The Blog

News and stories from the campaign to reclaim individual responsibility and liberate Americans from bureaucracy and legal fear.


Fortune Magazine Cover Story on Red Tape Features Philip Howard, Common Good

The cover story of this week’s Fortune magazine—“The Red Tape Conundrum” by Brian O'Keefe—highlights the work of Philip Howard and Common Good. The article’s sub-heading reflects the substantive connection to Common Good: How the wrong kind of regulation is strangling business—and what to do about it.

“It may well be the biggest bogeyman in business—bigger, perhaps, than even taxes: We’re talking, of course, about red tape,” the article begins. “The idea that burdensome and overly complicated government regulation is strangling growth is almost as old as commerce itself. But right now the hue and cry from the business community is louder than at just about any time in recent memory… In a recent survey by Deloitte, North American chief financial officers named new, burdensome regulation as the No. 2 threat to their business, behind only the possibility of a recession.”

The article then explores key questions: How can we be sure that our regulatory framework promotes innovation and fosters growth while at the same time protecting workers and consumers? Can we fix the current system or do we need to start over? How much is business at fault for the very excesses that companies themselves bemoan? And, finally, is there anything anybody can do to stop it?

“The rulemaking machinery—just like the law-making system—is geared toward pushing out new regulations, not removing them,” continues the article. “‘I kind of think of the regulatory issue as people basically saying in their own varying ways, Who’s in charge here?’ says (Michael) Mandel (chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute).”

“Philip K. Howard has spent more than two decades waging a campaign against red tape,” the article continues. “… he has written four books assailing over-legalization and founded a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization called Common Good to advocate reform—enlisting in his projects retired politicians from both the left and the right, including former senators Bill Bradley and Alan Simpson and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels… Howard’s belief is that our laws have gotten too precise for such a complex world and that our attempts to dictate every aspect of human behavior through rulemaking are only bogging us down. The system, he argues, is unadaptable. Similar to Mandel, Howard believes that too many different authorities means that nobody is in charge… In Howard’s mind, it’s time to go to a clean sheet of paper and rethink our entire approach… ‘You can’t reform this system,’ says Howard. ‘You have to rewrite it. That’s the lesson of history.’”

“(Matt) Harris (managing director at Bain Capital Ventures) echoes Philip K. Howard in suggesting that we may need a more radical approach. The best way to respond to our increasingly complex world is to make our rules simpler, he suggests, not more detailed. Regulations are now written in an attempt to legislate every imaginable action by individuals on every imaginable subject—an impossible task. ‘I think the whole thing needs to be rethought and boiled back to more of a principles-based set of detailed prescriptions on how everything can work,’ says Harris.”

From beginning to end, the cover story reverberates with Common Good’s philosophy about and solutions to this critical issue and underscores the necessity of our new campaign, joined by Sen. Bradley and Gov. Daniels among others, to overhaul government.

Click here to read the full Fortune piece.

Comment ›

Common Good to Help Illinois Slash Red Tape

UPDATE: The News-Gazette has written an editorial in support of Illinois’ red tape initiative. An excerpt:

To demonstrate the seriousness of his commitment, Gov. Rauner brought lawyer and author Philip Howard to the news conference announcing this initiative. Since writing the book "The Death of Common Sense" in the early 1990s, Howard has been a consistent crusader for common sense regulation, which ought not be confused with little or no regulation.

In his original book and since then, Howard presented a persuasive case demonstrating how harmful and suffocating ill-conceived regulations can be to the common good. To the extent this is a problem in Illinois, it must be addressed.

In that context, it's good Gov. Rauner has taken this step. It'll be even better if it's successful.

Click here to read the full editorial.


On October 17, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner announced an initiative to cut red tape across Illinois' regulatory agencies, quoting Common Good Chair Philip Howard on the urgent necessity. His administration has asked Common Good to act as informal adviser to this effort. The Governor seeks to save Illinoisans at least $250 million in direct license fee costs over the next decade and save taxpayers and business owners at least four million pages in paperwork. The initial report is due next May.

