The Tyranny of Metrics

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Princeton University Press, Jan 23, 2018 - Business & Economics - 240 pages
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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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Too many metrics are killing productivity During the great famine in China, local officials yanked plants out of the ground and raced ahead of Mao’s itinerary to plant them at his next stop, thus ... Read full review

Contents

I THE ARGUMENT
15
II THE BACKGROUND
27
III THE MISMEASURE OF ALL THINGS? Case Studies
65
EXCURSUS
157
IV CONCLUSIONS
167
Acknowledgments
185
Notes
189
Index
213
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About the author (2018)

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.