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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.


"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
"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
"For every quantification, there's a way of gaming it. So argues this timely manifesto against measured accountability." * Kirkus Reviews *
"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
"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
"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
"Jerry Z. Muller's thought-provoking The Tyranny of Metrics raises old post-positivist arguments on the limits of quantitative knowledge by using new theoretical leverages and applying them to original case studies."---Simone Raudino, European Legacy
"Finalist for the 2019 Hayek Prize, The Manhattan Institute"
"Jerry Muller's The Tyranny of Metrics mercilessly exposes the downside of the cult of measurement and managerialism." * The Economist *
"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
"Economic historian Jerry Muller delivers a riposte to bean counters everywhere with this trenchant study of our fixation with performance metrics."---Barbara Kiser, Nature
"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
"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 *
"A timely and important critique of the pervasive tendency to define success in terms of quantifying human performance, accountability and transparency, a trend that has invaded every profession." * Paradigm Explorer *

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