The Penn Program on Regulation celebrates the life and work of scholar James Q. Wilson.
The Penn Program on Regulation offers a special tribute to one of the world’s foremost scholars of bureaucracy and regulatory policy, James Q. Wilson, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 80.
, Circuit Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
“Appreciations of a distinguished academic passing from the scene tend to be confined to professional journals of often narrow specialty, and a few paragraphs on the newspaper obituary page. Such is his impact as a scholar, teacher, and public intellectual, that James Q. Wilson’s death yielded something quite different.”
“I began as a political science graduate student at Harvard in 1980. James Q. Wilson had just finished editing The Politics of Regulation. With characteristic humility and humor, he said the volume was by his ‘wonderful former graduate students,’ adding that I should read it ‘if only to learn about the kind of work done by people unlucky enough to be advised by me.'”
“It is a sad fact that the tradition Jim Wilson represented in political science – the study of government organizations that took them seriously both as organizations and as parts of the political system – has largely died out in the discipline.”
“Deep inside James Q. Wilson’s 1989 classic, Bureaucracy, is a nugget with lasting insight. Why, too often, do bureaucracies fail? Wilson explains that different administrators, at different levels of the bureaucracy, have different perspectives, roles, and incentives. Too often, these roles fail to mesh, problems fall through the cracks—and, as a result, programs can fail, sometimes catastrophically.”
“James Q. Wilson was my dissertation adviser at Harvard. When he passed away, the New York Times featured a front-page obituary, and the Wall Street Journal also had a number of articles. One of the articles calls him the most important social scientist of the last century: perhaps hyperbole, perhaps not.”
“Perhaps my perspective was long-ago warped by having twice sat through his legendary bureaucracy course, or by having survived (barely) his graduate seminar, but I persist in seeing Jim as, above all else, a diligent and insightful student of organizations, including all their many flavors, layers, and the multiplicity of influences affecting them.”
“Among his many interests, perhaps the least well-known is that Jim Wilson was a strong advocate of randomized trials in government. He was most engaged with the idea in relation to policing and justice. More broadly, he thought there was far too little testing and too much flying blind in launching government programs.”
“I appreciate having this opportunity to pass on a few observations about Jim Wilson, his work, and his teaching. They range from purely personal to strictly academic.”
“Although one of my advisors is, I am not a student of James Q. Wilson in he sense of having had the opportunity to take a class from him…. Yet, it is precisely because of the fact that I have not been a student of Professor Wilson’s that I believe my thoughts can help illustrate the importance of his contribution to the study of government agencies.”