Why Government Fails So Often: Or, the Skeptics Are Winning

7-17 SchuckAccording to The New York Times‘s David Leonhardt, the United States federal government gets an honorable mention when it comes to reform, innovation, and protection – but it’s not quite enough. In a recent op-ed for “The Upshot,” the paper’s politics and policy blog, Leonhardt pays due diligence to the large-scale achievements of the United States: dismantling totalitarian governments, putting men on the moon, and the invention of the Internet among them. And yet, despite our big picture success stories, we continue to stumble in the day-to-day.

Leonhardt references Yale Law professor and Princeton University Press author Peter Schuck’s latest book, Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better in evaluating the current role of the federal government and the extent to which its activity is productive and beneficial, particularly when it comes to the siphoning of federal funds.


“When the federal government is good, it’s very, very good. When it’s bad (or at least deeply inefficient), it’s the norm.”


Soon, however, we might start to see some returns on our investments. The growing popularity of programs that are funded based on their initial success suggests a growing demand for tangible results, to see where our money is going and to ensure that we’re not wasting it.  These programs “span child care, job training and juvenile recidivism,” and are sometimes known as “pay for success,” wherein controlled trials are set up to determine the effect of such projects. And really, that’s the only way to know if something works. Professor Schuck is right to re-evaluate the cost-effectiveness of these initiatives, and with any luck, the government will start to fail just a little less.

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Peter H. Schuck is the author of:

7-17 Government Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better by Peter H. Schuck
Hardcover | 2014 | $27.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691161624
488 pp. | 6 x 9 | eBook | ISBN: 9781400850044 | Reviews  Table of Contents   Chapter 1[PDF]

PUP News of the World — June 13, 2014

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Each week we post a round-up of some of our most exciting national and international PUP book coverage. Reviews, interviews, events, articles–this is the spot for coverage of all things “PUP books” that took place in the last week. Enjoy!


A SOCIAL STRATEGY

Planning to hop on Uber to find a ride during your upcoming weekend trip? Was it a tweet from a coworker or a status update from an old college friend that put this ride request app on your radar? PUP author Misiek Piskorski appears on Bloomberg TV to examine the story behind how Uber came to flood your Facebook newsfeed. He also takes a closer look at the company’s $17 billion valuation. How do companies like Uber and Twitter make money? Piskorski lends his insight.

The segment mentions Piskorski’s new book, A Social Strategy, which was reviewed in the Financial Times. Maija Palmer says:

For companies that are struggling to measure social media, Piskorski offers a different way of looking at the problem, and his three tests – the social utility test, the social solution test and the business value test – provide a way to check if a project is working.

In the book, Piskorski examines what makes social media so different from traditional media, and he argues that answering that question is the key to making social media work for any business. In A Social Strategy, he provides the most convincing answer yet, one backed by original research, data, and case studies from companies such as Nike and American Express.

A Social Strategy was also reviewed on PopMatters and featured on Crowdly.

Take a break from drafting witty tweets about the upcoming weekend, and take a look at this interview with Piskorski on Yahoo! Finance. You can also view Chapter One of A Social Strategy.


THE EXTREME LIFE OF THE SEA

To celebrate World Oceans Day, the Guardian‘s GrrlScientist reviewed Stephen and Anthony Palumbi’s The Extreme Life of the Sea. The review says that “regardless of your level of knowledge, this quietly joyful and informative book has something of value for everyone.”

The Extreme Life of the Sea takes readers to the absolute limits of the ocean world–the fastest and deepest, the hottest and oldest creatures of the oceans. It dives into the icy Arctic and boiling hydrothermal vents–and exposes the eternal darkness of the deepest undersea trenches–to show how marine life thrives against the odds. This thrilling book brings to life the sea’s most extreme species, and tells their stories as characters in the drama of the oceans. Coauthored by Stephen Palumbi, one of today’s leading marine scientists, The Extreme Life of the Sea tells the unforgettable tales of some of the most marvelous life forms on Earth, and the challenges they overcome to survive. Modern science and a fluid narrative style give every reader a deep look at the lives of these species.

You can preview the book, which GrrlScientist calls “sweetly enthusiastic, enlightening and witty and, at times, inspired,” by viewing the prologue. Check out this fun video from author Stephen Palumbi — it will get you in gear to celebrate the ocean’s fastest creatures.


CHILD MIGRATION AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN A GLOBAL AGE

On Thursday, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo spoke about the Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram more than 60 days ago, and he said he believed that some of the girls “will never return.” Reuters reports on Obasanjo’s interview with the BBC, where he said he would consider it a “near-miracle” if all of the girls were returned to their families.

As PUP author Jacqueline Bhabha says in her recent Project Syndicate op-ed, it is nothing new that young Nigerian women are taken from their homes; each year, thousands of Nigerian girls are forced into prostitution:

Six of every ten people trafficked to the West are Nigerian, and at least 60% of trafficked sex workers in Italy and Belgium are Nigerian girls. Across Europe, North America, Russia, and the Middle East, these young women are visible to all who bother to look – and have been for decades.

Why is no one outraged? The inconsistency is rooted in the girls’ circumstances: the schoolgirls are innocent victims crying out for protection, while the child sex workers are illegal immigrants, slated for deportation as soon as they are caught.

