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Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better—a book by Professor Peter H. Schuck

America enjoys one of the world’s highest standards of living, and its representative democracy and political stability are widely admired symbols of western political values. At the same time, however, most Americans—Democrats as well as Republicans—have lost confidence in the federal government and believe its domestic policies tend to be ineffective, or worse. The systemic, recurring reasons for these policy failures—and proposals to improve the situation—are the subject of a new book by Peter Schuck, Simeon E. Baldwin Professor Emeritus of Law, Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better, published in April by Princeton University Press.

In identifying the roots of what he calls “a deep and dangerous dilemma,” Schuck argues that ineffective policies create public discontent and threaten to undermine democratic legitimacy. Schuck posits that the perceived failures in federal government are both measurable and structural—and transcend partisan bickering. The reasons for these failures include: political culture, unrealistic goals, officials’ perverse incentives, poor and distorted information, collective irrationality, inflexibility, inability to achieve credibility with other crucial actors, overlooked implementation obstacles, a mediocre and increasingly isolated bureaucracy, powerful and inescapable markets, mismanagement, and the inherent limits of law.

Some of these conditions are socially valuable and thus cannot and should not be abandoned—a fact that requires modest expectations about reform. But incremental improvements in many of them are possible. Schuck looks for guidance to the factors that made certain policies successful: the G.I. Bill, the Voting Rights Act, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Social Security, economic deregulation, and others. He proposes a series of reforms, including avoiding reducing moral hazard and other perverse incentives in loan, mortgage, and other programs; empowering consumers of important public services rather than subsidizing providers; testing programs for cost-effectiveness; controlled experiments with policy innovations; exploiting "big data;" revitalizing the federal bureaucracy; repealing ineffective programs; and many others.

A measured, non-partisan analysis and a call for workable reforms, Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better is driven by a sense of urgency and pragmatism. Liberals, conservatives, libertarians, Schuck writes—all have a strong stake in understanding why government policies fail so often, and what might be done to improve them. Our future as a robust, self-confident democracy depends on both this understanding and these remedies.