The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government

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Overview

The secret to good government is a question no one in
Washington is asking: “What’s the right thing to do?”

America is run by dead people—by political leaders from past generations who enacted programs that churn ahead regardless of waste, irrelevance, or new priorities.
Washington is hopeless, a legal swamp devoid of responsibility,
and ...

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The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government

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Overview

The secret to good government is a question no one in
Washington is asking: “What’s the right thing to do?”

America is run by dead people—by political leaders from past generations who enacted programs that churn ahead regardless of waste, irrelevance, or new priorities.
Washington is hopeless, a legal swamp devoid of responsibility,
and citizens have been largely disempowered. Nothing gets fixed because the status quo is cast in legal concrete.

This explosive manifesto argues that to get this country moving again, Americans must be free to make sensible choices—
to scrap obsolete laws and to approve new infrastructure projects in a year, not a decade. Government must be radically simplified, rebuilt on the solid rock of human responsibility and not on the millions of words of bureaucratic dictates.

We wonder why leaders don’t lead, government doesn’t work, and nothing gets done. Philip K. Howard shows here what went wrong, how to fix America’s operating system,
and how to reengage the American spirit to make things right again.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
01/27/2014
Howard (The Death of Common Sense), chairman of Common Good, attempts to offer a set of rational, nonpartisan solutions to Americans frustrated with government ineffectiveness at all levels. His well-meaning, if questionable, approach—which seeks to restructure bureaucracies in simpler forms—is bound to face opposition, as the forces arrayed against his reforms would be both massive and well-funded. Few will take issue with the book’s essential premise that, on the whole, government doesn’t get things done with great efficiency, but as Howard proffers horror story after horror story of bureaucrats following the letter, not the spirit, of the law, and laments the gradual accretion of rules and regulations that paralyze rather than empower, one is left confused as to who would actually benefit from his reforms. While the fiction that removing human judgment from decision-making enables both uniformity and increased performance is convincingly exposed, his anecdotal evidence, however real and shocking, seems cherry-picked to suit his arguments. Moreover, it’s unclear how some of Howard’s ideas—e.g., a citizens’ council tasked with focusing on the long-term implications of present policies—would actually clear up the bureaucratic muddles they’re meant to solve. Though many governmental institutions could be better run, the reforms Howards submits here are less than convincing. (Apr.)
Edmund S. Phelps
“Philip Howard offers a startlingly fresh slant on what is holding America back. No one is free to make choices, including, especially, government officials. Regulatory law has become a nearly impenetrable web of detailed prohibitions and specifications. Everyone is hamstrung. Dense regulation discourages individuals, communities, and companies from taking new initiatives. It also prevents government officials from making the case-by-case judgment needed for effective regulatory oversight. This is an important reason why it is so expensive to start a business, why healthcare costs have gone through the roof, and why innovation has slowed to a crawl.”
F.H. Buckley - The American Spectator
“Howard has written a splendid book, as entertaining as it is alarming… I cannot imagine how anyone could read it without responding enthusiastically to his call to arms.”
Library Journal
11/15/2013
After the recent government shutdown, there should be interest in this book from Howard, chair of the nonpartisan Common Good and author of the New York Times best-selling The Death of Common Sense. He wants to dump law created in and for the past.
Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-09
A blast against dysfunctional government, which Howard (Life Without Lawyers: Restoring Accountability in America, 2010, etc.) calls "a form of tyranny." In the author's view, when push comes to shove and problems need to be solved through action, and not another feasibility study, nobody has the authority to act. He evinces particular fury in considering long-standing legal obligations that bind the hands of government at all levels. Howard examines many of the usual suspects: "In 2010," he writes, "70 percent of federal tax revenue was consumed by three entitlement programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) that don't even come up for annual congressional authorization." Another group consuming funds is public sector employees—police, firefighters and teachers, among others—whose contracts and work rules hamstring state and local governments. Howard ridicules bureaucratic idiocies typified by the shenanigans regarding New Jersey's Bayonne Bridge, which needs upgrading or replacement to prepare for supersized Panamax ships. After more than a decade and nearly 50 approvals obtained from 20 different government entities, the project is still in limbo. Where other countries—e.g., the Netherlands—have "one stop shopping" for approvals, the United States now ranks 16th worldwide in ease of access for construction permits. Howard adds environmental and other kinds of laws to his list of contributors to dysfunctional government, and he dismisses most politicians as complicit. The author claims that the rule of law has become a kind of "automatic government" undermining predictability while "leaving citizens open to arbitrary state power." As for solutions, Howard calls for a Napoleonic type of codification of law at all levels, a system of special commissions to smooth out infrastructure approvals, the addressing of overlapping government functions and mandatory elimination of certain old laws. Some may find the diagnosis persuasive, but the cures proposed may worsen long-standing inequities.
