While viewing itself as an exemplar of the rule of law, America is in reality suffering from widespread and growing corruption, failures of governance and a ‘distorted political process’ overly dependent on wealthy funders, says Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve. ‘The successful attack on corruption depends upon a strong sense of rule of law, but it’s equally true that widespread corruption makes a strong rule of law an impossible dream,’ Volcker told a packed audience of lawyers at the IBA’s Annual Conference in Boston.
‘You carry the full weight of a long respected and honoured tradition. If we fail to maintain an effective rule of law and a strong defence against corruption, two sides of the same coin, then you can hardly escape complicity.’
The former Fed Chairman launched the Volcker Alliance in New York City earlier this year to help improve the implementation of public policies. ‘There’s plenty of debate about what governments ought to do on grand policy,’ he said, and quoting from Thomas Edison, emphasised that ‘vision without execution is hallucination’. He added: ‘Too often it shows up in poor performance. It all feeds the sense that government can’t be trusted.’
According to the most recent Gallup poll, only a quarter of Americans now believe corruption is ‘not widespread’ in their country. Volcker blamed the collapse in confidence on ‘heavy campaign spending’ and urged the audience to help mend the broken system: ‘Should we be satisfied that we live with a really effective rule of law, when the perceived need for heavy campaign spending has come to dominate our political process? We let those financing practices infringe in a very basic way upon the rule of law, with its sense of even-handedness and openness. Does it not breed behaviour that is accomplished by any reasonable definition of corruption?’