Scott Cowen on Winnebagos on Wednesdays

CowenIn Winnebagos on Wednesdays: How Visionary Leadership Can Transform Higher Education, Scott Cowen, president emeritus of Tulane University, acknowledges the crisis in higher education but also presents reasons for optimism as courageous leaders find innovative strategies to solve the thorny problems they face. Telling stories of failure and triumph drawn from institutions all across the nation, Cowen takes the reader on a fascinating trip through varied terrain. Recently, Cowen answered some questions about his book and what he sees as a burgeoning opportunity to reshape higher education for the future.

What’s up with the title? I’m intrigued.

The title emanated from something that happened in the spring of my first year as president of Tulane, after an undefeated season for our football team. I made the coach an offer he couldn’t refuse—and he refused. He said he was leaving for Clemson, where the program was so spectacular that fans lined up their Winnebagos on Wednesdays in anticipation of Saturday games. That’s when I realized Tulane was, for various crazy reasons, in the entertainment business, and we weren’t on the A list. For me, the anecdote became a metaphor for all the absurdities and challenges confronting higher education, and started me thinking about how to stop the madness and tackle our problems.

Why did you write the book?

We’re obviously at a tipping point in higher education, with rising skepticism about its value and escalating demands for accountability, affordability, and access. It’s a moment to take stock, and I finally had time to do just that—reflect on my entire career and the lessons I’d learned. A key moment for me was Hurricane Katrina, when the survival of Tulane hung in the balance. I saw then that the two critical elements required to sustain and invigorate an institution are an inspired, distinctive mission and leaders who have the guts and determination to convert that mission into meaningful results. In the book, I tell stories about crisis points when leadership counted most: I parse some of the failures but also show innovative approaches that are being implemented right now, and that point the way to creative, practicable solutions. My aim was to get people to rethink the issues that plague all our schools—value and impact, diversity, financial sustainability, athletics, medicine, mission, governance, leadership—in order to improve our institutions and forge a path into the future.

What are some of the most important challenges facing higher education?

The list above itemizes many of them, but financial sustainability in particular cuts across all the issues. Right now, the cost of a college education is out of reach for too many, fueling perceptions of elitism and raising questions about value. In the book I describe the many efforts underway to cut costs, expand enrollments, develop innovative no-loan policies, and create new programs that enhance the “real world” value of a degree. But the ultimate challenge facing the sector is not the solving of any single conundrum. The fundamental task before us is to find the right people, the right governance, and the right mission if higher education is going to continue to be an engine of innovation and progress. A friend of mine from my days in business management used to say, “Success is all about the ‘who.’”  And that’s the bottom line: people make the organization. They establish the structures, define the mission, set the tone, and create the ethos that helps an institution thrive.

What is the most surprising news in the book?

The news comes from schools people don’t know much about. Looking at the usual suspects—the Harvards, Yales, and Stanfords—you won’t see large scale institutional transformation occurring; the more famous and successful an institution is, the more likely it is to stick with the tried-and-true—and, ironically, the more likely it is to be sowing the seeds of its own decline. The most promising changes are occurring at lesser-known schools, where innovations have dramatically heightened impact. For example, Xavier University, a small Catholic historically black school in New Orleans, led for decades by Norman Francis, has become the major pipeline for black doctors, scientists, and pharmacists in the U.S. Paul Quinn, a historically black college in Dallas led by Michael Sorrell, has reinvented itself as a hub of urban entrepreneurship while expanding its outreach to Latino students. Arizona State University, with Michael Crow at the helm, has increased its student body by 50% to 83,000, expanded African-American and Hispanic enrollment, consolidated departments into institutes with shared administrative costs, launched innovative online programs, and forged partnerships with other universities and private businesses. The University of Southern California, under Steve Sample’s leadership, has become a first-rate academic institution and an anchor for south central Los Angeles, with well-funded institutes, a dramatic increase in productive research, and a menu of cutting-edge interdisciplinary studies. Northeastern University, with its century-old co-op program—academic credits for experiential learning in a range of paid internships—has finally caught up with the current zeitgeist, becoming a magnet for students seeking preparation for the job market. All these schools, and many others, demonstrate that regional presence, pedagogic innovation, and a strong sense of mission create value and enhance impact.

How are the leaders we need tomorrow different from those of the past?

The scholar-president—typically a white male in his sixties—may fast be becoming a relic. Given current cultural shifts and upheavals, it’s clear that we need leaders who are more diverse on every measure—race, gender, geography, ideology, experience— reflecting the nation at large, and with the potential to be models and mentors on their campuses. In addition to personal histories, we should also be looking for traits like versatility and adaptability. In the coming era, university presidents will need to be agents of change, crafting new directions that keep pace with unfolding events; skillful executives who can steer complex multibillion-dollar organizations; astute assessors of talent; and inventors of creative solutions to the problems they will inevitably face. We are likely to see more “unfiltered” leaders, without the standard scholarly résumé, who promise to bring fresh perspectives drawn from the worlds of business, government, and the military, and more “blended” leaders, with one foot in the ivory tower and one in the outside world, who should be able to bring the two domains together in fruitful ways. But the sine qua non of an effective president is the quality of emotional intelligence: the ability to listen and empathize is an indispensable skill in the fractious times we live in. At this precarious moment, when we are facing a paradigm shift in priorities and possibilities, we need people at the helm who will preserve what is best from the past, invent novel approaches for the future, and embody the enduring values of civility, compassion, and integrity.

Scott Cowen is president emeritus and distinguished university chair of Tulane University. His books include The Inevitable City (St. Martin’s) and Innovation in Professional Education (Jossey-Bass). Cowen has written for such publications as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Scott Page: Why hiring the ‘best’ people produces the least creative results

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

PageWhile in graduate school in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I took a logic course from David Griffeath. The class was fun. Griffeath brought a playfulness and openness to problems. Much to my delight, about a decade later, I ran into him at a conference on traffic models. During a presentation on computational models of traffic jams, his hand went up. I wondered what Griffeath – a mathematical logician – would have to say about traffic jams. He did not disappoint. Without even a hint of excitement in his voice, he said: ‘If you are modelling a traffic jam, you should just keep track of the non-cars.’ 

The collective response followed the familiar pattern when someone drops an unexpected, but once stated, obvious idea: a puzzled silence, giving way to a roomful of nodding heads and smiles. Nothing else needed to be said.

Griffeath had made a brilliant observation. During a traffic jam, most of the spaces on the road are filled with cars. Modelling each car takes up an enormous amount of memory. Keeping track of the empty spaces instead would use less memory – in fact almost none. Furthermore, the dynamics of the non-cars might be more amenable to analysis.

