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The Politics of Institutional Reform


In the normal politics of reform, bad institutions are protected by powerful vested interests, making them difficult or impossible to fix.  In the New Orleans school system after Hurricane Katrina, however, we get the rare opportunity to observe what happens when that power—which was destroyed by the storm—is removed from the equation.  The result was a revolution, suggesting that there is a vast revolutionary potential among everyday decision makers who want to fix their failing institutions—a potential that, during normal times, is stifled by power but only waiting to be liberated.

Additional resources:

  • Read The Politics of Institutional Reform: Katrina, Education, and the Second Face of Power, by Terry M. Moe, available here.
  • Read “An Accidental Revolution,” about Terry Moe’s book, in the City Journal, available here.
  • Learn more about The Politics of Institutional Reform here.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why was New Orleans able to radically reform its public school system?
  2. What are some examples of poorly performing institutions in other policy realms, outside of education, that are difficult to reform because of vested interest power?