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The Managerial Racket

Life in America these days has become a vast numbers racket.  That is, most Americans are, cannily or not, ensnared in the numbers game called metrics, or what Jerry Muller in his latest book terms the “metrics fixation.”  This fixation is founded on the assumption that “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.”  In virtually every sector of American life, the tyranny of numbers, of measurement, has become our daily cross.  It is an affliction, a merciless goad, and a godawful bore.  In the language of its proponents (and they are legion), metrics is “measured performance” in the name of “accountability” and “transparency.”  Sound familiar?  To be fair, Muller’s compact study is not a screed against all metrics.  He concedes that, properly administered, metrics can beget desirable results.  Yet his primary concern is to demonstrate that the negative results, more often than not, outweigh the positive ones.  In education, in corporate America, in our medical institutions, in policing and the military, in government and foreign policy—just to single out the most prominent areas of abuse—metrics tends to measure what is most easily measurable, but what is often of lesser importance, and to oversimplify what is complex; it tends to measure “inputs” rather than “outcomes,” process rather than...

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