Versions of this story occur routinely at academic conferences, in research laboratories or policy meetings, within design groups, and in strategic brainstorming sessions. They share three characteristics. First, the problems are complex: they concern high-dimensional contexts that are difficult to explain, engineer, evolve or predict. Second, the breakthrough ideas do not arise by magic, nor are they constructed anew from whole cloth. They take an existing idea, insight, trick or rule, and apply it in a novel way, or they combine ideas – like Apple’s breakthrough repurposing of the touchscreen technology. In Griffeath’s case, he applied a concept from information theory: minimum description length. Fewer words are required to say ‘No-L’ than to list ‘ABCDEFGHIJKMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ’. I should add that these new ideas typically produce modest gains. But, collectively, they can have large effects. Progress occurs as much through sequences of small steps as through giant leaps.

Third, these ideas are birthed in group settings. One person presents her perspective on a problem, describes an approach to finding a solution or identifies a sticking point, and a second person makes a suggestion or knows a workaround. The late computer scientist John Holland commonly asked: ‘Have you thought about this as a Markov process, with a set of states and transition between those states?’ That query would force the presenter to define states. That simple act would often lead to an insight. 

The burgeoning of teams – most academic research is now done in teams, as is most investing and even most songwriting (at least for the good songs) – tracks the growing complexity of our world. We used to build roads from A to B. Now we construct transportation infrastructure with environmental, social, economic and political impacts.

The complexity of modern problems often precludes any one person from fully understanding them. Factors contributing to rising obesity levels, for example, include transportation systems and infrastructure, media, convenience foods, changing social norms, human biology and psychological factors. Designing an aircraft carrier, to take another example, requires knowledge of nuclear engineering, naval architecture, metallurgy, hydrodynamics, information systems, military protocols, the exercise of modern warfare and, given the long building time, the ability to predict trends in weapon systems.

The multidimensional or layered character of complex problems also undermines the principle of meritocracy: the idea that the ‘best person’ should be hired. There is no best person. When putting together an oncological research team, a biotech company such as Gilead or Genentech would not construct a multiple-choice test and hire the top scorers, or hire people whose resumes score highest according to some performance criteria. Instead, they would seek diversity. They would build a team of people who bring diverse knowledge bases, tools and analytic skills. That team would more likely than not include mathematicians (though not logicians such as Griffeath). And the mathematicians would likely study dynamical systems and differential equations.

Believers in a meritocracy might grant that teams ought to be diverse but then argue that meritocratic principles should apply within each category. Thus the team should consist of the ‘best’ mathematicians, the ‘best’ oncologists, and the ‘best’ biostatisticians from within the pool.

That position suffers from a similar flaw. Even with a knowledge domain, no test or criteria applied to individuals will produce the best team. Each of these domains possesses such depth and breadth, that no test can exist. Consider the field of neuroscience. Upwards of 50,000 papers were published last year covering various techniques, domains of enquiry and levels of analysis, ranging from molecules and synapses up through networks of neurons. Given that complexity, any attempt to rank a collection of neuroscientists from best to worst, as if they were competitors in the 50-metre butterfly, must fail. What could be true is that given a specific task and the composition of a particular team, one scientist would be more likely to contribute than another. Optimal hiring depends on context. Optimal teams will be diverse.

Evidence for this claim can be seen in the way that papers and patents that combine diverse ideas tend to rank as high-impact. It can also be found in the structure of the so-called random decision forest, a state-of-the-art machine-learning algorithm. Random forests consist of ensembles of decision trees. If classifying pictures, each tree makes a vote: is that a picture of a fox or a dog? A weighted majority rules. Random forests can serve many ends. They can identify bank fraud and diseases, recommend ceiling fans and predict online dating behaviour.

When building a forest, you do not select the best trees as they tend to make similar classifications. You want diversity. Programmers achieve that diversity by training each tree on different data, a technique known as bagging. They also boost the forest ‘cognitively’ by training trees on the hardest cases – those that the current forest gets wrong. This ensures even more diversity and accurate forests.

Yet the fallacy of meritocracy persists. Corporations, non-profits, governments, universities and even preschools test, score and hire the ‘best’. This all but guarantees not creating the best team. Ranking people by common criteria produces homogeneity. And when biases creep in, it results in people who look like those making the decisions. That’s not likely to lead to breakthroughs. As Astro Teller, CEO of X, the ‘moonshoot factory’ at Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has said: ‘Having people who have different mental perspectives is what’s important. If you want to explore things you haven’t explored, having people who look just like you and think just like you is not the best way.’ We must see the forest.Aeon counter – do not remove

Scott E. Page is the Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics at the University of Michigan and an external faculty member of the Santa Fe Institute. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is the author of The Diversity Bonus: How Great Teams Pay Off in the Knowledge Economy. He has been a featured speaker at Davos as well as at organizations such as Google, Bloomberg, BlackRock, Boeing, and NASA.

Kim Williams: How to write a book for audio

PUP’s International Rights Director Kim Williams shares her top tips for writing for audio format.

The audio book sector is the fastest growing area of book publishing right now, and chances are you’ve noticed people beginning to talk about listening to audio books, seen advertisements for audio, or you’re one of the 67 million audio book listeners in the US (5.5 million in the UK). Audible now has over 200,000 audio books available for download on its retail platform, while Google Play has just launched the format in 45 countries and nine languages. Looking at library lending statistics, Overdrive have just announced that there were 68 million audio books borrowed worldwide using their library app in 2017, a 24% increase on the previous year.

PUP has been working with audio publishers for ten years to produce some of our books in audio format. In that time, around two hundred of our books have been recorded and published in a digital audio edition. Some of our most successful audio books have sold more than ten thousand copies, and one book has sold over 40,000 copies; we are certain that audio sales are a meaningful way to bring our scholarly ideas to the world, and industry statistics seem to agree.

I took on responsibility for audio book licensing in 2017. Here are my top tips for writing nonfiction books that will succeed as audio books.

Write for listeners. When you’re crafting your book, can you imagine a reader (narrator/voice actor) speaking the words you’re typing? Avoid overcomplicated sentences, sub-clauses, and excessive length. Your reader will need to breathe, and wants to record the book without too many takes.

If visual data is necessary, describe it. If your book relies on charts, tables, or photographs, it’s not an automatic barrier to producing an audio book, but some adaptations will need to be made for the audio book. Publishers can provide a PDF of the visual data for buyers, but listeners respond well to a brief description. This can be added in for the audio edition alone, or carefully built into the text with your editor’s guidance.

