The Collapse of the Common Good: How America's Lawsuit Culture Undermines Our Freedom

( 3 )

Overview

In pursuit of fairness at any cost, we have created a society paralyzed by legal fear: Doctors are paranoid and principals powerless. Little league coaches, scared of liability, stop volunteering. Schools and hospitals start to crumble. The common good fades, replaced by a cacophony of people claiming their “individual rights.”

By turns funny and infuriating, this startling book dissects the dogmas of fairness that allow self-interested individuals to bully the rest of society. ...

See more details below
Paperback
$13.43
BN.com price
(Save 10%)$15.00 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (55) from $1.99   
  • New (5) from $8.33   
  • Used (50) from $1.99   
Collapse of the Common Good: How America's Lawsuit Culture Undermines Our Freedom

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$13.99
BN.com price

Overview

In pursuit of fairness at any cost, we have created a society paralyzed by legal fear: Doctors are paranoid and principals powerless. Little league coaches, scared of liability, stop volunteering. Schools and hospitals start to crumble. The common good fades, replaced by a cacophony of people claiming their “individual rights.”

By turns funny and infuriating, this startling book dissects the dogmas of fairness that allow self-interested individuals to bully the rest of society. Philip K. Howard explains how, trying to honor individual rights, we removed the authority needed to maintain a free society. Teachers don’t even have authority to maintain order in the classroom. With no one in charge, the safe course is to avoid any possible risk. Seesaws and diving boards are removed. Ridiculous warning labels litter the American landscape: “Caution: Contents Are Hot.”

Striving to protect “individual rights,” we ended up losing much of our freedom. When almost any decision that someone disagrees with is a possible lawsuit, no one knows where he stands. A huge monument to the unknown plaintiff looms high above America, casting a dark shadow across our daily choices. Today, in the land of free speech, you’d have to be a fool to say what you really think.

This provocative book not only attacks the sacred cows of political correctness, but takes a breathtakingly bold stand on how to reinvigorate our common good. Only by restoring personal authority can schools begin to work again. Only by judges and legislatures taking back the authority to decide who can sue for what can doctors feel comfortable using their best judgment and American be liberated to say and do what they know is right. Lucid, honest, and hard hitting, The Collapse of the Common Good shows how Americans can bring back freedom and common sense to a society disabled by lawyers and legal fear.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The author of The Death of Common Sense explains how contemporary society erodes individual freedom and self-worth. He argues that efforts to protect indviduals against authority have led, ironically, to decline in our freedom and the quality of our lives. As evidence, he points to thousands of playgrounds across America that lack seesaws because school boards fear liability suits. Contending that society must operate with risk, Howard asserts that no body of law can transform a community into a logical machine.
From the Publisher
“YOU’LL NEVER SEE AMERICA THE SAME AGAIN. . . . [This book is] like nothing you ever read, better even than The Death of Common Sense.”
–ANDREW HEISKELL
Former Chairman and CEO, Time Inc.

“This book sits at the center of important questions about frivolous litigiousness, disdain for authority, and the tendency of bureaucracy to stifle judgment and initiative.”
The New York Times Book Review

Glenn Harlan Reynolds
The simple formula of "find good people, reward them if they do well, and fire them if they don't" seems unsophisticated and perhaps a bit harsh today, but it does have the advantage of actually working. Whether we can make the transition to such an approach without scrapping our bureaucracies wholesale is another question. But before this admittedly unlikely outcome can be seriously contemplated, someone has to draw attention to the problem. Philip Howard has certainly done that.
Washington Post
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Howard offers a powerful though myopic look at our litigious society. When the common interest is undermined by the fear of being sued, as in America today, Howard claims, we have a social dysfunction rooted in the embrace of individual rights. Understanding justice as the right to champion individual interests and judicial fairness as neutrality between claimants provides no standard for what is good or even reasonable: "Justice today is purposeless" and has become "a kind of sporting contest." Instead of protecting society, law has become a vehicle for the pursuit of individual entitlement, while judges shy away from making value judgments. What's missing, says Howard, is authority, a recognizable source of values and leadership that asserts a hierarchy of goods in place of the undifferentiated arena of individual rights. Far from threatening individual freedom and democracy, Howard argues, authority is indispensable if we want to overcome the "structural flaw" of individual rights, with its unintentional transfer of "power for common decisions to self-interested individuals." While this argument is sensible and persuasive as far as it goes, it suffers from an oddly truncated view of the world. It's as if society consists only of individuals and government, with interests limited to individuals and the public as a whole, without corporations, interest groups and other organizations anywhere in sight. With the exception of teacher's unions, Howard strips his analysis of much of the sources of power and interest in American society, leaving his otherwise thoughtful efforts seriously incomplete. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Having bemoaned The Death of Common Sense, Howard argues that we must learn to "draw the line," that is, take some responsibility. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345438713
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 871,443
  • Product dimensions: 5.45 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Lost Art of Drawing the Line !