Christopher DeMuth
“This book is so deep, appealing, and rousing that it has the potential to actually move politics out of its current stasis.”
Stuart Taylor Jr. - The Wall Street Journal
“Amid the liberal-conservative ideological clash that paralyzes our government, it’s always refreshing to encounter the views of Philip K. Howard, whose ideology is common sense spiked with a sense of urgency… [This] book drives home some large truths.”
Nick Gillespie - The Wall Street Journal
“Compelling.”
Kyle Smith - New York Post
“Howard’s proposed fix is witty, and intriguing: a follow-up to the Bill of Rights called the Bill of Responsibilities. These would be five new Constitutional amendments aimed at making government work better.”
Nick Gillespie - The Daily Beast
“Philip K. Howard’s important new book… helps to explain why government at all levels not only is on autopilot but on a flight path that can only end in disaster… The Rule of Nobody ‘envisions a shift in values—away from automatic government and toward a structure that allows humans to make choices needed to adapt to local need and global challenges.’ Well, here’s hoping.”
Jesse Singal - Boston Globe
“A convincing, provocative argument… Howard’s clear, levelheaded descriptions of how things are done elsewhere…proves his point: We really need to figure out a better way to operate, lest the country grind to a halt.”
Alan Wallace - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
“Rather than asking what’s right to do, Howard contends, government asks what the rulebook says to do. As a result, waste occurs, debt rises, schools fail, health-care costs soar, the economy falters—and even problems that seem simple and easy to solve become bureaucratic nightmares.”
Jon Stewart
“Philip K Howard has always struck me as an eminently reasonable, articulate advocate for common sense solutions. No wonder no one listens to him.”
Professor Edmund S. Phelps
“Philip Howard offers a startlingly fresh slant on what is holding America back. No one is free to make choices, including, especially, government officials. Regulatory law has become a nearly impenetrable web of detailed prohibitions and specifications. Everyone is hamstrung. Dense regulation discourages individuals, communities, and companies from taking new initiatives. It also prevents government officials from making the case-by-case judgment needed for effective regulatory oversight. This is an important reason why it is so expensive to start a business, why healthcare costs have gone through the roof, and why innovation has slowed to a crawl.”
Jonathan Haidt
“You’ll laugh and wince and cry at the ridiculous situation America has gotten itself into. Howard shows us how we manufactured the rope we are now hanging ourselves with. Then he shows us how to untie the noose and put America back on the path to trust, competence, and greatness.”
Fareed Zakaria
“Philip Howard has been on a lonely crusade for common sense, good government, and other quixotic ideas. He’s done it again with The Rule of Nobody, an utterly compelling and persuasive book that, if followed, could change the way America works—or doesn’t work.”
Alan K. Simpson
“It’s so damn hard to fix things when people can’t—or won’t—make new choices. This powerful book shows how Washington is sinking in legal quicksand, literally beyond the power of those supposedly ‘in charge.’ Perhaps the only solution, as Howard argues, is to prune out these obsolete laws and chop away on the bureaucracy so that citizens of common sense can roll up their sleeves and get to work again as America has always done. Today, leadership is practically illegal.”
Library Journal
04/15/2014
Washington attorney Howard's (Life Without Lawyers) scathing critique of the American legal system takes on the government regulatory process, describing examples of numbingly complex laws, such as those in Kansas on nursing homes. The author bemoans obvious rules, such as "all eggs shall be cooked" at an assisted living residence. The first seven chapters develop the thesis that we are under a "rule of nobody," with no one acting in the common interest. Howard calls the current era "regulation without responsibility." In this part of the book he makes a convincing argument that elected officials need discretion to act in the public good. Howard blames poor schools, decaying infrastructure, and budget deficits on officials' failure to make decisions. In the second section he offers 18 propositions and five new Constitutional amendments. At this point, some may disagree with ideas such as a Council of Citizens, "chosen as in a papal conclave," to oversee government and appoint independent commissions. At the same time, the author calls for more authority for the president and less work for Congress. Extensively footnoted and readable, this is a provocative proposal for policy buffs. VERDICT A title for general audiences interested in the law and public affairs, this is best suited for public library collections.—Harry Charles, St. Louis
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393082821
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/14/2014
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 54,345
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Philip K. Howard, a lawyer, advises leaders of both parties on legal and regulatory reform. He is chair of Common Good and a contributor to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

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