Robert McNamara: The high cost of cold-blooded analysis


Early Monday morning, Robert Strange McNamara, one of the most divisive figures in American political history, died at his home in Washington. He was 93.

As millions note (if not mourn) the death of the Ford executive, Secretary of Defense and World Bank president, it is easy, and perhaps cheap, to transform the Vietnam War into the sum total of his contribution to history. However, long before the war hijacked American political discourse, McNamara was working toward a revolution in the way that policymakers viewed inputs, outcomes, and the economics of governance.

A graduate of Berkeley and the Harvard Business School, McNamara was teaching at Harvard when the US Army Air Corps hired him for its emerging statistical control program. For the course of World War II, he applied accounting procedures to measure the cost-effectiveness of America's bombing campaign; in the process, he massively increased the efficiency and effectiveness of US air power.