Click here to read a press release on the initiative from the Office of the Governor.

Click here to read Governor Rauner's executive order creating the Illinois Competitiveness Council.

Click here to read a Chicago Daily Herald article about the initiative.

And click the image below to watch Philip Howard’s remarks at the launch event:



Comment ›

Daily Beast: We Can’t Change Washington—So Let’s Dismantle It and Spread It Around

Read the essay here.

Comment ›

Move the Capital: New Animated Video Examines Washington’s Toxic Culture, Proposes Radical Solution

In the latest edition of “The Weekly Stupid”—the newsletter of the “Who’s in Charge Around Here?” campaign—a new animated video from Common Good examines an overlooked reason why Washington doesn’t work: it’s toxic culture.

Click on the image below to watch the video:

The culture of a place determines how it works. Whether people in a place take responsibility, feel free to innovate, speak truth to power, pitch in, help others grow, or do a thousand other things that help a group thrive, is usually fostered by its culture. Conversely, a culture can also lead people to be self-protective, short-sighted, quick to assign blame, and disinterested in joint purpose—sounds like Washington, right?

Here's a radical idea: Start moving agencies out of D.C. It wouldn’t matter where, as long as new people were in charge. Most Americans go to work expecting to make things work. They take responsibility—for results. Americans are willing to make hard choices, because that’s their job. In contrast, Washington avoids responsibility like the plague. It lacks the will to govern. That’s why, one way or the other, we believe Washington needs to be replaced.

For more discussion on the poisonous culture of Washington, check out Philip Howard's essay over at The Daily Beast.

Click here to sign up for future editions of "The Weekly Stupid." To learn more about the “Who’s in Charge Around Here?” campaign, visit You can also follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: #TakeCharge.

Comment ›

Center on Capitalism and Society’s 14th Annual Conference

Along with the Roosevelt Institute, Common Good will co-host Columbia University’s Center on Capitalism and Society’s 14th Annual Conference on November 18, 2016. Titled “Agency, Prospering, Progress, and the Working Class,” the event will take place at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.

The Center is directed by Nobel laureate and Common Good advisory board member Edmund Phelps. Common Good’s Philip Howard serves on the Center’s advisory board.

Click here for more information on the event.

Comment ›

Philip Howard in the New York Times: Red Tape, Not Funding, to Blame for Decrepit Infrastructure

Responding to a recent article in the New York Times on Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s agreement to increase infrastructure spending, Philip Howard penned a letter to the editor arguing that the reason we can’t rebuild America’s infrastructure is not a matter of financing, but of red tape:

To the Editor:

Candidates Agree on One Thing: Infrastructure” (front page, Sept. 19) notes a rare point of agreement between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: to spend at least $250 billion fixing America’s decrepit infrastructure.

The main hurdle is not financing, however, but red tape. Congress funded an $800 billion stimulus plan in 2009, and five years later only $30 billion had been spent on transportation infrastructure. As President Obama put it, “There’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.”

Delays of a decade or longer are common. Last year, Common Good published a report, “Two Years, Not Ten Years,” that found that decade-long review and permitting procedures more than double the effective cost of new infrastructure projects.

What the candidates need to address is how to create clear lines of authority to cut through red tape. Until then, vital projects will languish on the drawing boards.

Chairman, Common Good

Click here to see the letter. 

To learn more about the state of America’s infrastructure, and Common Good’s proposed solutions to streamline permitting, visit the Infrastructure & Environment page of our “Who’s in Charge Around Here?” campaign site.

To sign up for the campaign, visit You can also follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: #TakeCharge.

You can also join former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-NJ), Gov. Tom Kean (R-NJ), and Sen. Al Simpson (R-WY) in supporting our “It's Time to Overhaul Washington” petition—available here on

Comment ›

Philip Howard in the Wall Street Journal: Practical Fixes for a Broken Washington

“Change is in the air,” Common Good Chair Philip Howard argues in today’s Wall Street Journal. But neither Secretary Clinton nor Donald Trump has a coherent vision of what it should look like:

Mrs. Clinton sees lots of trees, not the forest, and is viewed as the candidate of the status quo. Mr. Trump is running as an outsider and strong man, but will have neither the vision nor mandate to overhaul entrenched structures. Whoever wins, angry voters are likely to be even angrier four years from now.

