The Tyranny of Metrics

Author(s): Jerry Z. Muller


How the obsession with quantifying human performance threatens our schools, medical care, businesses, and government

Today, organizations of all kinds are ruled by the belief that the path to success is quantifying human performance, publicizing the results, and dividing up the rewards based on the numbers. But in our zeal to instill the evaluation process with scientific rigor, we've gone from measuring performance to fixating on measuring itself. The result is a tyranny of metrics that threatens the quality of our lives and most important institutions. In this timely and powerful book, Jerry Muller uncovers the damage our obsession with metrics is causing--and shows how we can begin to fix the problem.

Filled with examples from education, medicine, business and finance, government, the police and military, and philanthropy and foreign aid, this brief and accessible book explains why the seemingly irresistible pressure to quantify performance distorts and distracts, whether by encouraging "gaming the stats" or "teaching to the test." That's because what can and does get measured is not always worth measuring, may not be what we really want to know, and may draw effort away from the things we care about. Along the way, we learn why paying for measured performance doesn't work, why surgical scorecards may increase deaths, and much more. But metrics can be good when used as a complement to-rather than a replacement for-judgment based on personal experience, and Muller also gives examples of when metrics have been beneficial.

Complete with a checklist of when and how to use metrics, The Tyranny of Metricsis an essential corrective to a rarely questioned trend that increasingly affects us all.


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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.

Introduction 1I THE ARGUMENT1 The Argument in a Nutshell 172 Recurring Flaws 23II THE BACKGROUND3 The Origins of Measuring and Paying for Performance 294 Why Metrics Became So Popular 395 Principals, Agents, and Motivation 496 Philosophical Critiques 59III THE MISMEASURE OF ALL THINGS? Case Studies7 Colleges and Universities 678 Schools 899 Medicine 10310 Policing 12511 The Military 13112 Business and Finance 13713 Philanthropy and Foreign Aid 153EXCURSUS14 When Transparency Is the Enemy of Performance: Politics, Diplomacy, Intelligence, and Marriage 159IV CONCLUSIONS15 Unintended but Predictable Negative Consequences 16916 When and How to Use Metrics: A Checklist 175Acknowledgments 185Notes 189Index 213

General Fields

  • : 9780691174952
  • : Princeton University Press
  • : Princeton University Press
  • : February 2018
  • : 216mm X 140mm
  • : United States
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : 240
  • : Jerry Z. Muller
  • : Hardback
  • : English
  • : 658.4013