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Tyranny of Metrics

by Jerry Z Muller Princeton University Press
Pub Date:
12/2017
ISBN:
9780691174952
Format:
Hbk 240 pages
Price:
AU$59.99 NZ$65.21
Product Status: Reprint Under Consideration
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Today, organisations of all kinds are ruled by the belief that the path to success is quantifying human performance, publicising 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 Metrics is an essential corrective to a rarely questioned trend that increasingly affects us all.


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


“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


"Economic historian Jerry Muller delivers a riposte to bean counters everywhere with this trenchant study of our fixation with performance metrics."--Barbara Kiser, Nature


"For every quantification, there's a way of gaming it. So argues this timely manifesto against measured accountability."--Kirkus Reviews


"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


"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


"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


"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


"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
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.