Start reading Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better on the free Kindle Reading App or on your Kindle in under a minute. Don't have a Kindle? Get your Kindle here.

Deliver to your Kindle or other device

Add Audible Narration

Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better
Narrated by Allan Robertson
$28.33 $3.99
Enter a promotion code
or gift card

Try it free

Sample the beginning of this book for free

Deliver to your Kindle or other device

Sorry, this item is not available in
Image not available for
Image not available

To view this video download Flash Player


Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better [Kindle Edition]

Peter Schuck
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

Digital List Price: $27.95 What's this?
Print List Price: $27.95
Kindle Price: $9.78
You Save: $18.17 (65%)

Free Kindle Reading App Anybody can read Kindle books—even without a Kindle device—with the FREE Kindle app for smartphones, tablets and computers.

To get the free app, enter your email address or mobile phone number.

Audible Narration

Switch back and forth between reading the Kindle book and listening to the Audible narration with Whispersync for Voice. Add narration for a reduced price of $3.99 when you buy the Kindle book.


Amazon Price New from Used from
Kindle Edition $9.78  
Hardcover $21.38  
Audible Audio Edition, Unabridged $25.95 or Free with Audible 30-day free trial
Best Books of the Year
Best Books of 2014
Looking for something great to read? Browse our editors' picks for 2014's Best Books of the Year in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.

Book Description

From healthcare to workplace conduct, the federal government is taking on ever more responsibility for managing our lives. At the same time, Americans have never been more disaffected with Washington, seeing it as an intrusive, incompetent, wasteful giant. The most alarming consequence of ineffective policies, in addition to unrealized social goals, is the growing threat to the government’s democratic legitimacy. Understanding why government fails so often—and how it might become more effective—is an urgent responsibility of citizenship. In this book, lawyer and political scientist Peter Schuck provides a wide range of examples and an enormous body of evidence to explain why so many domestic policies go awry—and how to right the foundering ship of state.

Schuck argues that Washington’s failures are due not to episodic problems or partisan bickering, but rather to deep structural flaws that undermine every administration, Democratic and Republican. These recurrent weaknesses include unrealistic goals, perverse incentives, poor and distorted information, systemic irrationality, rigidity and lack of credibility, a mediocre bureaucracy, powerful and inescapable markets, and the inherent limits of law. To counteract each of these problems, Schuck proposes numerous achievable reforms, from avoiding moral hazard in student loan, mortgage, and other subsidy programs, to empowering consumers of public services, simplifying programs and testing them for cost-effectiveness, and increasing the use of “big data.” The book also examines successful policies—including the G.I. Bill, the Voting Rights Act, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and airline deregulation—to highlight the factors that made them work.

An urgent call for reform, Why Government Fails So Often is essential reading for anyone curious about why government is in such disrepute and how it can do better.

Editorial Reviews


"[A] sweeping history of policy disappointments."--David Leonhardt, New York Times

"In Why Government Fails So Often, Peter H. Schuck takes up this vital question in what amounts to a systematic survey of the limits of American public administration. It is a profound book, and a sobering one. . . . Peter H. Schuck has written an essential manual for 21st-century policy makers."--Yuval Levin, Wall Street Journal

"Schuck does a beautiful job of laying out all the problems with government intervention. . . . [T]here are many gems in this book."--David Henderson, Econlog

"Schuck makes a compelling case that many domestic programs, including those that have considerable public support among Republicans as well as Democrats, deliver benefits at costs that are much higher than necessary and contain damaging unintended consequences."--Glenn Altschuler, Boston Globe

"Anyone who wants clear insight into government's modern wayward momentum, and its toll on society, should hear Peter Schuck. . . . His recommendations for change are refreshing."--Colorado Springs Gazette

"This lively and authoritative account of government failure deserves to be read by advocates of all political persuasions. . . . This admirable work offers compelling evidence that government might do far better by doing far less."--Gene Epstein, Barron's

"Peter Schuck's new book Why Government Fails So Often provides a thoughtful if pessimistic analysis."--Laura Tyson, Project Syndicate

