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.
Yes, 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.
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.