The double slide in Oologah, Oklahoma, donated to the town park by the Kiwanis Club, was a local landmark. For fifty years this slide, looking like two legs of a spider, had provided fun for the children of Oologah. In 1995, however, a child suffered minor injuries while playing unattended on the slide, and the parents made a claim against the town. “I knew it was going then,” said Judy Ashwood, fifty-three, who herself had played on the slide as a child. “It’s hard for me to think that people who live here would actually sue the city if their child fell off the slide.” But the town board decided it had no choice, notwithstanding a citizen petition asking that the slide remain in the park. It auctioned off the slide to a resident of a nearby town, getting $326.50, and the Oologah park slide was carted away.

All across America, playgrounds are being closed or stripped of standard equipment. In 1997, Bristol, Connecticut, removed all of the seesaws and merry-go-rounds from its playgrounds. When told of the decision, the face of thirteen-year-old Jennifer Bartucca fell with disappointment. “Every time I come here, I ask a friend to go on the seesaws. It is one of my favorite things to do at the park,” said Jennifer: “I love merry-go-rounds. My father would push me on them when I was a little kid.” Nicole LaPierre, sixteen, was equally disappointed. “If you play right, you’re not going to get hurt.”

Being safe has come a long way since Ralph Nader pointed out the absence of safety guidelines for cars and other consumer products. Avoiding risk is now practically a religion. But it’s not clear that the results are necessarily what most people want. Some towns, for example, have the resources to replace the playground equipment with new, safer alternatives, including transparent tubes to crawl through and a one-person seesaw that works on a spring. Can you wait? The new equipment is so boring, according to Lauri Macmillan Johnson, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Arizona, that children make up dangerous games, like crashing into the equipment with their bicycles.

The headlong pursuit of safety is killing off the simple pleasures of life. Why take a risk on an activity that’s not absolutely necessary? The town of Park City, Utah, had a proposal to make bicycles available for free to tourists and others, both to alleviate the traffic and to make the town more attractive. Most people old enough to ride a bicycle are aware of the hazards. But accidents happen, and after concerns were raised about the possibility of a horrible accident, the plan was stopped. Better safe than sorry. Larck Lake, in West Virginia, had been open to fishermen and picnickers since 1993. But the owners got scared because teenagers coming up to a party there often decided to go swimming. “We felt that, sooner or later, there would be an accident,” said Fred Stottlemyer, an official with the company that owns the lake, “so we decided to close the lake to recreational use.” Bob Petryszak, who bought a house nearby because of the lake, was disappointed. “This is a great place to fish. The recreation it provides is a great asset to the area. There should be a way to keep it open.”

Fun is optional, of course. The prophets of safety certainly practice a gloomy earnestness. But some activities that we’ve cut out are pretty important. Psychologists tell us, for example, that children need affection. Even before there were psychologists, most people, and animals as well, showed affection to their young. But in America, hugging or, indeed, even a pat on the back is now considered so dangerous that teachers can’t do it. “Our policy is basically don’t hug children,” said Lynn Maher, speaking for the New Jersey chapter of the National Education Association (NEA). The guidelines of Pennsylvania’s NEA chapter urge teachers to do no more than “briefly touch” a child’s arm or shoulder. Michigan passed a law that forbade teachers to touch students for any reason. We’re well on our way to a society where, as Ann Welch, a special-education teacher in Virginia, put it, “we tell children that karate is okay and hugs aren’t.”

Being safe, maybe extra-safe, is what we say is happening. But nobody really believes that. What’s going on has little to do with risk to other people. It’s mainly about avoiding legal risk for the person conducting the activity. “Ultimately, we came to the conclusion we were exposing ourselves to too much liability” by allowing people to keep using Larck Lake, said Mr. Stottlemyer. Charles Montgomery, who bought the double slide from the town of Oologah and set it up for his children in the backyard, put his finger on the problem. “It’s a shame,” Mr. Montgomery said. “I just see a kind of dying part of most people’s childhood. It’s going away because of society and lawyers.”

People talk about the “litigation explosion” whenever a headline announces a huge verdict on some ordinary accident, like the $2.9 million verdict against McDonald’s (later reduced to $640,000) when an elderly lady spilled the hot coffee while pulling away from the drive-thru window. Exorbitant verdicts are the exception, however, and don’t directly touch the lives of most Americans. But law has changed our culture. Instead of looking where we want to go, Americans are constantly looking over our shoulders.