Listeners are faithful to narrators. Opinions vary on who is best placed to voice non-fiction books, but increasingly buyers of audio books are aware of who is reading the edition, and will buy books because they like the reader’s voice.  Recording is fast-paced, handled best by production professionals and sound engineers (the unsung heroes of the audio world), and it’s rare for our authors to record their own books.

Long books can be great for audio. One feature that makes some of our finest scholarship perfect for audio is that long books can work well in audio. Subscribers like to get lots of listening hours for their membership fee and will often happily listen to books that are 20-30 hours long. (Rights Director note – there are competing pressures for translated books, so for now let’s assume that there’s no substitute for rigorous editing and revision!)

Narrators need pronunciation guides. Both publishers and scholars can be guilty of a bewildering array of acronyms and abbreviations, which become normalized when you use them every day. Lots of this will be addressed for the book itself, but it’s surprising how unfamiliar acronyms, place and people names, scientific names and other phrasing can suddenly be if you’re forced to say them out loud rather than merely read them. If it seems likely that the book will be produced in audio, you could write pronunciations into a glossary or a separate pronunciation guide to save time when the book is recorded.

I hope these tips are a helpful starter and we welcome your suggestions, too. If you’re new to audio books, you can download one free audio book from Audible, get 50% off your first audio book purchase from Google Play, borrow CDs from your local library, or use your library download service. Let us know if you #LoveAudiobooks!

Kieran Setiya: How Schopenhauer’s thought can illuminate a midlife crisis

MidlifeThis article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Despite reflecting on the good life for more than 2,500 years, philosophers have not had much to say about middle age. For me, approaching 40 was a time of stereotypical crisis. Having jumped the hurdles of the academic career track, I knew I was lucky to be a tenured professor of philosophy. Yet stepping back from the busyness of life, the rush of things to do, I found myself wondering, what now? I felt a sense of repetition and futility, of projects completed just to be replaced by more. I would finish this article, teach this class, and then I would do it all again. It was not that everything seemed worthless. Even at my lowest ebb, I didn’t feel there was no point in what I was doing. Yet somehow the succession of activities, each one rational in itself, fell short.

I am not alone. Perhaps you have felt, too, an emptiness in the pursuit of worthy goals. This is one form of midlife crisis, at once familiar and philosophically puzzling. The paradox is that success can seem like failure. Like any paradox, it calls for philosophical treatment. What is the emptiness of the midlife crisis if not the unqualified emptiness in which one sees no value in anything? What was wrong with my life?

In search of an answer, I turned to the 19th-century pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer is notorious for preaching the futility of desire. That getting what you want could fail to make you happy would not have surprised him at all. On the other hand, not having it is just as bad. For Schopenhauer, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you get what you want, your pursuit is over. You are aimless, flooded with a ‘fearful emptiness and boredom’, as he put it in The World as Will and Representation (1818). Life needs direction: desires, projects, goals that are so far unachieved. And yet this, too, is fatal. Because wanting what you do not have is suffering. In staving off the void by finding things to do, you have condemned yourself to misery. Life ‘swings like a pendulum to and fro between pain and boredom, and these two are in fact its ultimate constituents’.

Schopenhauer’s picture of human life might seem unduly bleak. Often enough, midlife brings with it failure or success in cherished projects: you have the job you worked for many years to get, the partner you hoped to meet, the family you meant to start – or else you don’t. Either way, you look for new directions. But the answer to achieving your goals, or giving them up, feels obvious: you simply make new ones. Nor is the pursuit of what you want pure agony. Revamping your ambitions can be fun.

Still, I think there is something right in Schopenhauer’s dismal conception of our relationship with our ends, and that it can illuminate the darkness of midlife. Taking up new projects, after all, simply obscures the problem. When you aim at a future goal, satisfaction is deferred: success has yet to come. But the moment you succeed, your achievement is in the past. Meanwhile, your engagement with projects subverts itself. In pursuing a goal, you either fail or, in succeeding, end its power to guide your life. No doubt you can formulate other plans. The problem is not that you will run out of projects (the aimless state of Schopenhauer’s boredom), it’s that your way of engaging with the ones that matter most to you is by trying to complete them and thus expel them from your life. When you pursue a goal, you exhaust your interaction with something good, as if you were to make friends for the sake of saying goodbye.

Hence one common figure of the midlife crisis: the striving high-achiever, obsessed with getting things done, who is haunted by the hollowness of everyday life. When you are obsessed with projects, ceaselessly replacing old with new, satisfaction is always in the future. Or the past. It is mortgaged, then archived, but never possessed. In pursuing goals, you aim at outcomes that preclude the possibility of that pursuit, extinguishing the sparks of meaning in your life.

The question is what to do about this. For Schopenhauer, there is no way out: what I am calling a midlife crisis is simply the human condition. But Schopenhauer was wrong. In order to see his mistake, we need to draw distinctions among the activities we value: between ones that aim at completion, and ones that don’t.

Adapting terminology from linguistics, we can say that ‘telic’ activities – from ‘telos’, the Greek work for purpose – are ones that aim at terminal states of completion and exhaustion. You teach a class, get married, start a family, earn a raise. Not all activities are like this, however. Others are ‘atelic’: there is no point of termination at which they aim, or final state in which they have been achieved and there is no more to do. Think of listening to music, parenting, or spending time with friends. They are things you can stop doing, but you cannot finish or complete them. Their temporality is not that of a project with an ultimate goal, but of a limitless process.

If the crisis diagnosed by Schopenhauer turns on excessive investment in projects, then the solution is to invest more fully in the process, giving meaning to your life through activities that have no terminal point: since they cannot be completed, your engagement with them is not exhaustive. It will not subvert itself. Nor does it invite the sense of frustration that Schopenhauer scorns in unsatisfied desire – the sense of being at a distance from one’s goal, so that fulfilment is always in the future or the past.

We should not give up on our worthwhile goals. Their achievement matters. But we should meditate, too, on the value of the process. It is no accident that the young and the old are generally more satisfied with life than those in middle age. Young adults have not embarked on life-defining projects; the aged have such accomplishments behind them. That makes it more natural for them to live in the present: to find value in atelic activities that are not exhausted by engagement or deferred to the future, but realised here and now. It is hard to resist the tyranny of projects in midlife, to find a balance between the telic and atelic. But if we hope to overcome the midlife crisis, to escape the gloom of emptiness and self-defeat, that is what we have to do.Aeon counter – do not remove

Kieran Setiya is professor of philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of Midlife: A Philosophical Guide.

