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The Trouble with Government
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Table of Contents

Introduction PART I: Is Anything Wrong? 1. Is America on the Wrong Track? 2. The Role of Government PART II: Looking for Reasons 3. The Usual Suspects 4. What Do We Need to Explain? 5. Why Legislation Is Often Badly Designed 6. Why Regulation Makes So Many People Angry 7. Why Working People and the Poor Do Badly PART III: Remedies 8. Bringing Government Closer to the People 9. Reforming Bureaucracy 10. Campaign Finance Reform 11. Toward More Coherent Legislation 12. Improving Regulation 13. Engaging Citizens of Modest Means PART IV: The Role of the People 14. How Much Influence Do Citizens Have? 15. How Capable Are Americans of Self-Government? 16. The Ambitions and Realities of Civic Participation 17. Building Citizenship Notes Index

About the Author

Derek C. Bok is President Emeritus and Three Hundredth Anniversary University Professor, Harvard University.

Reviews

The one American institution as notoriously difficult to manage as our federal government might be Harvard University, which gives Harvard's president emeritus standing to analyze why the government does not govern better than it does. In his previous book, The State of the Nation, Bok compared the United States with other industrialized democracies in areas such as the economy, environment, and education and found a mixed picture of success and want. Here he looks at why our laws and regulations are often badly designed and executed, why other nations surpass us in creating opportunities and safeguards for low-income citizens, and how we might improve. Examining hundreds of remedies, he concludes that policy is less the culprit than "causes deeply rooted in our institutions, our political system, and even our culture," with public apathy more than public officials largely at blame. The ambition and scope of this book are its strength as well as weakness. Readers will hardly find its match as an accessible and fair summary of current policy and institutional questions. Yet when Bok is done weighing one proposal against another, against yet another, only the resolute will still be with him. Even so, this is a book for nearly every library. Robert F. Nardini, Chichester, NH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

