Paul Volcker - “It’s a Crisis of Governance at This Point”

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Sep 26, 2013
by Oscar Tollast
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Paul Volcker - “It’s a Crisis of Governance at This Point”

Chairman of The Volcker Alliance looks back on four-day session Paul Volcker enjoying the view from the Schloss Leopoldskron (Photo: Thomas Seifert)

Sitting on the Schloss Leopoldskron’s sun drenched terrace, Paul Volcker, Chairman of The Volcker Alliance, is left feeling encouraged after leading a three-day session on ‘Restoring the Public’s Trust: Delivering on Public Policy Goals’.

“We’re starting out on a new journey with this little institute,” says Mr Volcker. “We had a lot of people who I think are happy to be here and felt they learned something from each other, and we learned something from them.”

Those invited to the session included politicians, senior public servants, researchers, academics, and corporate and public sector representatives. The group’s aim was to consider new ways of thinking to improve effectiveness in public policy execution. The Volcker Alliance was keen to hear what part it could play, alongside other organizations.

Mr Volcker says, “Once a goal is decided, it doesn’t mean much unless you’ve got ways of implementing the goal.”

The Alliance’s mission is to focus on the need for governments to run effectively and efficiently. This in turn might help to rebuild public confidence and trust, something which Mr Volcker suggests is not as strong as once was.

“One of the contributing factors is – and I’m not saying it’s the major contributing factor – but a contributing factor is the perception that government has failed to deal with certain circumstances and crises effectively.

“I think it’s a crisis of governance at this point. But when does a crisis of governance become a crisis of democracy? If people lose faith in the democratic process, we’re all in trouble.”

The session on ‘Restoring the Public’s Trust: Delivering on Public Policy Goals’ was convened in conjunction with Salzburg Global Seminar.

It’s the fourth time Mr Volcker has visited the palace, having more recently chaired a discussion on ‘Financial Regulation: Bridging Global Differences' at Salzburg Global in August. Is it fair to argue he likes the location?

“Do I like Salzburg? Salzburg is a terrific place. Look at the beautiful garden, the facilities are wonderful, the view is better, [and] the intellectual stimulation is first-class.”

Participants spent their second day in Salzburg considering some of the major challenges facing governments around the world, hearing from speakers such as Angel Gurría, Secretary-General at the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD).

After splitting into smaller work groups, participants stepped forward the following day to narrow specific areas The Volcker Alliance, and similar organizations, could step into and address.

Complexities and problems raised in discussions began to be represented as new opportunities. But Mr Volcker reveals they needed to be tackled in a way that “takes account of the resources that we have, the understanding that we have, the education that we need so that it makes some contribution toward some sense of trust and confidence in government.”

Mr Volcker recognizes there is no “magic solution” and remedying these problems will take time, but that’s no reason to be pessimistic. “We haven’t got the candle quite lit yet; we’ve got the match approaching the candle to light it. This is part of the match.