Put Up or Shut Up

NEW YORK – In public policy, peace talks, election campaigns, or corporate strategy, laying out intentions, promises, and commitments is never enough. It is merely a first step toward a desired end – and entirely meaningless unless the second, third, and all subsequent necessary steps are taken. Moreover, taking the first step starts the clock on others' trust and confidence that the next steps will in fact be taken, or else risks creating the false impression that the failure to achieve a particular goal reflects mistaken (or irrelevant) intentions, not inadequate execution. We can see examples of this virtually everywhere we look.

Consider the European Central Bank's announcement in January that it would implement quantitative easing. At the time, many leaders seemed to think that the ECB's move would be enough: Announcement made, money printed, economies back on track. Unfortunately, that is not how monetary policy works: QE will not be enough, and no one should be naive about that.

In order to get economies back on track, QE is a useful step, but only as part of a larger package of measures. In the absence of other economic reforms, QE on its own cannot effect the changes needed to kick-start growth. And if the reforms are not implemented and growth fails to materialize, politicians are likely to blame QE, not their own failure to take all the other steps that must follow it on the path of economic recovery.

Now consider free speech. Following the massacre at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris last month, world leaders dashed to the scene, locked arms, and marched in support of freedom of expression as a bedrock principle of civilized societies. The natural next step for many of them should have been to return home and immediately implement that principle. Instead, they returned home.