The former president of Harvard, Bok corroborates the perception of government failure...Surprisingly, [he] exculpates the usual villains. Special-interest groups and the sensationalist media deserve far less blame for our political malaise, he asserts, than does a system that frames regulations as rules of legal combat, not protocols for cooperation, and that denies the underclass a meaningful place in public debates...In his broader critique, he challenges a self-indulgent electorate to renew the civic virtues essential to wise governance...In his agenda for national renewal, he challenges us all to enlarge the possibilities for a vibrant democracy. -- Bryce Christensen Booklist 20010201 Bok's reasoning is generally persuasive, impressively informed and deft at unearthing root causes behind supposed sources of distress. He's especially convincing in tracing regulatory dysfunction to our adversarial, individualistic culture, fragmented government and lack of broadly inclusive organizations representing business, labor and other relevant interest groups...An illuminating, vitally important quest. Publishers Weekly 20010129 Here, [Bok] looks at why our laws and regulations are often badly designed and executed, why other nations surpass us in creating opportunities and safeguards for low-income citizens, and how we might improve. Examining hundreds of remedies, he concludes that policy is less the culprit than...public apathy...Readers will hardly find [this book's] match as an accessible and fair summary of current policy and institutional questions...This is a book for nearly every library. Library Journal 20010215 Distrust of government is nothing new, [Bok] allows; it was a common trope in the days of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. What is different, he suggests, is that today, for the first time in history, American citizens demand services--police protection, health care, subsidies of various kinds--from a government in which they have no faith, a situation that is a cynic's delight. The author argues that, in many respects, government is better than it has ever been in delivering such services, and that...the basis of [Americans'] complaining is often groundless and reactionary. American politicians have harmed themselves and their constituents by giving that culture of complaint too much heed, Bok suggests, and have given far too much credence to the opinion of a public that has taken no trouble to do any homework. Kirkus Reviews 20001215 Surely, no book could be more timely than The Trouble with Government by former Harvard University President Derek Bok, who laments the laws of the United States tend to be 'a clumsy patchwork of compromises rather than well-crafted documents to achieve intended results'...Bok has written a carefully nuanced survey of the American system of government that contains...some worthwhile recommendations. -- Mike Leary Baltimore Sun 20010225 The Trouble with Government sets out to explore the reasons for [the government's] shortcomings and what can be done to overcome them. In doing so, Bok demonstrates how a number of the most popular complaints and proposed solutions are off the mark...He's particularly astute regarding pitfalls of understandably popular measures which are intended to put power more directly into the hands of the people, but frequently backfire, as when term limits put more power in the hands of lobbyists and bureaucrats...Bok brings a great deal of much-needed clarity and balance to the central subject of overall government performance. -- Paul Rosenberg Commercial Appeal 20010318 A primer that ought to be read by voters as well as by the President and members of Congress. This well-documented book...touches upon many of the issues raised in the last national election, including health care, social services, and campaign financing. Bok finds four basic weaknesses in government that call for reform...The remedies he proposes involve greater citizen participation in politics all year-round, especially engaging people of modest means. -- Herbert Mitgang Chicago Tribune 20010401 In The State of the Nation (1997), Bok compared the institutional performance of the United States with that of other advanced democracies; in The Trouble with Government, he examines Americans' attitudes toward their institutions...As an alternative to the conventional wisdom, Bok proposes a new emphasis on what he considers to be the...fundamental problems of the American political order...Derek Bok has performed a public service by discrediting a number of popular but misconceived political panaceas based on false diagnoses of what ails the American body politic. -- Michael Lind New York Times Book Review 20010401 As Derek Bok argues in this sweeping and provocative new book...the most significant problem facing America's vaunted system of self-government is not weak-kneed politicians, shallow reporters or even greedy special interests. It is We, the people. Based on wide-ranging comparisons with six other industrialized nations, Bok concludes that the United Nations--despite unrivaled wealth--has fallen dead last in a variety of important categories over the past four decades. -- John Hassell Newark Star-Ledger 20010318 Derek Bok's supremely rational book will not satisfy the anti-government brigades, nor will it come as much consolation to the defenders of those who make and implement national policy. Instead, his clarion call for Americans to become better, more engaged citizens, only after which will they get the government they reasonably deserve and expect. -- Jurek Martin Barron's 20010305 One of the clearest, most forceful statements yet about the state of our government. High marks go to the economy and higher (not lower) education; failing grades are dispensed to health care, protecting the environment, and poverty. Why has government failed in these and other critical areas? Because the American people no longer care. Read the rest of this stimulating yet disturbing book and hope that others do, too. -- Lee Milazzo Dallas Morning News 20010422 The Trouble with Government by Derek Bok demonstrates...that the findings of social scientists can be made to serve an important public purpose. Bok draws persuasively on reams of social science studies to make sense of one Big Question: What is wrong with the US Government and how can it be improved? Bok, the President Emeritus of Harvard University, has produced a magisterial tome that will inform and educate political scientists and concerned citizens alike. The book is clearly written, balanced and concise, despite its 400 pages. -- Daniel A. Bell Times Literary Supplement 20020215

In The State of the Nation, published in 1996, Harvard President Emeritus Bok compared America's progress in 17 different fields over the past 40 years to the progress of six other advanced industrial democracies. This companion volume seeks to explain and propose remedies for government failings that affect the wide range of areas in which America lags. Bok first considers and largely rejects common diagnoses of what ails American governmentÄpoliticians and parties, the media and special interestsÄthen proposes his own theory of the four basic weaknesses that afflict this country: poorly designed legislation, burdensome regulation, the neglect of working-class interests and failed antipoverty policies. Three chapters examine and perceptively criticize widely proposed antidotes, before considering solutions specifically targeting the four basic weaknesses. Despite the short shrift given some arguments, Bok's reasoning is generally persuasive, impressively informed and deft at unearthing root causes behind supposed sources of distress. He's especially convincing in tracing regulatory dysfunction to our adversarial, individualistic culture, fragmented government and lack of broadly inclusive organizations representing business, labor and other relevant interest groups. But while the relative successes of certain social democracies justifies his inquiry, Bok shuns any systematic examination of those nations' achievements or of how they might be adapted. He runs out of steam pondering remedies with an individualist focus that seem more symptom than cureÄa disappointing conclusion to an illuminating, vitally important quest. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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