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Common Sense is dying

I recently finished reading “The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America” and I found it to be very persuasive. Most publishings on what’s wrong with the current governmental system either discuss the need for more laws, or that the situation used to be better, but they don’t quite know why. Phillip K. Howard does an excellent job of magnifying inefficiencies in todays government (even though to book is more than a decade old) and their root cause. He is able to explain how we got into this mess. Plus I was never able to conclude what the authors political bias might be. He points out many short comings of the American Disabilities Act, fights against litigious happy citizens with an over inflated sense of entitlement, and yet highlights how FDR’s New Deal was a good thing. Pundits of both sides of the aisle have problems with that. So I find the book to be a useful read regardless of political persuasion; it is insightful.

The essence of the book is that during the 1960’s the legal system felt that if laws could be made specific enough, no government employee could possibly do anything unfair. So if there was a problem in the current regulations, the answer would be for a committee to come up with more rules. The result is that no bureaucrat can be held responsible for their actions, because they were just following the rules. The consequence of this attitude is that it created a culture of non-thinking bureaucrats who value the law higher than the intention of the law. It reminded of me a coworker who talked about previous teams where the attitude from day 1 was for everyone on the project to figure out how they wouldn’t be the scapegoat for when something inevitably went wrong. No one will stand up for doing to right or reasonable thing.

The book pushes forward the idea that the humans in government aren’t perfect, so we should stop holding them up to a standard which demands perfect adherence to a gargantuan amount of laws. In many situations common sense can come to an efficient solution which will reasonably satisfy the interested parties. The sense of despair the reader is left with is that if the findings in the book were to be a championed by the people, the demand for lawyers would decrease dramatically; and I have a sneaking feeling that the representatives of “us the people” don’t want that.

Categories: News and politics
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