The Page Society's report on public trust in business, published in partnership with the Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics, postulates that there are three core dynamics of trust – trust safeguards, balance of power and mutuality. The first of these references laws, regulations, industry standards or any similar rules designed to prevent one institution or set of interests from dominating another.

It's generally accepted that America's Founding Fathers brilliantly introduced checks and balances into our system of government that have served us well over more than two centuries – preventing excesses that other systems sometimes permit and generally protecting the public interest. We have been willing to accept a certain amount of dysfunction in the interest of stopping a single party or set of interests from moving too quickly or too far from what the public is willing to tolerate.

Recently, however, our system has bogged down into a paralyzing inability to address important issues in the public interest. In his New York Times column, Thomas Friedman explored a suggestion by Francis Fukuyama that, in order to end gridlock in Washington, institutional rules such as senatorial holds and the filibuster ought to be eliminated, and that more supercommittees (like military base closing commissions) that are supposedly insulated from political pressures be empowered to propose solutions for up-or-down votes.

I don't want to argue that these small changes wouldn't help a bit, but I really don't think this idea goes to the heart of the problem, which is a lack of leadership. There are many reasons for gridlock, including gerrymandering and media polarization, but the major problem is a lack of will to take bold steps to find solutions.

The solution to the crisis of trust in institutions is not rules changes, but enlightened leadership that seeks to align institutional decision-making with the public interest.

Post by Roger Bolton, President, Arthur W. Page Society