Vision without Execution Is Hallucination

Date01 July 2014
Published date01 July 2014
Paul A. Volcker launched The Volcker
Alliance in 2013 to address the challenge
of effective execution of public policies
and to help rebuild trust in government.
In the course of his career, he worked in
the U.S. federal government for almost 30
years, culminating in two terms as chair
of the Board of Governors of the Federal
Reserve System. Upon leaving public service
in 1987, and again in 2003, he headed
private, nonpartisan National Commissions
on the Public Service.
Vision without Execution Is Hallucination 439
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 74, Iss. 4, pp. 439–441. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12239.
Paul A. Volcker
The Volcker Alliance
Editor’s note: Paul A. Volcker contributed these
remarks on February 7, 2014, in Princeton,
New Jersey, as part of the “Good Governance”
lecture series of the Woodrow Wilson School
of Public and International Af‌f airs at Princeton
These days I have been trying to avoid new
speaking engagements. But the simple fact is
Cecilia Rouse’s letter of invitation undermined
my defenses.
How could I resist participating in the Woodrow
Wilson School’s “Good Governance” lecture series?
Specif‌i cally, the purpose is to examine (and I quote)
“the current state of the United States governing bod-
ies—and whether they are meeting the needs of our
In that context, my speech can be both def‌i nitive and
exceedingly short.  e current state of our governance
bodies is poor. Quite simply, they are not meeting the
needs of our citizens.
Are there any questions?
If not, let me prime the pump.
Ef‌f ective governance has been a preoccupation of
mine for a long time. I have spent most of my work-
ing life in government. I’ve seen enough of it from the
inside to know something of the immense satisfac-
tions and inescapable frustrations of public service.
But beyond personal experience, I’ve never doubted
either the importance of ef‌f ective government or the
need for constant vigilance by our public leaders, by
our educational institutions, and by our citizens.
But today, those simple propositions seem questioned.
A certain sense of skepticism about government is—
and should be—part of our American experience. It
is, in fact, rooted in the checks and balances in our
constitution. But today, that healthy skepticism seems
to have settled into corrosive distrust. And there we
have a problem. No democracy—no government of
the people, by the people, for the people, in Abraham
Lincoln’s stirring words—can f‌l ourish, or even long
exist, if the people themselves have lost conf‌i dence in
our governing processes.
You can’t dismiss my concern by chalking it up to a
grumpy old man harking back to some presumably
glorious earlier days.  e evidence is all around us.
Virtually every poll tells the same story of disenchant-
ment, varying only in whether it is the Congress or
the president that ranks lowest in popular respect.
ere is the often-cited poll repeated over the years
that asks one simple question: “Do you trust your
government to do the right thing most of the time?”
Doesn’t sound like an extraordinarily dif‌f‌i cult test—
but these days, the answer “yes” lies around 20 per-
cent.  e cynics among you may suggest 20 percent is
good enough for government work—but I have to tell
you it’s not evidence of a vibrant, healthy democracy.
Maybe you prefer a dif‌f erent kind of evidence bearing
upon our democratic processes. I’m told three out of
the four most af‌f‌l uent counties in the United States
are now those surrounding Washington, D.C., which
itself has become an island of great prosperity built
on the wealth of lobbyists, law f‌i rms, and government
contractors. I am told that today, 70 percent or so of
congressional staf‌f ers leaving those positions take jobs
as lobbyists, a multiple of the experience 20 years ago.
e excesses of campaign f‌i nancing, the seeming
acceptability of gerrymandering, the passive pandering
to “one-issue” voters—I could go on and on. But the
relevant question is what to do about it.  at’s not a
question for me more than it is for you here at one of
America’s most prestigious educational institutions.
I know the Woodrow Wilson School, with its coun-
terparts at other great universities, is actively engaged
Vision without Execution Is Hallucination

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