From Publishers Weekly
Bazerman (a Harvard professor of business administration), Baron (a University of Pennsylvania professor of psychology) and Shonk (a Harvard research associate) have a promising idea for improving government. Drawing on "an approach that now dominates the curriculum of business schools," they declare, "Our core argument is that large gains can often only be achieved when citizens learn to accept small losses in return" as with vaccines, which save far more lives than they cost in fatal side effects. The authors devote separate chapters to each of six cognitive barriers they claim prevent us from making such wise trade-offs. Some are clearly related to their main theme "do no harm" describes the rationale opposing vaccination; but others notably "competition is always good" require more elaboration, which is generally lacking. Furthermore, they sometimes criticize behavior in one chapter and praise or simply overlook it in another indicating a schematized approach that ignores crucial sources of policy-making difficulty. One chapter touts free trade between countries while another decries cities' ruinous competitive spending on sports arenas, without acknowledging a similar dynamic when labor, consumer and environmental laws are construed as "trade barriers." The authors' cognitive focus obscures genuine objective dilemmas, while their psychologizing is often implausible. They say campaign finance reform has low priority as an ill-defined "process issue" that people can't grasp because like most business negotiators they don't think ahead. But most citizens grasp political corruption, which seems similarly to be a "process issue." Despite some obviously promising ideas, the relentless reductionism oversimplifies and psychologizes problems that have complex, historical, real-world roots.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
Max H. Bazerman is Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Jonathan Baron is Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Philadelphia.
A former editor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Katherine Shonk is a research associate at Harvard Business School and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.