Scoop Review of Books

Release: New Max Rashbrooke Title

Government for the Public Good: The Surprising Science of Large-Scale Collective Action by Max Rashbrooke

11 September 2018: Bridget Williams Books

The global financial crisis shattered many people’s faith in unregulated markets. However, there has been no corresponding swell in enthusiasm for more active government, partly because its effectiveness has been widely denigrated in recent decades.

Max Rashbrooke’s eagerly awaited new book challenges the assumption that government is inefficient or less effective than private markets. Government for the Public Good: The Surprising Science of Large-Scale Collective Action poses the question of whether governments do a good job of solving collective problems. Can we trust them to address the big issues like climate change and automation, or should we leave such things to the market?

Analysis of the effectiveness of governments versus private industry is typically limited to individual case studies, such as Serco’s handling of Mt Eden prison or struggling state schools. This book is different because it uses meta-reviews, official comparisons and peer-reviewed articles to look at how well classic public services – and their privatised equivalents – have actually worked in New Zealand and comparable nations around the world.

One of the book’s key conclusions is that a dominant notion of our era – that we should leave more tasks to the market – has proved to be unfounded. Reviews suggest that most privatisation schemes have failed to deliver better services at lower cost. The most recent evidence overturns many of the findings of the 1980s and 1990s.

The book’s other major contribution is to set out how government can be enhanced, often through the use of new technology. It outlines how New Zealand could create more ways in which people can intelligently discuss issues and directly shape policy. The book presents evidence that this is not fanciful and is already taking place around the world, creating better governments that are truly fit for the twenty-first century.

The market is often not the solution to our problems. Markets have often been the problem. Max Rashbrooke makes the convincing case for models of government that work better, as well as those to be more wary of. Greater democracy can bring with it greater equality – but, Rashbrooke warns, democracy itself is imperilled by our current levels of inequality. Fast paced, globally informed and wittily written.
– Professor Danny Dorling, Oxford University

This book provides a wide range of excellent evidence-based arguments that help counter the oft-dominant small-government ideology of our times. Its defence of democracy, government and voter competence is a story that needs to be told more.
– Laura O’Connell Rapira, Director of ActionStation

About the Author

Max Rashbrooke is a journalist, author and researcher based in Wellington. His books, led by the best-selling Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis, have helped transform our national understanding of income and wealth inequality. Max’s journalism has appeared in publications worldwide, including The Guardian, the New Zealand Herald and for The Economist Group. He is a research associate of the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, and was a 2015 Winston Churchill Fellow.