Browse our 2018 Art and Architecture Catalog

We are delighted to announce our new Art and Architecture catalog for 2018. Our list features a range of new titles, including a collection of quotations by one of the world’s most important political artists, a new edition of a classic book in the history of textiles, a lavishly illustrated volume by a renowned American photographer, and a new look at the portraiture of one of the greatest artists of the nineteenth century.

Stop by Booth #417 at CAA to see these titles and more! And join PUP at our booth at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, February 23 for a reception in honor of our new and forthcoming titles.

Ai Weiwei (b. 1957) is widely known as an artist across media: sculpture, installation, photography, performance, and architecture. He is also one of the world’s most important artist-activists and a powerful documentary filmmaker. His work and art call attention to attacks on democracy and free speech, abuses of human rights, and human displacement—often on an epic, international scale.

This collection of quotations demonstrates the range of Ai Weiwei’s thinking on humanity and mass migration, issues that have occupied him for decades. Humanity speaks to the profound urgency of the global refugee crisis, the resilience and vulnerability of the human condition, and the role of art in providing a voice for the voiceless.

Written by one of the twentieth century’s leading textile artists, this splendidly illustrated book is a luminous meditation on the art of weaving, its history, its tools and techniques, and its implications for modern design. First published in 1965, On Weaving bridges the transition between handcraft and the machine-made, highlighting the essential importance of material awareness and the creative leaps that can occur when design problems are tackled by hand.

With her focus on materials and handlooms, Anni Albers discusses how technology and mass production place limits on creativity and problem solving, and makes the case for a renewed embrace of human ingenuity that is particularly important today. Now available for a new generation of readers, this expanded edition of On Weaving updates the book’s original black-and-white illustrations with full-color photos.

American photographer Emmet Gowin (b. 1941) is best known for his portraits of his wife, Edith, and their family, as well as for his images documenting the impact of human activity upon landscapes around the world. For the past fifteen years, he has been engaged in an equally profound project on a different scale, capturing the exquisite beauty of more than one thousand species of nocturnal moths in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, French Guiana, and Panama. Gowin’s stunning color portraits foster awareness for a part of nature that is generally left unobserved and call for a greater awareness of the biodiversity and value of the tropics as a universally shared natural treasure.

Mariposas Nocturnas reminds readers that, as Terry Tempest Williams writes in her foreword, “The world is saturated with loveliness, inhabited by others far more adept at living with uncertainty than we are.”

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) may be best known for his landscapes, but he also painted some 160 portraits throughout his exceptional career. This major work by John Elderfield establishes portraiture as an essential practice for Cézanne, from his earliest self-portraits in the 1860s; to his famous depictions of figures including his wife Hortense Fiquet, the writer Emile Zola, and the art dealer Ambroise Vollard; and concluding with a poignant series of portraits of his gardener Vallier, made shortly before Cézanne’s death.

Beautifully illustrated with works of art drawn from public and private collections around the world, Cézanne Portraits presents an astonishingly broad range of images that reveal the most personal and human qualities of this remarkable artist.

Princeton University Press launches WeChat in China

On Monday, January 15th 2018, Princeton University Press’s China Office launched its official WeChat account, establishing a new and growing social media presence in China. From now on, PUP will be able to connect with the Chinese public on a regular basis.

The momentum has continued steadily as subscribers have grown with each new article published on WeChat. In the past week and a half, we have detailed PUP’s rich history, shared a list of our economics titles, and an author interview featuring Jean Tirole. (Read it here.)

Together with PUP’s US based social media team, we will continue to publish consistent, quality updates encompassing every subject area, announce book events in China, and provide more China-related content from top Chinese scholars.

We are confident that PUP China’s venture into Chinese social media will be ever more successful thanks to PUP’s impeccable academic standards, time-tested prestige, and, most importantly, our Chinese readers’ eagerness for knowledge and wisdom.

If you have the WeChat App on your phone, make sure that you scan the QR code and follow PUP on WeChat!

 

Jörg Rüpke on Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion

In this ambitious and authoritative book, Jörg Rüpke provides a comprehensive and strikingly original narrative history of ancient Roman and Mediterranean religion over more than a millennium—from the late Bronze Age through the Roman imperial period and up to full-fledged Christianization. While focused primarily on the city of Rome, Pantheon fully integrates the many religious traditions found in the Mediterranean world, including Judaism and Christianity. This generously illustrated book is also distinguished by its unique emphasis on “lived religion,” a perspective that stresses how individuals’ experiences and practices transform religion into something different from its official form. The result is a radically new picture of both Roman religion and a crucial period in Western religion—one that influenced Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and even the modern idea of “religion” itself. With its unprecedented scope and innovative approach, Pantheon is anunparalleled account of ancient Roman and Mediterranean religion.

In a world where religion is changing its face in rapid and unexpected ways, how is Roman religion, two millennia older, similar?
Rome was perhaps the largest city of the world before the modern period. The religious practices and beliefs of a million people from all over Europe, West Asia, North Africa and occasionally beyond were as varied as religion is in today’s megacities. It is interesting to see how Roman lawmakers and judges dealt with such a situation. And it is even more interesting to see how ‘normal’ citizens understood and used such a religious pluralism. Different gods at every corner, shrines on walls, polemical graffiti, people earning their living by selling religious goods and services, shaven heads or loud music—there is more to discover and learn than the solemnity of the emperor having a bull killed on the Capitoline hill.

Why did you invent a fictitious figure at the start of your history?
Religion is about people claiming to have religious experiences and valuing religious knowledge. There is no religion if everybody thinks that their neighbors addressing a divine being is just ridiculous. But religious experiences or knowledge cannot be simply decreed. To understand the unbelievable dynamics of ancient religion—the invention of statues and monumental temples, to think that gods would enjoy horse races or self-mutilation, etc.—a historian needs to get an idea of what went on in people’s head. We will never know, but we can imagine. Rhea is an avatar to tell us what a woman at the beginning of the Iron Age might have thought. As the basis for these thoughts are archaeological traces of deposits, meals, tombs, hearths, etc. I thought it would be more honest to invent such a speaker and her reflections instead of crediting an attested person without evidence that can be firmly ascribed to them.

How do Judaism and Christianity figure in your book?
I tell the story of nearly a millennium, from the 8th and 7th centuries BCE to the middle of the fourth century CE. From the Roman point of view, Jews show up in the second half of that period only, people calling themselves “Christians” even later, and Muslims are beyond the horizon. Apart from occasional troubleshooting in Judaea or Alexandria, it was only at the very end of antiquity that Jews and in particular Christians are important on a large scale. Before that they were simply a small minority. I tried to balance this. In terms of pages they are overrepresented. In terms of their significance they are massively underrepresented.

