, was the keynote speaker at Columbia University’s sixth annual Center on Capitalism and Society conference, held Friday in New York. He touched on the “shocking” international nature of the current crisis, adding “I don’t remember any time – maybe even the Great Depression – when things went down quite so fast and quite so uniformly around the world.”

Yet he cautioned that the Fed shouldn’t lose sight of a key part of its mandate — to fight inflation. “I think ‘a little inflation’ is bad, because a little inflation means some more inflation,” he said. “I don’t think here’s any arguing for a little inflation solving our problems in any realistic sense.”

“I don’t want to lose the accomplishment of the last 30 years of the central importance of price stability and the role of an independent central bank in maintaining that price stability,” he said.