Summary of "Can the Government Govern?"

Summary of

Can the Government Govern?

By John E. Chubb and Paul Peterson

Summary written by T.A. O'Lonergan, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Can the Government Govern?, John E. Chubb & Paul Peterson, (eds). (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1989), 329pp.

Can the Government Govern? is required reading for ARSC 5010/7010 as taught by Dr. Guy Burgess and Professor Charles Lester. This work will interest those who seek a conservative perspective on the effectiveness of governance by the present system in the United States. The editors begin the work with an introduction which addresses the American political institutions and the problem of governance. They provide an historical perspective before an examination of the contemporary system. Finally, they offer suggestions toward a new "institutional equilibrium". The remaining six essays of the book are divided into two parts. The first part concerns policy and institutions and begins with an essay by Chubb which discusses the US energy policy as a problem of delegation. He first offers an explanation of the energy security problem. The remainder of the essay examines the problem of politicians delegating difficult problems to agencies for management. Chubb compares the way delegation has historically been made and the present approach to delegation. He concludes the chapter with a discussion of the politics of delegation and obstacles to reformation of this process.

The second essay examines American trade policy and addresses the suggestion that trade policies may be obsolete bargains. The author discusses trade problems and policies; specifically the policy of protection of US producers. The final essay in part one examines the administration of macroeconomic policy-making. The authors assert that problems in such policy-making should rightfully be attributed to faulty economic judgment and not problems with the institutions making those judgments. Presidential incentives and control are also examined.

The second part is devoted to institutions and governance. The first essay offers: a history of White House organization, the development of the modern White House and the evolution of its staff. Finally, the author discusses the possibility of governance of the modern White House. Kenneth A. Shepsle examines the changes in what he calls the 'textbook Congress'. By this, he means the textbook description of Congress which is used by political science thinkers and teachers. These descriptions change and evolve over time. The author is interested in the changes in these descriptions from the late 1940s through the 1980s. He suggests that the nineties will produce yet another textbook conception of Congress. The final essay examines the politics of bureaucratic structure. The author discusses a perspective on structural politics and the relationship between self-interest and the new social regulation.

Can the Government Govern? is a political analysis of the evolution of government and the resultant changes in its ability to govern. The work focuses upon the problems which this evolution has produced and offers suggestions for improvement of governance.