What is your favorite god from this large ancient pantheon?
I write about ancient religion, I don’t participate in it! But this was fascinating: ancient polytheism is not about large number of gods or a clear division of labor. It was about empowering (nearly) everybody to arrange and sometimes create their own divine helpers and addressees. If I pray at the end of an interview to Mercury with his quick tongue, to violent Mars and to Silvanus, lord of the endless woods, the interviewer should be careful…

PantheonJörg Rüpke is vice-director and permanent fellow in religious studies at the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Sociological Studies at the University of Erfurt, Germany, and has been a visiting professor at the Collège de France, Princeton University, and the University of Chicago. His many books include On Roman Religion and From Jupiter to Christ.

Announcing the 2018 Bookselling Without Borders International Book Fair Scholarship for US Booksellers

NEW YORK, New York (January 16, 2018) — A partnership of seven independent publishers (Catapult, Europa Editions, Graywolf, The New Press, Other Press, Princeton University Press, Rutgers University Press) announces the 2018 Bookselling Without Borders international book fair scholarship for US booksellers.

This unique program, now in its third year, will send booksellers on all-expenses-paid trips to the world’s premier book fairs, including the Turin Book Fair, the Frankfurt Book Fair, and the Guadalajara International Book Fair.

Fairs like these have long been important gatherings of the book industry. In order to connect American booksellers to global book conversations and to integrate them into the international book community, participating booksellers will be treated to customized itineraries at select fairs: specially developed panels, meetings, seminars, and receptions with their international counterparts, authors, and publishers.

“If the idea was to make me think more expansively about the role that books from other places should play in my life as a bookseller, the scholarship was spectacularly successful.”—David Sandberg, owner of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA and 2017 scholarship recipient.

In addition to its seven partner publishers, Bookselling Without Borders is generously supported by Ingram Content Group, as well as by over 250 individual donors who contributed more than $30,000 through a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2017.

Booksellers interested in diverse and international literature, in fostering relationships with the international bookselling community, and in traveling to some of the world’s great literary cities are encouraged to apply by visiting booksellingwithoutborders.com during the application period, January 17 through February 28.

Scholarship recipients will be announced in March 2018.

For further information contact: Steve Kroeter; Program coordinator; Bookselling Without Borders; swk@design101.com; 718-636-1345

Bryan Caplan on The Case against Education

CaplanDespite being immensely popular—and immensely lucrative—education is grossly overrated. In this explosive book, Bryan Caplan argues that the primary function of education is not to enhance students’ skill but to certify their intelligence, work ethic, and conformity—in other words, to signal the qualities of a good employee. Learn why students hunt for easy As and casually forget most of what they learn after the final exam, why decades of growing access to education have not resulted in better jobs for the average worker but instead in runaway credential inflation, how employers reward workers for costly schooling they rarely if ever use, and why cutting education spending is the best remedy. Romantic notions about education being “good for the soul” must yield to careful research and common sense—The Case against Education points the way.

The “signaling model of education” is the foundation of your argument. What is this model?

The standard view of education, often called the “human capital model,” says that education raises income by training students for their future jobs. The signaling model, in contrast, says that education raises income by certifying students for their future jobs. Doing well in school is a great way to convince employers that you’re smart, hard-working, and conformist. Once they’re convinced, career rewards naturally follow.

Could you give an analogy?

Sure. There are two ways to raise the value of a diamond. One is to hand it to an expert gem smith so he can beautifully cut the stone. The other is to hand it to a reputable appraiser with a high-powered eyepiece so he can certify the pre-existing excellence of the stone. The first story is like human capital; the second story is like signaling.

Is it really either/or?

Of course not. The human capital and signaling models both explain part of education’s career benefits. But I say signaling is at least half the story—and probably more.

And why should we care about signaling?

Key point: In the human capital model, students go to school and learn how to produce the extra income they’ll ultimately earn. They get more of the pie because they make the pie bigger. In the signaling model, in contrast, school raises students’ income without raising their productivity. They get more of the pie without making the pie bigger. How is that possible?  Because in the signaling model, education is redistributive; it’s a way to grab more for yourself at the expense of the rest of society.

Selfishly speaking, of course, is doesn’t really matter why education pays. But from a social point of view—a public policy point of view—it makes all the difference in the world. If the signaling model is right, education enriches the individual student, but actually impoverishes society. Using education in order to spread prosperity is like telling the audience at a concert to stand up in order to see better. What works for the individual fails for the group.

But isn’t assessing workers’ quality socially valuable?

To some extent. But once workers have been ranked, giving everyone extra years of education is socially wasteful. Furthermore, since the status quo is supported by hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies, we’re probably underusing alternative certification methods like apprenticeships, testing, boot camps, and so on.

In 2001, Michael Spence won a Nobel Prize for his work on educational signaling. Can the idea really be so neglected?  What is your value-added here?

Signaling enjoys high status in pure economic theory. But most empirical labor and education economists are dismissive. Either they ignore signaling, cursorily acknowledge it in a throw-away footnote, or hastily conclude it’s quantitatively trivial. My book argues that there’s overwhelming evidence that signaling is a mighty force in the real world. There’s strong evidence inside of economics—and even stronger evidence in educational psychology, sociology of education, and education research. And finally, signaling has abundant support from common sense.

You say that both common sense and academic research support signaling. What are the top common sense arguments?

First and foremost, there’s the chasm between what students study in school and what they actually use on the job. How many U.S. jobs actually tap workers’ knowledge of history, social science, literature, poetry, or foreign language?

Signaling also explains why students are far more concerned about grades than actual learning. They want “easy A’s”—not professors who teach lots of job skills. Signaling explains why cheating pays—a successful cheater profits by impersonating a good student. And signaling explains why students readily forget course material the day after the final exam. Once you’ve got the good signal on your transcript, you can usually safely forget whatever you learned.

And what are the top research arguments?

First, there’s the diploma or “sheepskin” effect. Fact: Graduation years are vastly more lucrative than intermediate years. This is hard for human capital to explain: Do schools wait until senior year to finally start teaching useful job skills?  But it flows naturally out of conformity signaling. If your society says you should complete a four-year degree, anyone who only does 3.9 years looks weird, and hence bad. It’s just like going shirtless to a job interview: Either you don’t understand the social convention, you don’t care about it, or you’re actively defying it.

