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

Reviewed by Terry M. Moe

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Everyone can agree that American government has become dysfunctional in recent years as polarization has immobilized Congress. Peter H. Schuck, however, offers a far broader and more damning assessment. He argues that even during normal political times, the federal government’s policies have failed much more often than not, and its failures “include some of our largest, most durable, most visible, and most fiercely defended programs. Together, they account for a substantial share of total non-defense discretion­ary spending” (p. 371). His purpose in this book is to show, through the marshaling of a massive amount of evidence, that failure is in fact the norm—and to explain why the American system is so incapable of effective action.

Schuck is not the first to bring evidence to bear on federal failures. Others, including Derek Bok and Clifford Winston, have done admirable work on the topic. But Schuck makes a uniquely valuable contribution here because of the sheer weight, scope, and comprehensiveness of the evidence he presents. He covers an astoundingly diverse range of domestic policies—from taxes to immigration to energy to student loans to home mortgages to clean air and much, much more. This is a remarkable feat. His assessment of these pro­grams, moreover, is not only faithful to the voluminous, research-based evi­

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