View the entire op-ed, which is entitled “The Nigerian Schoolgirls Near You.”

Bhabha is no stranger to the research behind issues like this. A professor of the practice of health and human rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, director of research at Harvard’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, and the Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Lecturer at Harvard Law School, Bhabha argues that our societies have a deep-seated ambivalence to migrant children–one we need to address head-on. Her new book Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age offers a road map for doing just that, and makes a compelling and courageous case for an international ethics of children’s human rights. View the introduction here.


WHY GOVERNMENT FAILS SO OFTEN

Finally, we bring you a review from this week’s Wall Street Journal. Yuval Levin calls Peter Schuck’s Why Government Fails So Often “an essential manual for 21st-century policy makers.” In the 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.”

Michael Barone includes Schuck’s book in a recent column discussing the VA, and the book is included in a feature in the Miami Herald on the same subject.

Check out Chapter One of Why Government Fails So Often.

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PUP News of the World — June 6, 2014

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Each week we post a round-up of some of our most exciting national and international PUP book coverage. Reviews, interviews, events, articles–this is the spot for coverage of all things “PUP books” that took place in the last week. Enjoy!


THE COSMIC COCKTAIL

Shaken or stirred? When it comes to questions on all things dark matter, PUP author Katherine Freese’s new book is the perfect recipe. The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter is the inside story of the epic quest to solve one of the most compelling enigmas of modern science–what is the universe made of?–told by one of today’s foremost pioneers in the study of dark matter. Many cosmologists believe we are on the verge of solving the mystery. The Cosmic Cocktail provides the foundation needed to fully fathom this epochal moment in humankind’s quest to understand the universe.

The Washington Post reviewed The Cosmic Cocktail this week. Nancy Szokan writes:

Freese….tells a lively personal tale of her trajectory through the world of science….You end up thinking that being a physicist is certainly important and definitely difficult—but it could also be a lot of fun.

Freese’s book was also reviewed on the Space Review, and Nature ran a review, where Francis Halzen calls the book “clear and accessible” and “an excellent primer for the intrigued generalist, or for those who have spent too much time in particle-physics labs and want to catch up on what cosmologists are up to.”

Blending cutting-edge science with her own behind-the-scenes insights as a leading researcher in the field, acclaimed theoretical physicist Katherine Freese recounts the hunt for dark matter, from the discoveries of visionary scientists like Fritz Zwicky–the Swiss astronomer who coined the term “dark matter” in 1933–to the deluge of data today from underground laboratories, satellites in space, and the Large Hadron Collider. Read Chapter One of The Cosmic Cocktail here.

DELPHI

From outer space to ancient times, our next book takes us to the center of the ancient world. The oracle and sanctuary of the Greek god Apollo at Delphi were known as the “omphalos”–the “center” or “navel”–of the ancient world for more than 1000 years. Individuals, city leaders, and kings came from all over the Mediterranean and beyond to consult Delphi’s oracular priestess; to set up monuments to the gods in gold, ivory, bronze, marble, and stone; and to take part in athletic and musical competitions. Michael Scott’s Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World provides the first comprehensive narrative history of this extraordinary sanctuary and city, from its founding to its modern rediscovery, to show more clearly than ever before why Delphi was one of the most important places in the ancient world for so long.

The Guardian reviewed Delphi, and James Davidson writes:

The oracle is not the main concern of this fine, scholarly book. Although you can hardly write about Delphi without writing about the Pythia, Scott’s interest is much more in the site itself, the way it developed from a couple of buildings on a mountainside into the elaborate sanctuary of the classical period and beyond….Because Delphi was the focus of so much ancient attention, this rich but remote archaeological site gives us a keyhole view of the history of the ancient world as a whole, as cities are founded and proclaim their existence to the international community; as cities fall and find their monuments encroached on, buried or pecked at by prophetic crows; as dedications to commemorate victories over foreigners at Salamis give way to trophies of victories over other Greeks; as the Spartans inscribe their name on a gift of Croesus and hope no one will notice.

Delphi was also reviewed in the Ekathimerini, where Alex Clapp calls the book “an engaging tribute to a site that enjoined its visitors to know themselves – a demand that, in turn, requires us to know the Greeks.”

Check out the prologue of Delphi here.

WHY GOVERNMENT FAILS SO OFTEN

Why does government fail so often? With the VA scandal running front page, PUP author, lawyer, and political scientist Peter Schuck addresses the behind-the-scene issues in a recent Washington Post op-ed, entitled “The real problem with the VA? Congress.” He writes:

Another day, another scandal at the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs. The real scandal, however, is not just the cynical manipulation of waiting lists but also the agency’s routine failure to deliver benefits and services to those who desperately need them. This more systemic failure will become even clearer once the inspector general submits a final report to an irate White House and the Republicans and many Democrats pile on.

Read the full op-ed, and view Chapter One of Schuck’s new book, Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better.

In his book, 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.

Why Government Fails So Often was reviewed in the Shanghai Daily. The Federalist‘s William Voegeli also features the book in his recent column entitled “Buying People Stuff Doesn’t Mean You Care, VA Edition.”

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