Second, there’s credential inflation. Fact: Over the last century, employers have dramatically increased the amount of education you need to get any given job. In the modern U.S. economy, many waiters and bartenders have college degrees. This would have been almost unheard of seventy years ago. This is hard for human capital theory to explain. Why would employers pay extra for workers with superfluous credentials?  But it’s simple for signaling to explain: When overall education rises, you need more education to distinguish yourself—to convince employers you’re worth hiring and training.

Third, there’s the employer learning/statistical discrimination literature. That’s rather wonkish, so anyone curious should just read the discussion in my book.

Finally, there’s the contrast between personal and national payoffs for education. Fact: Researchers have never found a country where education fails to noticeably raise individuals’ income. But there’s a messy debate about the effect of education on nations’ income. Plenty of researchers find that raising a country’s national average education level has little or no economic benefit for the country as a whole—precisely as signaling predicts. While others find modest national payoffs, the average estimate of the social return for education is far below the average estimate of the selfish return.

Wait, what’s the difference between “selfish” and “social” returns?

The selfish return evaluates educational investment from the point of view of the individual student. The social return evaluates educational investment from the point of view of the whole society (including all benefits the individual student enjoys, of course). A standard example: If taxpayers provide free tuition, your selfish return will generally exceed the social return, because you invest only your time, while society invests your time plus taxpayers’ money. The primary wedge between selfish and social returns for me, however, is signaling: If education boosts your salary more than your productivity, the selfish return exceeds the social.

Suppose you’re right. How should the education system be reformed?

Above all, we need far less education. And the cleanest way to get far less education is to sharply cut government education spending. Won’t this make education less accessible? Absolutely. But if I’m right, employers will no longer expect you to have the education you can no longer afford. In other words, spending cuts will cause credential deflation. You’ll once again be able to get low- and middle-skill jobs with a high school degree—or less.

We also need more vocational education, especially for early teens. Most researchers detect solid selfish payoffs. And if you take signaling seriously, the social advantages of teaching plumbing instead of poetry should be very large indeed.

If you’re right about signaling, should students drop out of school?

No. The whole point of the signaling model is that school is selfishly rewarding but socially wasteful. Although I also argue that even in the current regime, weaker students’ odds of academic success are so slim they’d be better off just getting a job (and job experience) straight out of high school.

Aren’t you being too much of an economist?  Isn’t the real point of education to spread enlightenment and sustain civilization?

For an economist, I have broad interests. Ideas and culture are my life. But if you look at the data, there’s little sign that education causes much enlightenment or civic understanding. Even at top schools, most students are intellectually and culturally apathetic, and most professors are uninspiring.

Given today’s political climate, who do you think will be most receptive to your message?  The most hostile?

Support for education is bipartisan. Most people, regardless of party, favor more and better education. It’s no accident that both Bushes wanted to be known as “education presidents.” That said, I think my biggest supporters will be pragmatists and fiscal hawks. And my biggest opponents will be ideological fans of education and fiscal doves. Most progressives will probably dislike my book, but they really shouldn’t. If you care about social justice, you should be looking for reforms that help people get good jobs without fancy degrees.

You’re a full professor at George Mason and a Princeton Ph.D. How can you of all people possibly challenge the social value of education?

I see myself as a whistleblower. Personally, I’ve got nothing to complain about; the education system has given me a dream job for life. However, when I look around, I see a huge waste of students’ time and taxpayers’ money. If I don’t let them know their time and money’s being misspent, who will? And if I wasn’t a professor, who would take me seriously?

Bryan Caplan is professor of economics at George Mason University and a blogger at EconLog. He is the author of The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. He lives in Oakton, Virginia.

Tim Rogan: What’s Wrong with the Critique of Capitalism Now

RoganWhat’s wrong with capitalism? Answers to that question today focus on material inequality. Led by economists and conducted in utilitarian terms, the critique of capitalism in the twenty-first century is primarily concerned with disparities in income and wealth. It was not always so. In The Moral Economists, Tim Rogan reconstructs another critical tradition, developed across the twentieth century in Britain, in which material deprivation was less important than moral or spiritual desolation. Examining the moral cornerstones of a twentieth-century critique of capitalism, The Moral Economists explains why this critique fell into disuse, and how it might be reformulated for the twenty-first century. Read on to learn more about these moral economists and their critiques of capitalism.

You begin by asking, ‘What’s wrong with capitalism?’ Shouldn’t we start by acknowledging capitalism’s great benefits?

Yes, absolutely. This was a plan for the reform of capitalism, not a prayer for its collapse or a pitch for its overthrow. These moral economists sought in some sense to save capitalism from certain of its enthusiasts—that has always been the project of the socialist tradition out of which these writers emerged. But our question about capitalism—as about every aspect of our social system, every means by which we reconcile individual preferences to arrive at collective decisions—should always be ‘What’s wrong with this?;’ ‘How can we improve this?;’ ‘What could we do better?’ And precisely how we ask those questions, the terms in which we conduct those debates, matters. My argument in this book is that our way of asking the question ‘What’s wrong with capitalism?’ has become too narrow, too focused on material inequality, insufficiently interested in some of the deeper problems of liberty and solidarity which the statistics recording disparities of wealth and income conceal.

Was this critique of capitalism also a critique of economics, and if so what do these critics add to the usual complaints against economics—about unrealistic assumptions, otherworldly models, indifference to historical developments such as financial crises, etc?

Yes, the moral economists were critical of economics. But although their criticisms might sound like variations on the familiar charge that economists make unreal assumptions about the capacities and proclivities of individual human beings, the moral economists’ challenge to mainstream economics was different. The most influential innovators in economics since the Second World War have been behavioral scientists pointing out that our capacity to make utilitarian calculations is not as high as economists once took it to be. Part of what the success of this series of innovations is that the ideal of reducing every decision to a calculation of utility retains its allure, even as we come to realize how fallible our real-time calculations are. Behavioral economists have found our capacity to think like rational utilitarian agents wanting. But when did the capacity to think like a rational utilitarian agent become the measure of our humanity? This is the question moral economists have been asking since the 1920s. Initiated by historians determined to open up means of thinking outside economic orthodoxy, since joined by mathematically-trained economists concerned to get a more realistic handle on the relationship between individual values and social choice, the moral economists’ enterprise promises a far more profound reconstitution of political economy than behavioral economics has ever contemplated.

Doesn’t the profile of these writers—dead, male, English, or Anglophile, writing about a variety of capitalism long since superseded—limit their contemporary relevance?

