Bound by Rules Date: October 5, 2000 THE DEATH OF COMMON SENSE How Law Is Suffocating America. By Philip K. Howard Have rules replaced Thinking? This is the question that corporate lawyer, Philip Howard, asks of American law throughout his work. He argues that rules are simply not enough and that they cannot supercede human judgment. He believes that the excess of government regulations does not only not protect Americans, but in fact can even immobilize them and their ability to take action. Howard's book makes an undeniable point that common sense has been lost in American law and he pleads for a freedom from rules, yet he lacks in the way of solutions to the problem that he makes so clear. Howard's undeniable point, proving the weakness of big government, is reached by relating endless stories of illogical and inefficient governmental bureaucracy. First, the example of New York City laws forbidding Mother Theresa from opening two multi-storied homeless shelters unless she were to install elevators in the renovated buildings. Also, Howard questions the U.S department of Defense spending $2.2 billion dollars to process paperwork for $2 billion dollars worth of travel. Other examples of ludicrous government control include a 33-page manual describing the qualification and uses of a hammer, and contract bidding procedures that inadvertently but obviously encourage corruption. Howard clearly makes his point, that the abundance of rules interferes with common sense and this makes it difficult for citizens to retain any power to make their own decisions. But then again, who would seriously dispute that? The second section of Howard's book explains how the routine of the law has brought us to the point where people argue, not even about right and wrong, but about whether something was done the right way. He sees government playing a referee role more often then it finds itself being the decision maker. Howard again concludes with the same principle by emphasizing the dangerous side effects caused by using government to solve every problem and regulate every process. In the final section of his book, Howard moves on to explore the "rights revolution". This is a recent movement in which government has taken on the role of "your rich uncle under your personal control" and now everyone can be a part of a discriminated-against minority. "Rights" now exist for the handicapped, for the poor, the endangered species, and even the left handed. Howard believes that these "rights" weaken the understanding of authority and responsibility, and forces government to continue to help them. This does not result in bringing minority groups into society; in fact it has prevented citizens from working together and caused even more segregation and competition. Howard concludes this final section by encouraging the acceptance of responsibility and the value of compromising and maintaining a balance. The main flaw in the book is not the recognition of the problem, which should be obvious to most people, but in the solution. So, sure Philip Howard presents a wonderful case that proves our legal system is too big; there are too many laws and "rights" that are infringing on our freedom and hampering our nations prosperity. But what does he offer for a clearly focused solution? A return to common sense is all that he offers. No list of ramifications that would result from loosening the hold of the government is included. Nor is there even a list of areas where government could loosen its hold. The main difficulty lies in the fact that there are no easy solutions to this problem. If you loosen regulation you allow bad judgment. If you tighten regulation you don't allow good judgment. It seems like Mr. Howard doesn't acknowledge the difficulty or near impossibility of solving this problem. The beauty of Mr. Howard's book is the great challenge that it presents to its reader to find a way, any way to bring this country out its stupidity and back to sanity. Emotions will stir at mention of the book even weeks after you finish it. Anger, frustration, and a desire for an answer will drive you nuts. Perhaps, this was Mr. Howard's exact intention? Perhaps, he only wanted to share his thoughts that have plagued him with those same emotions; in hopes that maybe someone will find a solution to the problem with this current system of government? Word Count: 727
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