The effects are sometimes tragic. Christopher Sercye, fifteen, was shot while playing basketball on a playground close to the Ravenswood Hospital in Chicago. With the help of two friends, the boy made it to within thirty feet of the hospital entrance. When Christopher collapsed, almost at the hospital door, his friends ran in to get help, but the emergency-room staff refused to come out. Hospital policy was that they should not leave the hospital because, as the explanation later indicated, of fear of possible legal liability for neglecting patients already in the hospital. But going thirty feet outside the hospital is not much different for staff than going thirty feet inside. As Christopher lay bleeding on the sidewalk, a policeman begged the staff to come out. But the hospital staff refused to budge and instead placed a call to 911. Christopher lay on the sidewalk for twenty-five minutes before a police sergeant arrived and commandeered a wheelchair to bring him in. The boy died shortly afterward.

Life-and-death decisions used to be more important than anything, certainly more important than legal niceties about duties to sick people thirty feet in one direction versus thirty feet in another. But Americans today act as if we’re wearing legal blinders that block any sensible perspective. When a possible legal risk pops up before our narrow range of vision, however remote or ridiculous, we react like rats to an electric shock. Why take the legal risk?

A new medical school graduate, one week away from getting her license to practice, was recently driving in suburban New York when she came upon a motorcycle accident with the rider sprawled on the side of the road, obviously badly injured. After a brief discussion with her mother, she decided not to stop because she might be liable for practicing without a license. At first blink, her logic seems perfectly reasonable. But this only shows how warped we’ve become. How about helping out because you’re a human being who happens to have the skills to save a life?

Some suggest that Americans are just being irrational, pumped up by scare tactics of corporations and greedy co-conspirators wanting to undermine the American legal system. Put yourself in the position of the doctor whose patient has a bad headache. Is it aspirin, or a CAT scan? Pretend you’re in charge of making decisions on the school playground equipment. Are you a little uneasy?

The air in America is so thick with legal risk that you can practically cut it and put it on a scale. A volunteer teacher in East Harlem was working with a group of nine-year-olds when one kept shoving the others, ignoring the teacher’s repeated requests and commands that he stop. Finally, she put her hands on his shoulders to tell him that he would be sent home if he didn’t stop. The response of this youthful aggressor? “You can’t touch me, that’s against the law.”

The accepted wisdom is that America is a diverse country, and the values of Americans have changed. But do contemporary Americans really suffer from differing views of what’s too risky and what’s not? Do most Americans really disagree on whether the bleeding boy should be attended to? Is society really so fractured over, say, the risk of letting the public enjoy a mountain lake? If everyone generally knows what’s right or sensible, why doesn’t he or she just make that decision? Not many years ago, we felt comfortable with these decisions. Today it’s unthinkable.

We accept this perpetual legal anxiety as we would an incurable disease. What do you do? After all, people have their legal rights. The relevant issue is whether you can prove your position. We barely even question the system because, well, that’s how law works.

More powerful than any invading army, than any constitution, is an accepted frame of reference. Today, Americans believe that fairness to individuals is the goal of justice. Of course it is, you’re probably thinking. This is America. But what does it mean to be fair? What’s fair, as most adults know, depends on your point of view. The reason we know American justice is fair, unassailable in its fairness, is that it avoids anyone’s point of view. American justice is neutral. Fairness in modern America comes not from asserting beliefs but from avoiding them.

Judges see their responsibility, as Professor Michael Sandel observed, to make a “morally neutral judgment.” Who, even a judge, has the right to decide what’s fair or not? Justice, we’ve been taught, is a matter merely of determining entitlement. Written law sets forth the standards, and the person will either prove the claim or not.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(2)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(1)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Our Freedom Under Attack

    Author Philip K. Howard returns with an extended lesson he started teaching us back in 1994. Sad to say, this book's content reveals that his best selling The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating Americadid little to dint the damage of predatory litigation. Hopefully, this book's teachings will take hold. At least the author is trying.

    As a corporate director of Human Resources, I see the damage on a weekly and often daily basis. As I am still employed - and would like to remain as such - I cannot give specific examples (some of which are worse than anything you will find in the book). Suffice it to say, that the national culture of wanting something for nothing is in a horrible condition. Besides the inordinate cost in time and money, there is the hidden cost associated with loss of morale. This is often not considered when discussing frivolous litigation. The `good' people of the world see what is going on. They are not operating with blinders.

    I enjoyed the author's use of real-life anecdotes to highlight and explain his reasoning. Due to my afore-mentioned position, I may not be as shocked as others when I hear these stories but they are an excellent reminder of our current course. That is, we are heading for the reef. To read more on this you may want to check out Glenn Beck's Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine and Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto

    I did read several of the reviews and noted that one reviewer stated that libertaria.ns are part of the status quo and do not want the system to change. As a libertarian, nothing could be further from the truth.

    I hope you find this review helpful.

    Michael L. Gooch, SPHR

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)