No. Their main concern was to discover and render articulate forms of social solidarity which the dominant economic discourse concealed. They found these on the outskirts of ‘Red Vienna’, on railroads under construction in post-war Yugoslavia, but most of all in the north of England. They believed that these inarticulate solidarities were what really held the country together—the secret ingredients of the English constitution. Though they belonged to a tradition of social thought in Britain that was skeptical towards Empire and supportive of the push for self-determination in India and elsewhere, they raised the prospect that the same dynamics had developed in countries to which British institutions had been exported—explaining the relative cohesion of Indian and Ghanaian democracies, for instance. More broadly E. P. Thompson in particular argued that factoring these incipient solidarities into constitutional thinking generated a more nuanced understanding of the rule of law than nineteenth-century liberalism entailed: in Thompson’s hand the rule of law became a more tensile creed, more capable of accommodating the personal particularities of the law’s subjects, more adept at mitigating the rigors of rational system to effect justice in specific cases. The profiles of the late-twentieth century commentators who continue the critical tradition Tawney, Polanyi and Thompson developed—especially Amartya Sen—underscore that tradition’s wider relevance.

Aren’t these writers simply nostalgists wishing we could return to a simpler way of life?

No. Tawney especially is often seen as remembering a time of social cohesion before the Reformation and before the advent of international trade and wishing for its return. This perception misunderstands his purpose.

Religion and the Rise of Capitalism draws sharp contrasts between two distinct iterations of European society – the late medieval and the modern. But this was a means of dramatizing a disparity between different societies developing in contemporary England—the society he encountered working at Toynbee Hall in London’s East End, where social atomization left people demoralized beyond relief, on the one hand; the society he encountered when he moved to Manchester to teach in provincial towns in Lancashire and Staffordshire, where life under capitalism was different, where the displacement of older solidarities was offset by the generation of new forms of cohesion, where many people were poor but where the social fabric was still intact.

The demoralized East End was the product of laissez faire capitalism—of the attempt to organize society on the basis that each individual was self-sufficient, profit-minded, unaffected by other human sentiments. The political crisis into which Britain was pitched in the late Edwardian period underlined how untenable this settlement was: without a sense of what more than the appetite for wealth motivated people, there could be no ‘background of mutual understanding’ against which to resolve disputes. At the same time the answer was not simply stronger government, a bigger state. The latent solidarities Tawney discovered in the north of England carried new possibilities: the facility of market exchange and the security of an effective state could be supplemented by informal solidarities making everyday life more human than the impersonal mechanisms of market and government allowed.

Polanyi and Thompson brought their historical settings forward into the nineteenth century, making their writings feel more contemporary. But they were both engaged in much the same exercise as Tawney—using history to dramatize disparities between different possibilities developing within contemporary society. They too had come into contact with forms of solidarity indicating that there was more than calculations of utility and the logic of state power at work in fostering social order.  Polanyi and then especially Thompson advanced their common project significantly when he found a new terminology with which to describe these incipient solidarities. Tawney had talked of ‘tradition’ and ‘convention’ and ‘custom,’ and Polanyi had followed Tawney in this—refusing to associate himself with Ferdinand Tonnies concept of Gemeinschaft and Henry Maine’s system of ‘status’ when pressed to, but offering no cogent concept through which to reckon with these forms of solidarity himself. Thompson’s concept of the ‘moral economy’ made the kinds of solidarities upon which they had all focused more compelling.

Does subscribing to a moral critique of capitalism mean buying into one of the prescriptive belief systems out of which that critique materialized? Do you need to believe in God or Karl Marx in order to advance a moral critique of capitalism without embarrassment?

No. Part of the reason that this critique of capitalism went out of commission was because the belief systems which underpinned it—which, more specifically, provided the conceptions of what a person is which falsified reductive concepts of ‘economic man’—went into decline. Neither Tawney nor Thompson was able to adapt to the attenuation of Christian belief and Marxian conviction respectively from which their iterations of the critique had drawn strength. Polanyi’s case was different: he was able to move beyond both God and Marx, envisaging a basis upon which a moral critique of capitalism could be sustained without relying on either belief system. That basis was furnished by the writings of Adam Smith, which adumbrated an account of political economy which never doubted but that economic transactions are embedded in moral worlds.

This was a very different understanding of Adam Smith’s significance to that with which most people to whom that name means something now have been inculcated. But it is an account of Adam Smith’s significance which grows increasingly recognizable to us now—thanks to the work of Donald Winch, Emma Rothschild and Istvan Hont, among others, facilitated by the end of Cold War hostilities and the renewal of interest in alternatives to state- or market-based principles of social order.

In other words there are ways of re-integrating economics into the wider moral matrices of human society without reverting to a Christian or Marxian belief system. There is nothing extreme or zealous about insisting that the moral significance of economic transactions be recognized. What was zealous and extreme was the determination to divorce economics from broader moral considerations. This moral critique of capitalism represented a recognition that the time for such extremity and zeal had passed. As the critique fell into disuse in the 1970s and 1980s, some of that zeal returned, and the last two decades now look to have been a period of especially pronounced ‘economism.’ The relevance of these writings now, then, is that they help us to put the last two decades and the last two centuries in perspective, revealing just how risky the experiment has been, urging us to settle back in now to a more sustainable pattern of economic thought.

You find that this moral critique of capitalism fell into disuse in the 1970s and 1980s. Bernie Sanders declared in April 2016 that instituting a ‘truly moral economy’ is ‘no longer beyond us.’ Was he right?

Yes and no. Sanders’ made this declaration at the Vatican, contemplating the great papal encyclicals of Rerum Novarum and Centesimus Annus. The discrepancies between what Sanders said and what Popes Leo XIII and Pope John Paul II before him said about capitalism is instructive. The encyclicals have always focussed on the ignominy of approaching a person as a bundle of economic appetites, on the apostasy of abstracting everything else that makes us human out of our economic thinking. Sanders sought to accede to that tradition of social thought—a tradition long since expanded to encompass perspectives at variance with Catholic theology, to include accounts of what a person is which originate outside the Christian tradition. But Sanders’s speech issued no challenge to the reduction of persons to economic actors. In designating material inequality the ‘great issue of our time,’ Sanders reinforced that reductive tendency: the implication is that all we care about is the satisfaction of our material needs, as if redistribution alone would solve all our problems.

