Do federal social programs work?

Since I’ve been writing about the effectiveness of faith-based prisons — and what it takes to have a good evaluation methodology — I thought I’d point out an interesting paper, Do Federal Social Programs Work?, by David Muhlhausen. Here’s the abstract:

Federal social programs consistently fail to achieve their objectives, yet federal spending on social programs has grown faster than the U.S. economy and population over the past 50 years. Scientifically rigorous multisite experimental evaluations have found a consistent pattern of failure in federal social programs, including early childhood education programs such as Head Start. In the current budgetary environment of high deficits and ballooning federal debt, Congress has a moral obligation to cut funding for and even eliminate these ineffective social programs.

This paper is a short backgrounder from the Heritage Foundation, summarizing Muhlhausen’s book of the same name. Muhlhausen himself is a research fellow in empirical policy analysis at Heritage’s Center for Data Analysis. I haven’t examined the paper or the book closely, so I can’t endorse the specific conclusions. But I know the Center for Data Analysis takes its empirics seriously, and this paper (and book) looked interesting enough that I thought I’d flag it for this audience.

Sasha Volokh lives in Atlanta with his wife and three kids, and is an associate professor at Emory Law School. He has written numerous articles and commentaries on law and economics, privatization, antitrust, prisons, constitutional law, regulation, torts, and legal history.

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