The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be

The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be

The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be

The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be

Excerpt

Power may feel abstract, but for those who are most attunded to it—namely, the powerful themselves—its flow and ebb can have a visceral edge. After all, those in positions of great power are best positioned to spot limits on their effectiveness and to feel frustration over the gap between the power they expect their rank to convey and the power they actually have. In my own small way, I experienced such constraints back in February 1989. At the time I had been named, at age thirty-six, the minister of development in the then-democratic government of my home country, Venezuela. Soon after we took office in a landslide election victory, we faced riots in Caracas—triggered by the anxiety over our plans to cut subsidies and raise fuel prices—that paralyzed the city with violence, fear, and chaos. Suddenly, and despite our victory and apparent mandate, the economic reform program that we had championed acquired a very different meaning. Instead of symbolizing hope and prosperity, it was now seen as the source of street violence, increased poverty, and deeper inequality.

But the most profound insight I had at that time was one I would not fully comprehend until years later. It dwelt in the enormous gap between the perception and the reality of my power. In principle, as one of the main economic ministers, I wielded tremendous power. But in practice, I had only a limited ability to deploy resources, to mobilize individuals and organizations, and, more generally, to make things happen. My colleagues and even the president had the same feeling, though we were loath to acknowledge that our government was a hobbled giant. I was tempted to chalk this up to Venezuela itself: surely our sense of powerlessness had to do with our . . .

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