The suggestion in Sanders speech was that his specific stance in the utilitarian debate over how best to organise the economy has now taken on moral force. There is an ‘individualist’ position which favors free enterprise and tolerates inequality as incidental to the enlargement of aggregate utility, and there is a ‘collectivist’ stance which enlists the state to limit freedom to ensure that inequality does not grow too wide, seeing inequality as inimical to the maximizing of aggregate utility. The ‘collectivists’ are claiming the moral high ground. But all they are really proposing is a different means to the agreed end of maximizing overall prosperity. The basis for their ‘moral’ claims seems to be that they have more people on their side—a development which would make Nietzsche smile, and should give all of us pause. There are similar overtones to the rallying of progressive forces around Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.

The kind of ‘moral economy’ Sanders had in mind—a big government geared towards maximizing utility—is not what these moral economists would have regarded as a ‘truly moral economy’. The kinds of checks upon economic license they had in mind were more spontaneous and informal—emanating out of everyday interactions, materializing as strictures against certain kinds of commercial practice in common law, inarticulate notions of what is done and what is not done, general conceptions of fairness, broad-based vigilance against excess of power. This kind of moral economy has never been beyond us. The solidarities out of which it arises were never eradicated, and are constantly regenerating.

Tim Rogan is a fellow of St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge, where he teaches history. He is the author of The Moral Economists: R. H. Tawney, Karl Polanyi, E. P. Thompson, and the Critique of Capitalism.

Jerry Z. Muller on The Tyranny of Metrics

Today, organizations of all kinds are ruled by the belief that the path to success is quantifying human performance, publicizing the results, and dividing up the rewards based on the numbers. But in our zeal to instill the evaluation process with scientific rigor, we’ve gone from measuring performance to fixating on measuring itself. The result is a tyranny of metrics that threatens the quality of our lives and most important institutions. In this timely and powerful book, Jerry Muller uncovers the damage our obsession with metrics is causing—and shows how we can begin to fix the problem. Complete with a checklist of when and how to use metrics, The Tyranny of Metrics is an essential corrective to a rarely questioned trend that increasingly affects us all.

What’s the main idea?

We increasingly live in a culture of metric fixation: the belief in so many organizations that scientific management means replacing judgment based upon experience and talent with standardized measures of performance, and then rewarding or punishing individuals and organizations based upon those measures. The buzzwords of metric fixation are all around us: “metrics,” “accountability,” “assessment,” and “transparency.” Though often characterized as “best practice,” metric fixation is in fact often counterproductive, with costs to individual satisfaction with work, organizational effectiveness, and economic growth.

The Tyranny of Metrics treats metric fixation as the organizational equivalent of The Emperor’s New Clothes. It helps explain why metric fixation has become so popular, why it is so often counterproductive, and why some people have an interest in pushing it. It is a book that analyzes and critiques a dominant fashion in contemporary organizational culture, with an eye to making life in organizations more satisfying and productive.

Can you give a few examples of the “tyranny of metrics?”

Sure. In medicine, you have the phenomenon of “surgical report cards” that purport to show the success rates of surgeons who perform a particular procedure, such as cardiac operations. The scores are publicly reported. In an effort to raise their scores, surgeons were found to avoid operating on patients whose complicated circumstances made a successful operation less likely. So, the surgeons raised their scores. But some cardiac patients who might have benefited from an operation failed to get one—and died as a result. That’s what we call “creaming”—only dealing with cases most likely to be successful.

Then there is the phenomenon of goal diversion. A great deal of K-12 education has been distorted by the emphasis that teachers are forced to place on preparing students for standardized tests of English and math, where the results of the tests influence teacher retention or school closings. Teachers are instructed to focus class time on the elements of the subject that are tested (such as reading short prose passages), while ignoring those elements that are not (such as novels). Subjects that are not tested—including civics, art, and history—receive little attention.

Or, to take an example from the world of business. In 2011 the Wells Fargo bank set high quotas for its employees to sign up customers who were interested in one of its products (say, a deposit account) for additional services, such as overdraft coverage or credit cards. For the bank’s employees, failure to reach the quota meant working additional hours without pay and the threat of termination. The result: to reach their quotas, thousands of bankers resorted to low-level fraud, with disastrous effects for the bank. It was forced to pay a fortune in fines, and its stock price dropped.

Why is the book called The Tyranny of Metrics?

Because it helps explain and articulate the sense of frustration and oppression that people in a wide range of organizations feel at the diversion of their time and energy to performance measurement that is wasteful and counterproductive.

What sort of organizations does the book deal with?

There are chapters devoted to colleges and universities, K-12 education, medicine and health care, business and finance, non-profits and philanthropic organizations, policing, and the military. The goal is not to be definitive about any of these realms, but to explore instances in which metrics of measured performance have been functional or dysfunctional, and then to draw useful generalizations about the use and misuse of metrics.

What sort of a book is it? Does it belong to any particular discipline or political ideology?

It’s a work of synthesis, drawing on a wide range of studies and analyses from psychology, sociology, economics, political science, philosophy, organizational behavior, history, and other fields. But it’s written in jargon-free prose, that doesn’t require prior knowledge of any of these fields. Princeton University Press has it classified under “Business,” “Public Policy,” and “Current Affairs.” That’s accurate enough, but it only begins to suggest the ubiquity of the cultural pattern that the book depicts, analyzes, and critiques. The book makes use of conservative, liberal, Marxist, and anarchist authors—some of whom have surprising areas of analytic convergence.

What’s the geographic scope of the book?

In the first instance, the United States. There is also a lot of attention to Great Britain, which in many respects was at the leading edge of metric fixation in the government’s treatment of higher education (from the “Teaching Quality Assessment” through the “Research Excellence Framework”), health care (the NHS) and policing, under the rubric of “New Public Management.” From the US and Great Britain, metric fixation—often carried by consultants touting “best practice”—has spread to Continental Europe, the Anglosphere, Asia, and especially China (where the quest for measured performance and university rankings is having a particularly pernicious effect on science and higher education).

Is the book simply a manifesto against performance measurement?

By no means. Drawing on a wide range of case studies from education to medicine to the military, the book shows how measured performance can be developed and used in positive ways.

Who do you hope will read the book?

Everyone who works in an organization, manages an organization, or supervises an organization, whether in the for-profit, non-profit, or government sector. Or anyone who wants to understand this dominant organizational culture and its intrinsic weaknesses.

Jerry Z. Muller is the author of many books, including Adam Smith in His Time and Ours and Capitalism and the Jews. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Times Literary Supplement, and Foreign Affairs, among other publications. He is professor of history at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Check out our Spring 2018 preview

We’re thrilled to present a preview of our Spring 2018 books. From The Tyranny of Metrics to Van Gogh and the Seasons, we’re looking forward to bringing forth a range of titles across disciplines in the coming months. Check out the video below or our seasonal catalog to find your next read!