Ben's Reviews > The Next Government of the United States: Why Our Institutions Fail Us and How to Fix Them

The Next Government of the United States by Donald F. Kettl
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's review
Oct 07, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: government-politics
Read in October, 2009

Kettl's diagnostic metaphor, vending machine government, is compelling. I was introduced to the concept and to the book by Tim O'Reilly (not personally, mind you). But the book should really be called "The Current Government of the United States Which Will be Succeeded by Another Iteration". The publisher wouldn't print with that I suppose.

Here's the gist of the book:
* Progressives instituted rational bureaucracy based on standard operating procedures
* This works for regular, repeated services regardless of difficulty (vending machine -> taxes in, services out)
* Wicked problems (like disasters) confound the vending machine
* Services are provided by a mix of levels of government and public/private partnerships, contracting
* Wicked problems must be solved through methods employed by rocket scientists, namely awareness of network of organizations and lack of a central authority

There's more to it than that, but there's the gist. "Be more like rocket scientists" and "leverage networks" is not advice. Kettl does a good job of identifying the core structural problem with our bureaucracy. But he does not elaborate on - even hypothetically - what we should do to fix these problems. Some people will probably read the book and think that he does, but he just gives little teasers instead, like a doctor telling you that you need to be healthier.

Is it thought provoking? Yes. And for that reason alone I hope that our civil leaders and legislators read it. But there's little in the "how" in this book.

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