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What Washington Gets Wrong: The Unelected Officials Who Actually Run the Government and Their Misconceptions about the American People (Hardcover)
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Each year unelected federal administrators write thousands of regulations possessing the force of law. What do these civil servants know about the American people whom they ostensibly serve? Not much, according to this enlightening and disturbing study.
The authors surveyed federal agency officials, congressional and White House staffers, and employees of various policy-making organizations about their attitudes toward and knowledge of the public. They found a significant chasm between what official Washington assumes they know about average Americans and the actual opinions and attitudes of American citizens. Even in such basic areas as life circumstances (e.g., income levels, employment, racial makeup) the surveys revealed surprising inaccuracies. And when it comes to policy issues--on such crucial issues as defense, crime, social security, welfare, public education, and the environment--officials' perceptions of the public's knowledge and positions are often wide of the mark. Compounding this ignorance is a pervasive attitude of smug dismissiveness toward the citizenry and little sense of accountability. As a result, bureaucrats tend to follow their own preferences without much reference to the opinions of the public.
The authors conclude with recommendations to narrow the gap between official perceptions of the American public and the actual facts. These include shorter terms, rotation from the Washington beltway to local offices, compulsory training in the responsibilities of public office, and better civic education for ordinary citizens in the realities of government and politics.
About the Author
Jennifer Bachner is the Director of the Master of Science in Government Analytics at Johns Hopkins University. Her recent report, Predictive Policing: Preventing Crime with Data and Analytics, has been published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government. She is also the coeditor (with Kathryn Wagner Hill and Benjamin Ginsberg) of Analytics, Policy and Governance (forthcoming). As an expert on government analytics and political behavior, she has been quoted and/or cited in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times, Roll Call, and other publications.
Benjamin Ginsberg is the David Bernstein Professor of Political Science and Chair of Governmental Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Presidential Government; The Worth of War; The Value of Violence; How the Jews Defeated Hitler: Exploding the Myth of Jewish Passivity in the Face of Nazism; and other works.
“This important book claims ours is a government by career civil servants and not ‘the people.’ Jennifer Bachner and Benjamin Ginsberg show civil servants’ experiences and values are distant from average Americans and warn against government by an administrative elite. Thus they conclude the book with thoughtful correctives through which citizens and civil servants might reclaim representative government. This is a must-read for all of us concerned with administration and democracy.”
—Peri E. Arnold, Professor Emeritus of political science at the University of Notre Dame and author of Making the Managerial Presidency
“Everybody knows Americans dislike Washington. Now, thanks to Bachner and Ginsberg, we know that Washington dislikes us right back. What Washington Gets Wrong is a model blend of sophisticated data analysis and graceful writing.”
—Michael Nelson, Fulmer Professor of Political Science at Rhodes College and author of Resilient America
“There are today roughly 2.5 million civil servants in the United States. These unelected bureaucrats churn out thousands of pages per year of mind-numbingly complex and economically stultifying regulations, with very little oversight or other public accountability. In this fascinating and timely study, Bachner and Ginsberg demonstrate empirically what many have long suspected: the bureaucrats have their own agenda and hold the people they regulate in contempt. Kudos for exposing the nanny state and making a compelling case for reform.”
—Michael Kellogg, author of Three Questions We Never Stop Asking
“A salutary and a timely reminder of just how far divorced the federal government has become from so many of its citizens. It should be required reading for anyone concerned about where we find ourselves as a nation today.”
—Christopher Sandford, author of Harold and Jack: The Remarkable Friendship of Prime Minister Macmillan and President Kennedy
“Bachner and Ginsberg conclude that official Washington lives ‘inside the beltway bubble,’ in which many civil servants express ‘utter contempt’ for the citizens they ostensibly serve. Yet this is not a doom-and-gloom book; the authors end with realistic and well-thought-out recommendations for what can be done so that Washington can eventually get things right.”
—Ralph A. Rossum, Salvatori Professor of American Constitutionalism at Claremont McKenna College
“Whether you view Brexit and the rise of Trump with horror or with ecstasy, Bachner and Ginsberg have just tipped over the heavy stone of state bureaucracy to reveal the fauna and the endlessly multiplying creatures that lie beneath. You may not like what you see, but this book will force you to ask the hard questions.”
—Ethan Gutmann, author of The Slaughter