Moneyball for government

Edited by Jim Nussle and Peter Orszag

Disruption Books

Moneyball. Most of us have heard of it, right? Or at least seen the Brad Pitt movie of the same name. But for the uninitiated, the phrase was coined by the writer, Michael Lewis, in his account of how Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s, transformed baseball by using data, not scouts, to build championship contending teams in the face of restricted budgets.

It’s a fascinating story and one that has spread far and wide, including to the offices of Results for America (RFA) in Washington, DC. The RFA team aims to inspire government at all levels make more and better use of evidence and data to when taking important decisions. Since its launch five years ago, there has been a whirlwind of activity geared towards this end, including the publication of this book, Moneyball for Government.

That RFA is strictly non-partisan is evidenced by the fact that the book’s authors hail from opposing sides of the aisle – Jim Nussle and Peter Orszag headed the Office of Management and Budget under Presidents Bush and Obama. Theirs is the opening chapter, one which sets out how the application of Moneyball principles and methods in government may not result in sporting glory out on the baseball diamond, but something more important: better outcomes for young people, their families, and communities.

Many other chapters follow, all of which are penned by an eclectic group of economists, senators and public servants  The result could have been a somewhat weighty economic tome, heavy on good intentions but lacking readability. Fortunately, the authors and editors have conjured up a book that can be read on the commute or at home, while still being packed full of interesting insights and recommendations.  The different narratives flow nicely and, as result, the chapters are snappy and not overlong.

Changing the way government works is hardly the easiest of challenges. But Moneyball for Government succeeds in showing how it might be done in a bipartisan, effective and practical way. A roadmap for helping achieve stronger citizen outcomes, it fully deserves its place in the pantheon of textbooks which aim to help create a better government.