June 05, 2013
"Vision without Execution is Hallucination"
Posted by Erik Gerding

This Thomas Edison quote comes from Paul Volcker in a short interview in the Washington Post Wonkblog.  The source of Tall Paul's consternation: the decline of schools of public administration in universities and the shift in many of these schools from "public administration" to "public policy."  (Here is one example of what Volcker describes: the lawsuit (over 5 years ago) brought against Princeton by the heirs to the A&P fortune that alleged that the Woodrow Wilson School was not using an endowment to educate students for careers in government).

This decline in public administration results in a deficiency of expertise in how to run governments well.  A particularly choice quote from the former Fed Chairman:

Everybody likes to talk about big issues of war and peace and how we take care of poor people and what we do about other social problems in the United States or elsewhere.  They do all this talking but they too seldom know how to implement what they’re talking about.

The legal academy ought to take heed.  Much of the interesting spadework in financial regulation scholarship involves questions of institutional design rather than substance.  That is, not what is the right legal rule, but how do make sure agencies have the capacities and incentives to write, interpret and enforce rules in the right way and over the long haul.

In terms of education, should law schools look to fill part of the gap in teaching public administration that Volcker identifies?  

Increasing the space for public administration or public policy in the law school curriculum faces some challenges.  One challenge is economic: how much gold is in them hills?  Will this help students find jobs and build careers?  A more daunting challenge is philosophical.  Law schools largely teach rhetoric.  Public administration/policy programs are about making decisions.  Just because the first word is the same doesn't mean that policy arguments and policy analysis belong to the same genus.

Still, there are some pearls for law schools even in Volcker's short interview, for example, teaching statistics and how statistics should and should not be used.





Administrative Law, Law & Society, Law Schools/Lawyering | Bookmark

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