"Peter Schuck's Why Government Fails So Often is one of the most important books of the year and may be one of the most important books of the decade. Although I have seen this prolific author's name over the years, I had never read any of his work. My loss. Fortunately, I have read every page--including endnotes--of his latest book, and it is a tour de force."--David R. Henderson, Regulation

"[Why Government Fails So Often] is a timely book in light of the steep declines in the public's regards for government, a Congress that is increasingly hostile to federal programs, and a civil service whose morale keeps sinking lower with every survey. Schuck's analysis helps explain why the government is so reviled and thus helps us think about remedial steps and the kinds of policies that should be avoided in the future."--Timothy B. Clark, Government Executive

"Very highly recommended for academic and community library Political Science collections, Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better is an impressive work of meticulous scholarship that is so well written and presented that it is equally accessible for political science students and non-specialist general readers with an interest in understanding the mechanics, development, and implementation issues concerning governmental policies on the federal level."--Jack Mason, Midwest Book Review

From the Inside Flap

"For Peter Schuck, 'government failure' is neither a political creed nor a reactionary slogan. It is an empirical fact that demands explanation and response. His book shows that, at the federal level, policy failure is pervasive, nonpartisan, and firmly rooted in our political culture and inherent features of government organization. Schuck has some excellent suggestions for improvement, but his great contribution is in his analysis. Why Government Fails So Often defines the central problem of modern politics and illuminates it with a range and sophistication it has never received before."--Christopher DeMuth, Hudson Institute

"The botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act website reminded Americans of how badly the machinery of government can malfunction, even when the stakes are highest. Schuck leaves no stone unturned in this sophisticated and compelling account of why so often, in the realm of domestic policies, the government falters. This is the most systematic and comprehensive treatment of the subject I have ever read."--Pietro S. Nivola, Brookings Institution

"This masterful book offers a 'militantly moderate' argument about why federal domestic policies fail and what incremental steps might reduce, reverse, or prevent the worst failures. This book is a winner."--John J. DiIulio, University of Pennsylvania

"This is an extraordinarily interesting book that has the potential to be unusually influential. It avoids the pitfalls of ideological rigidity, covers an amazing array of government programs, relies on extensive empirical evidence, and provides rich analysis. The book's range and detail allow it to look at problems that are endemic to government policymaking."--R. Shep Melnick, Boston College

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important Book on a neglected topic April 25, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I recommend this book to anyone who believes that the level of government incompetence is totally unacceptable, but believes that government can be improved through a more rational scientific approach that brings the government into the 21st century. The amount of information, facts, analysis in this book is too detailed to be summarized in one review. One amusing section of this book on bureaucracy talks about layering government into endless supervisory positions. This results in job titles such as "deputy deputy assistant secretary,"associate deputy assistant secretary,"deputy associate deputy administrator" ,and "chief of staff to the associate deputy assistant secretary".

This is a book that would generally appeal to people who are moderate liberals, moderates or moderate conservatives. It is for people who are tired of ideology, while looking for practical solutions and are open to thinking outside the box. The author recognizes the limits to central planning by "experts" but recognizes that government plays an essential role in a modern complex society. Tea party conservatives who want to deeply slash government programs but usually don't know specifically what they want to cut are probably not going to like this book. Ultra-Liberal progressives who want to drastically increase taxes and throw money at problems by increasing spending by 2 trillion a year are also not going to like this book or be pleased by its findings. .
Was this review helpful to you?
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too many trees, not enough forest. August 3, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The author goes into great detail about reasons for governmental policy failure. I think too much detail. The author will start discussing structural problems that cause failure, but then goes into such detail that the original point becomes lost. In short, I think he is over analyzing the problems.

Nearly all of the reasons for failure that author discusses can be put into the following categories:

Central planning of large systems is very, very difficult, arguably impossible. There are too many things that are unknown, and there will always be unforeseen consequences.

Large bureaucracies nearly always evolve, rather quickly, into into a form that is more concerned about preserving and growing the bureaucracy than accomplishing the mission is was originally created to do.

And, perhaps the biggest structural flaw, and maybe the root cause – when you are using other people's money, it is all too easy, nearly inevitable, that achieving the original goal of the project will become subordinate to other considerations, such as political agendas or personal and organizational gain.

