The secret to good government is a question no one in Washington is asking: “What’s the right thing to do?”
What’s wrong in Washington is deeper than you think.
Sure, there’s gridlock, polarization, and self-dealing. But hidden underneath is something bigger and more destructive. It’s a broken governing system. From that comes wasteful government, rising debt, failing schools, expensive health care, and economic hardship.
Rules have replaced leadership in America. Bureaucracy, regulation, and outmoded law tie our hands and confine policy choices. Nobody asks, “What’s the right thing to do here?” Instead, they wonder, “What does the rule book say?”
There’s a fatal flaw in America’s governing system—trying to decree correctness through rigid laws will never work. Public paralysis is the inevitable result of the steady accretion of detailed rules. America is now run by dead people—by political leaders from the past who enacted mandatory programs that churn ahead regardless of waste, irrelevance, or new priorities.
America needs to radically simplify its operating system and give people—officials and citizens alike—the freedom to be practical. Rules can’t accomplish our goals. Only humans can get things done.
In The Rule of Nobody, Philip K. Howard argues for a return to the framers’ vision of public law—setting goals and boundaries, not dictating daily choices. This incendiary book explains how America went wrong and offers a guide for how to liberate human ingenuity to meet the challenges of this century.
©2014 Philip K. Howard (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
Software engineer and avid, lifetime student. I like deep, thoughtful non-fiction, and fiction that compliments and enriches it.
If I had the money, I'd buy a copy for every US voter. Howard calls attention to what is really paralyzing our government - a bureaucratic reversion to microscopically inane rules that 1) no one fully knows, 2) no one can change, and 3) provide "cover" for both amoral politicians as well as inept workers. It is April 15th and millions of Americans are doing their taxes - and cursing those incomprehensible forms. Welcome to the world of Administrative Rule-Making.
I don't know how or why this happened - Howard says the administrative rule-making craze really got going around 1969 - the idea being that to have a "fair" government, you have to have a mechanistic ("automatic") government where office-holders (including bureaucrats) are not free to act prudently, but must act according to prescribed rules. However, no one seems to have stopped to question the logic behind this: sure, it is true that an impersonal, mechanistic government is incapable of "unfair" treatment - but unless the rules are being created (and updated) by God - a little knowledge of the history of human predictive prowess would indicate that the result of a mountain of procedural rules will produce absurd results - like a superpower that threatens itself with a shut down every other year while Congress trades chits.
As Howard says, for all the virtue of the US Constitution, The Founders failed to consider that the structure they created makes it hard to make new laws - but it makes it even harder to change or revoke old laws.
There are only two possible outcomes here. Either we adapt our government into an agile format that restores authority (and with it, accountability) to office-holders, or the US government will collapse, sooner or later. The billions of dollars wasted every year on policies and programs we know are broken - but can't be fixed - are unsustainable - and immoral.
I would also like to note that this book can also be read as a prescription of what is wrong with corporate America, too. Large corporations suffer all the same problems seen in our government.
I really wanted to like this book. I'm sympathetic with the thesis, but Howard just persistently talks at the listener in a condescending manner. He provides a few cases here and there of maddening rule abuse but doesn't offer any in depth analysis of why the culture of excessive rules is the way it is. It's as if the whole book he is repeatedly saying, "Bah! Look at this! Isn't this crazy??" Yes it is, Howard. So do the intellectual work that I thought I was paying for and tell me why it's like this. It's hard to believe this guy is an accomplished writer. If you want a more scholarly, persuasive book about dumb laws and government failure in general, read Why Government Fails So Often by Peter Schuck. He actually gives a more comprehensive analysis of the dumb law phenomenon and it's only one section of his book! Plus, you get way more for your money!
The description of the daunting problems facing our democracy was excellent, thorough, and very well researched. The suggested solutions were also thoughtful and well-reasoned, though I was really disappointed that the audio version does not include the proposed constitutional amendments that are mentioned in the text (which says they are in the appendix). Finally, there were a number of places where the author kept saying the same thing over and over, which detracted from the overall quality of the book.
I probably would, though there were two or three times when he read a word with the wrong inflection, or simply read the wrong word. The best example I can think of is towards the end, where he said "prerequisite" in a passage where the author had likely written "perquisite." His voice was right for the job, and overall he did well, but he could have used some quality control.
Wake up, America! Your Democracy is Crumbling
Howard is right on point about how inane, intricate, and unchallenged rules dealing with the minutiae of interaction between citizens and government are crushing innovation and collective morality. I'm not sure if his suggested remedies are possible or would be effective if they were, but for all our sakes let's hope that something can pull us out of the mess.
The book is well written and very much to the point. He labors a few of his examples and those examples are somewhat limited. Also, while there is some supporting data, the book would have benefited from significantly more supporting data. But this is still a book you should read.
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