The Systems Fallacy

The Perils of Systems Analysis, Past and Present (From Operations Research to Contemporary Cost-Benefit Analysis)

Mon, 09/26/2016
301 Marx Hall
Event Category: 

Please join us for the first LAPA Seminar of the year, with Bernard Harcourt, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Professor of Political Science, and Director of the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought at Columbia University.

LAPA’s seminar format assumes that seminar participants have familiarized themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator opens the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.

Abstract:  At the height of the Cold War in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a decision-making technique called Systems Analysis was perfected and began to be applied broadly from matters of national defense strategy to government policy to criminal justice. The turn to systems analysis has been deeply consequential in the field of law and public policy, and is essentially responsible for the dominant role that cost-benefit analysis plays today throughout the administrative state. A close examination of the attempt to extend the use of systems models from the narrow military domain to the broader public policy context, however, reveals a recurring problem centered on the choice of scope of the analysis. I call this “The Systems Fallacy” and I demonstrate it in this essay.

Bernard E. Harcourt
Columbia University

Bernard E. Harcourt is the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Professor of Political Science, and Director of the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought at Columbia University, and Directeur d’études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He is a visiting professor this year in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He works in the area of contemporary critical thought, with a focus on punishment, legal and political theory. He is the author, most recently, of Exposed: Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age (Harvard 2015) and The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order (Harvard 2011). He is also the editor of several of Michel Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France, including La Société punitive (Gallimard 2013) and Theories et institutions pénales (Gallimard 2015).  

Stephen J. Macedo
aurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics and the University Center for Human Values

Stephen J. Macedo writes and teaches on political theory, ethics, public policy, and law, especially on topics related to liberalism, democracy and citizenship, diversity and civic education, religion and politics, and the family and sexuality. He is author of Just Married: Same-Sex Couples, Monogamy, and the Future of Marriage (Princeton University Press, 2015).  From 2001-2009, he was Director of Princeton's University Center for Human Values. As founding director of LAPA (1999-2001), he chaired the Princeton Project on Universal Jurisdiction, helped formulate the Princeton Principles on Universal Jurisdiction, and edited Universal Jurisdiction: International Courts and the Prosecution of Serious Crimes Under International Law (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004). His other books include Diversity and Distrust: Civic Education in a Multicultural Democracy (Harvard U. Press, 2000); and Liberal Virtues: Citizenship, Virtue, and Community in Liberal Constitutionalism (Oxford U. Press, 1990). Macedo is co-author and co-editor of American Constitutional Interpretation, with W.F. Murphy, J.E. Fleming, and S.A. Barber (Foundation Press, Fifth edition 2013), and principal co-author of Democracy at Risk: How Political Choices Undermine Citizen Participation, and What We Can Do About It (Brookings, 2005).