From Publishers Weekly
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 government--politicians and parties, the media and special interests--then 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 cure--a disappointing conclusion to an illuminating, vitally important quest.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
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 Reed Business Information, Inc.