The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

Fifth Risk

The Fifth Risk is a non-fiction book that examines the transition and political appointments of the Donald Trump presidency, especially with respect to three government agencies: the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Commerce.

At its core, the book celebrates the often nameless civil servants that staff the American federal government while simultaneously shining light on the longer-term risks to American society generated by Donald Trump’s chaotic transition.

The book is divided into three main chapters that examine the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce respectively. Michael Lewis gives an inside account of the troubled transition from the Obama to the Trump White House and the new administration’s seemingly wilful ignorance of the federal bureaucracy.

The book also discusses the tension between the American public’s declining trust in the federal government and the need for federal agencies to manage the complex portfolio of ‘risks’ which private interests don’t have the capacity to manage.

The Fifth Risk sheds new light on Trump’s chaotic transition and the mismanagement of several core federal agencies. It also serves as a sympathetic (and timely) defence of a federal bureaucracy imperilled by a suspicious administration. The book’s prologue examines Trump’s shambolic presidential ahead of his January 2017 inauguration.

What I Liked

I liked that this book was less about Trump than about the Federal Government bureaucracy. It’s an American tradition going back to 1789 to hate on employees of the national government…even though most Americans have no idea what many government employees do.

I love that this book highlights all the things that those employees actually do….because it turns out that they do crazy important jobs. And it also turns out that we don’t really have a backup for these people doing crazy important jobs. For example, the book highlights the one dude that we have managing ocean rescue strategy, training, and equipment for the entire coast of the United States. When he retires…the plan is ????

While camping in my nearby Chattahoochee National Forest, I found out that law enforcement for the 800,000 acre property is handled by…one officer and one assistant who share one truck. This is for one of the most heavily visited National Forests in the US.

And when they retire….????

I also appreciated the broad takeaway from the book that highly competent government employees benefit us all. We should try to make the public sector an employer of choice with good management and good pay. Try following the Singapore model of civil service.

What I Did Not Like

Nothing – excellent read.

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