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Why Government Fails So Often:
And How It Can Do Better
Peter H. Schuck

Honorable Mention for the 2015 PROSE Award in Government & Politics, Association of American Publishers

Hardcover | 2014 | $27.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691161624
488 pp. | 6 x 9 | SHOPPING CART

eBook | ISBN: 9781400850044 |
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Author Peter H. Schuck, The Daily Show

From healthcare to workplace conduct, the federal government is taking on ever more responsibility for managing our lives. At the same time, Americans have never been more disaffected with Washington, seeing it as an intrusive, incompetent, wasteful giant. The most alarming consequence of ineffective policies, in addition to unrealized social goals, is the growing threat to the government’s democratic legitimacy. Understanding why government fails so often—and how it might become more effective—is an urgent responsibility of citizenship. In this book, lawyer and political scientist Peter Schuck provides a wide range of examples and an enormous body of evidence to explain why so many domestic policies go awry—and how to right the foundering ship of state.

Schuck argues that Washington’s failures are due not to episodic problems or partisan bickering, but rather to deep structural flaws that undermine every administration, Democratic and Republican. These recurrent weaknesses include unrealistic goals, perverse incentives, poor and distorted information, systemic irrationality, rigidity and lack of credibility, a mediocre bureaucracy, powerful and inescapable markets, and the inherent limits of law. To counteract each of these problems, Schuck proposes numerous achievable reforms, from avoiding moral hazard in student loan, mortgage, and other subsidy programs, to empowering consumers of public services, simplifying programs and testing them for cost-effectiveness, and increasing the use of “big data.” The book also examines successful policies—including the G.I. Bill, the Voting Rights Act, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and airline deregulation—to highlight the factors that made them work.

An urgent call for reform, Why Government Fails So Often is essential reading for anyone curious about why government is in such disrepute and how it can do better.

Peter H. Schuck is the Simeon E. Baldwin Professor of Law Emeritus at Yale University. He is the author or editor of many books, including Agent Orange on Trial, Meditations of a Militant Moderate, Diversity in America, and Understanding America. Before joining the Yale faculty, he was an official in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and practiced law in Washington, DC, and New York.


"[A] sweeping history of policy disappointments."--David Leonhardt, New York Times

"In Why Government Fails So Often, Peter H. Schuck takes up this vital question in what amounts to a systematic survey of the limits of American public administration. It is a profound book, and a sobering one. . . . Peter H. Schuck has written an essential manual for 21st-century policy makers."--Yuval Levin, Wall Street Journal

"Schuck does a beautiful job of laying out all the problems with government intervention. . . . [T]here are many gems in this book."--David Henderson, Econlog

"Schuck makes a compelling case that many domestic programs, including those that have considerable public support among Republicans as well as Democrats, deliver benefits at costs that are much higher than necessary and contain damaging unintended consequences."--Glenn Altschuler, Boston Globe

"Anyone who wants clear insight into government's modern wayward momentum, and its toll on society, should hear Peter Schuck. . . . His recommendations for change are refreshing."--Colorado Springs Gazette

"This lively and authoritative account of government failure deserves to be read by advocates of all political persuasions. . . . This admirable work offers compelling evidence that government might do far better by doing far less."--Gene Epstein, Barron's

"Peter Schuck's new book Why Government Fails So Often provides a thoughtful if pessimistic analysis."--Laura Tyson, Project Syndicate

"Peter Schuck's Why Government Fails So Often is one of the most important books of the year and may be one of the most important books of the decade. Although I have seen this prolific author's name over the years, I had never read any of his work. My loss. Fortunately, I have read every page--including endnotes--of his latest book, and it is a tour de force."--David R. Henderson, Regulation

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
CHAPTER 1: Introduction 1
PART 1: The Context of Policy Making 37
CHAPTER 2: Success, Failure, and In Between 39
CHAPTER 3: Policy-Making Functions, Processes, Missions, Instruments, and Institutions 64
CHAPTER 4: The Political Culture of Policy Making 91
PART 2: The Structural Sources of Policy Failure 125
CHAPTER 5: Incentives and Collective Irrationality 127
CHAPTER 6: Information, Inflexibility, Incredibility, and Mismanagement 161
CHAPTER 7: Markets 198
CHAPTER 8: Implementation 229
CHAPTER 9: The Limits of Law 277
CHAPTER 10: The Bureaucracy 307
CHAPTER 11: Policy Successes 327
PART 3: Remedies and Reprise 369
CHAPTER 12: Remedies: Lowering Government's Failure Rate 371
CHAPTER 13: Conclusion 408
Notes 413
Index 463

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      File created: 3/10/2015

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