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The Politics of Institutional Reform: Katrina, Education, and the Second Face of Power, Terry M. Moe

Reviewed by Patrick J. Wolf



Political science is the study of power. We only know, however, what we can observe. When a policy emerges publicly, we can note whether supporters have the power to make it law or opponents possess the power to stop it. That is the first face of power. As Peter Bachrach and Morton S. Baratz argued convincingly in their 1962 article “Two Faces of Power” in the American Political Science Review, by focusing solely on public conflicts, political scientists miss the second face of power. True power involves the ability to prevent disfavored policies from ever seeing the light of day. One need not attack what does not exist.

In The Politics of Institutional Reform, Terry M. Moe uses the post—Hurricane Katrina education reforms in New Orleans as a case study of what happens when the second face of power suddenly travels from its zenith to its nadir. Prior to August 2005, the public school system in the Crescent City was one of the most corrupt and dysfunctional government bureaucracies in the country. School board members and teachers union officials frequently were convicted of fraud and embezzlement. Student test scores were abysmal, but nothing changed. Education reforms involving school choice, teacher performance pay, and results-based accountability advanced incrementally across the country during the early 2000s, especially

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