While I applaud the author's thought that reforms should be done cautiously and incrementally, and while he proposes some reforms, I don't think they really address the basic structural problems I have listed here.
Was this review helpful to you?
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Careful Study of a Difficult Topic June 18, 2014
This is one of the best books I've ever read about regulation, because Schuck really cares about getting things right. Schuck reviews a wide range of government programs, distilling which ones work, and why. The outcomes are sometimes surprising, with both liberal and conservative policies picked apart to find a pragmatic solution to societal problems. Schuck has respect for all viewpoints, and he manages to find the worthwhile ideas among all the strange ones out there. This book is also a very good introduction to the kinds of regulation government can engage in, and their relative merits.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
It took me weeks to read this book, but for the depth of the discussion of government performance it was well worth the time. Every member of congress, president, taxpayer, GAO official, CBO official, and American voter should eventually read this book and then start voting out of office member of Congress or President's who keep promoting more government programs, or who stop the termination or modification of existing programs who either no longer serve the purpose for which they were intended, or which never achieved the results their sponsors and special interest groups touted. Maybe then we could eventual balance the federal budget while addressing some of the problems we citizens face and which the government might be able to assist us in dealing with. A few examples will suffice.
The farm bill is a bargain between the legislators of rural farm states and those of urban poor areas pg 140.
Moral hazard applies to Freddie and Fannie which failed to propagate home ownership pg 141. Dodd/frank encouraged too big to fail but will not prevent bank failures pg 142. Pension benefit gurantee corp and flood insurance do nothing to fix the underlying problems pg 143. The poverty index overstates the problem , but does nothing to fix it pgs 171-172. Postal service unions and inefficient government mandates make our problems worse pgs 173-176. Repeal the Jones act pg 177-178. Did you know we have a USDA office to inspect cat fish? pg 191-192. Why is this needed? The author takes to task the Amtrack food service which looses millions of dollars each year due to waste, employee theft, and lack of proper oversight. Again Congress does nothing!!! pg 226 ftnt see pgs 249-250 about amtrack's failings.
Read more ›
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars nuanced advice about how to make our government work better from...
Expert, nuanced advice about how to make our government work better from someone who questions everything and makes some surprising suggestions that just might work. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Martin Lobel
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Wordy
The book was interesting, and I learned from it. But I think it could have had the same impact on me in about 1/5th as many words.
Published 9 days ago by Glen Ragan
5.0 out of 5 stars and there is no one who has done a better job than Schuck in this book
This is such an overpowering critique of government, from a progressive no less, that one is almost left helpless by the end. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Robert E. Litan
5.0 out of 5 stars intelligent, non-ideological
Balanced, intelligent, non-ideological,
Published 3 months ago by Ronald
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I read a chapter a day and absorb the ideas. It's been a very informative and mind changing journey.
Published 3 months ago by Charlotte Cranberg
3.0 out of 5 stars Missing the argument for limited government.
The book touches on about 50 government failures, all of them well-known. The book’s categorization of the failures is arguable, and in many cases this categorization confuses the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by technophobic
5.0 out of 5 stars This may have been intended as a textbook and is ...
This may have been intended as a textbook and is not quite at a general reading level. The vocabulary may have you looking up words unless you are a political science or other... Read more
Published 3 months ago by J. Conley
5.0 out of 5 stars I can say that I've never seen a better or more complete summary of...
As someone who has been immersed in regulatory matters for several decades, I can say that I've never seen a better or more complete summary of these issues. Read more
Published 4 months ago by CA dad
1.0 out of 5 stars Schuck cherry-picks data to support his premises
I am five pages into this book and came upon a major error in his premise based on his methods of information. He dismisses that income inequality is a concern of people. Read more
Published 4 months ago by MISHCKA
2.0 out of 5 stars but repetitive and written more like an academic paper
Interesting information, but repetitive and written more like an academic paper. Could use better editing.
Published 5 months ago by Helen
Search Customer Reviews
Search these reviews only

More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?


There are no discussions about this product yet.
Be the first to discuss this product with the community.
Start a new discussion
First post:
Prompts for sign-in

Look for Similar Items by Category