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The Tyranny of Metrics


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Table of Contents

Introduction 1 I THE ARGUMENT 1 The Argument in a Nutshell 17 2 Recurring Flaws 23 II THE BACKGROUND 3 The Origins of Measuring and Paying for Performance 29 4 Why Metrics Became So Popular 39 5 Principals, Agents, and Motivation 49 6 Philosophical Critiques 59 III THE MISMEASURE OF ALL THINGS? Case Studies 7 Colleges and Universities 67 8 Schools 89 9 Medicine 103 10 Policing 125 11 The Military 131 12 Business and Finance 137 13 Philanthropy and Foreign Aid 153 EXCURSUS 14 When Transparency Is the Enemy of Performance: Politics, Diplomacy, Intelligence, and Marriage 159 IV CONCLUSIONS 15 Unintended but Predictable Negative Consequences 169 16 When and How to Use Metrics: A Checklist 175 Acknowledgments 185 Notes 189 Index 213

About the Author

Jerry Z. Muller is the author of many books, including The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought (Knopf), Adam Smith in His Time and Ours (Princeton), and Capitalism and the Jews (Princeton). His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Times Literary Supplement, and Foreign Affairs, among other publications. He is professor of history at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.


"Economic historian Jerry Muller delivers a riposte to bean counters everywhere with this trenchant study of our fixation with performance metrics."---Barbara Kiser, Nature
"A short and highly readable account of the way such management systems are undermining important institutions, such as universities, schools, policing, charities and even companies."---Luke Johnson, Sunday Times
"Finalist for the 2019 Hayek Prize, The Manhattan Institute"
"To his credit, Muller isn't interested only in documenting the ways in which the metric fixation produces unintended consequences. Beyond that, he wants, first, to work out what causes this high level of dysfunction, and second, to identify ways in which metrics might be used more productively."---Stefan Collini, London Review of Books
"Many of us have the vague sense that metrics are leading us astray, stripping away context, devaluing subtle human judgement, and rewarding those who know how to play the system. Muller's book crisply explains where this fashion came from, why it can be so counterproductive and why we don't learn. It should be required reading for any manager on the verge of making the Vietnam body count mistake all over again."---Tim Harford, Financial Times
"As Muller says 'anything that can be measured and rewarded will be gamed.' Too many people appear oblivious to this basic fact of life. A close reading of Muller's excellent, if somewhat brief, introduction to the pitfalls of quantitative measurement should set them right."---Edward Chancellor, Breakingviews
"There is also ample evidence, expertly summarised in Jerry Muller's recent book, The Tyranny of Metrics, that metrics can be counter-productive."--The Economist
"Muller . . . says that an over-reliance on metrics can lead us to disproportionately value the things that are easiest to measure. These and the many other criticisms of metric fixation the author offers are well argued and will feel all too familiar to teachers and school leaders alike. Shortly after I agreed to review this title, Ofsted's chief inspector . . . gave a speech explaining how she had recently read the book and how it was influencing her own thinking. Having now had the chance to read it myself, I think we should take this as a positive sign. My hope is that others involved in school accountability, including politicians, have the chance to consider its core message."---James Bowen, Times Education Supplement
"Muller's book remains an interesting one: short, unpretentious, scholarly, and full of insights. And it provokes the reader into asking further questions."---Pierre Lemieux, Regulation
"Jerry Muller's The Tyranny of Metrics mercilessly exposes the downside of the cult of measurement and managerialism."--The Economist
"I cannot stress enough how important this book is for all organization studies scholars. If anything, I see it as an act of resistance to the plethora of publications that 'count' but are completely uninteresting, unimportant, and unread."---Alexia Panayiotou, Organization
"In this clear and compelling book, Jerry Muller shows how our attempts to improve organizational outcomes through quantitative measures have metastasized into a culture of gaming and manipulation. Through carefully researched case studies on education, healthcare, and compensation, The Tyranny of Metrics makes a convincing case that we need to restore judgment and ethical considerations at a time when shallow quantification threatens the integrity of our most important institutions."--Rakesh Khurana, Harvard Business School
"Have you ever wondered why universities make the mistake of hiring presidents with little or no experience in higher education, or why, nine times out of ten, these foreign imports fail? Then read Jerry Muller's new book and you will understand such folly as one more instance of an unhappy, massive trend--abandoning the situated judgment of experienced professionals in favor of the supposedly objective judgment promised (but not delivered) by the magic bullet of metrics: standardized measures and huge data banks touted as generating insight and wisdom all by themselves. Muller dismantles this myth in a brisk and no-nonsense prose that has this reader crying 'yes, yes' at every sentence."--Stanley Fish, author of Winning Arguments and Think Again
"Quantification, once only a tool, has become a cult. I can think of no better deprogrammer than Jerry Muller, whose renowned skills in dissecting political and social doctrines are evident here. The Tyranny of Metrics should be essential reading for managers and the managed alike."--Edward Tenner, author of The Efficiency Paradox: What Big Data Can't Do and Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences
"In The Tyranny of Metrics, Jerry Muller has brought to life the many ways in which numerical evaluations result in deleterious performance: in our schools, our universities, our hospitals, our military, and our businesses. This book addresses a major problem."--George A. Akerlof, Nobel Prize-winning economist
"The Tyranny of Metrics is an important and accessible book about a growing problem. It comes as close as anything I've read to showing us how to break out of the dysfunctional cycle of measuring, finding out that measuring doesn't get us where we want to go, but then measuring some more."--David Chinitz, School of Public Health, Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School
"Broad in scope and ambition, persuasively argued, and engagingly written, The Tyranny of Metrics is a very compelling book."--Mark Schlesinger, Yale University

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