My Books

Above Politics: Bureaucratic Discretion and Credible Commitment

Written with Gary J. Miller of Washington University in St. Louis, it was published in the Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions series of Cambridge University Press in 2016 and is now available via Amazon.

  • Recipient of the American Political Science Association’s 2017 Gladys M. Kammerer Award for US national public policy.
  • Recipient of the International Political Science Association’s 2017 Levine Prize for comparative administration and public policy.
  • Recipient of the 2016 Book of the Year Award of the Section of Public Administration Research (SPAR) of the American Society of Public Administration.

A summary:

Economic development requires secure contract enforcement and stable property rights. Normal majority-rule politics, such as bargaining over distributive and monetary policies, generate instability and frequently undermine economic development. Above Politics argues that bureaucracies can contribute to stability and economic development, but only if they are insulated from unstable politics. A separation-of-powers stalemate creates the conditions for bureaucratic autonomy. But what keeps delegated bureaucrats from being more abusive as they become more autonomous? One answer is the negotiation of long-term, cooperative relationships – that (when successful) typically bind subordinates to provide more effort in exchange for autonomy. Even more compelling is professionalism, which embeds its professional practitioners in professional norms and culture, and incidentally mitigates corruption. Financial examples are provided throughout the book, which ends with an analysis of the role played by professionalized bureaucracies during the Great Recession.

And we’re grateful for endorsements from Jack Knott, Dan Carpenter, and Chuck Shipan:

“The significant new book, Above Politics, by Miller and Whitford, combines eloquent political theory with engaging examples and sophisticated analysis. In the tradition of the Federalist Papers, it provides a persuasive argument about the most important institutional design issues facing democracy today.”
Jack H. Knott, University of Southern California

“We want our government agencies to be politically accountable. Yet we also want them to have autonomy, so they can utilize their professional expertise to make good decisions. In their lucid, engaging analysis, Miller and Whitford show how the incentives of both politicians and bureaucrats affect the balance between accountability and autonomy. It is a splendid scholarly achievement.”
Charles Shipan, University of Michigan

“More thoroughly than anyone before them, Miller and Whitford teach us that politicians cannot commit to keep their hands off of agencies even when to do so would benefit all of us. A rigorous defense of agency independence and professionalized administration.”
Dan Carpenter, Harvard University

Previous Book

Presidential Rhetoric and the Public Agenda: Constructing the War on Drugs

Written with Jeff Yates of Binghamton University, this book was published by the Johns Hopkins University Press in 2006 and is available via Amazon. A summary:

The bully pulpit is one of the modern president’s most powerful tools—and one of the most elusive to measure. Presidential Rhetoric and the Public Agenda uses the war on drugs as a case study to explore whether and how a president’s public statements affect the formation and carrying out of policy in the United States.

When in June 1971 President Richard M. Nixon initiated the modern war on drugs, he did so with rhetorical flourish and force, setting in motion a federal policy that has been largely followed for more than three decades. Using qualitative and quantitative measurements, Andrew B. Whitford and Jeff Yates examine presidential proclamations about battling illicit drug use and their effect on the enforcement of anti-drug laws at the national, state, and local level. They analyze specific pronouncements and the social and political contexts in which they are made; examine the relationship between presidential leadership in the war on drugs and the policy agenda of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Attorneys; and assess how closely a president’s drug policy is implemented in local jurisdictions.

In evaluating the data, this sophisticated study of presidential leadership shows clearly that with careful consideration of issues and pronouncements a president can effectively harness the bully pulpit to drive policy.

And we’re grateful for endorsements from Andrew Rudalevige, Bryan D. Jones, and Kevin Quinn:

“Original and important. Presidential Rhetoric and the Public Agenda is a well-conceived contribution to the literature on the rhetorical presidency and bureaucratic action.”
Andrew Rudalevige, Dickinson College

“President Nixon announced the war on drugs forty years ago, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote that ‘it appears that drugs have won.’ In their careful analysis in this important book, Whitford and Yates demonstrate that the rhetoric of presidents can influence the course of public policy, particularly including implementation. Words matter, even in the supposedly technical aspects of policy implementation, and they do so in a way that frames and, yes, ‘constructs’ the policy itself.”
Bryan D. Jones, The University of Texas at Austin

“Whitford and Yates make a strong case for the proposition that presidents can, and do, use public rhetoric to affect how policy is implemented by executive agencies. Whereas most previous studies of presidential rhetoric have focused on appeals made to the mass public, they focus on the effects of public speeches on field agents charged with implementing policy. That such an effect might exist is not obvious. Nonetheless, their argument is nuanced and well-crafted and their evidence—both qualitative and quantitative—is compelling. The end result is a thought-provoking study that challenges standard views of executive power. I have no doubt that this book will become required reading for all students of the presidency and the bureaucracy.”
Kevin Quinn, Harvard University