Howard goes on to offer the needed prescription for change:

Common Good, the nonprofit of which I am chairman, has a clear, bipartisan plan for fixing broken government: Simplify regulation so that individual responsibility, not rote bureaucracy, is the organizing principle of government. Laws should set goals and guiding principles, with clear lines of authority. Simple frameworks will be sufficient, in most areas, to replace thousands of pages of micro-regulation.

No brilliant systems are required—just the ability to be practical. This overhaul is not partisan. Former Sens. Bill Bradley of New Jersey and Alan Simpson of Wyoming, former Govs. Mitch Daniels (Indiana) and Tom Kean (New Jersey) have joined the Common Good movement.

How do we determine which regulations and laws are good or bad? The litmus test is results: What’s good is what works. Achieving practicality requires creating structures that are adaptable and allow trial and error. The current system is far too rigid—cast-iron regulatory manacles can’t adapt quickly, waste taxpayer money and impose a deadweight on freedom.

Click here to read Howard’s full essay.

To sign up for the movement described above, visit You can also follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: #TakeCharge.

Lastly, you can join former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-NJ), Gov. Tom Kean (R-NJ), and Sen. Al Simpson (R-WY) in supporting our petition—available here on

Comment ›

Philip Howard in the Daily Beast: The Cure to Irresponsible Public Discourse Is to Restore Authority

Writing in the Daily Beast, and discussing New York Times Company CEO Mark Thompson’s new book, Common Good Chair Philip Howard explains how the breakdown of authority has turned public discourse into a shouting match:

Public discourse is a cacophony because the words don’t matter. There’s no decision-maker to persuade or to hold you accountable. The disappearance of authority was no accident. After the 1960s, we reorganized government to avoid fallible human judgment by replacing human authority with thick rulebooks. That’s why government is a tangle of red tape where no one can do much of anything. Critical infrastructure projects languish on drawing boards because no official has authority to give a permit. Schools are chaotic because teachers must prove in a due process hearing that Johnny threw the punch. In government without human authority, irresponsible actions have few consequences, and irresponsible words have no consequences. Yell, hiss, lie… whatever.

The solution, Howard concludes, is to empower people, and government officials in particular, to ask and act upon this question: “What’s the right thing to do here?”

Click here to read Howard’s full essay—and click here to read more about his proposed solution on the “Who’s in Charge Around Here?” campaign site. You can sign up for the campaign at You can also follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: #TakeCharge.

Comment ›

Common Good Releases Animated Video on the Need to Expedite Approval of the Gateway Project

UPDATE: Common Good’s video on the need to expedite approval of the Gateway Rail Tunnel Project has received significant media coverage, including from and the Washington Post. The Washington Post’s Fredrick Kunkle interviewed Common Good’s Philip Howard about the reasoning behind the video, and the need to reform America’s infrastructure approval process:

‘We need to create a critical mass of public pressure to make sure that at the end of the meeting, someone says, “Okay, let’ s move forward and do this, instead of having another meeting. ”

Howard said that another reason for the delay is that the public works approval process has been hijacked—sometimes by opponents, and sometimes by proponents who fear being sued by opponents. Their battleground has become the environmental impact review or concerns that bulldozers will raze history.

‘Everyone’s gaming the system,’ Howard said. ‘The environmental review, in my opinion, is an extraordinarily important component of decision-making. But it was intended to take months, not a decade. It was intended to focus the important environmental issues, not overturning every pebble.’

You can read the full piece here.

ORIGINAL POST: Common Good today released a three-minute animated video highlighting the need to expedite approval of the proposed Gateway Rail Tunnel Project under the Hudson River. The video—“Transportation Armageddon”—was created for Common Good by Alex Marino, a former writer for “The Daily Show.” It incorporates his humor and perspective in discussing a crucial issue: the need to prevent unnecessary financial and environmental costs from delay of the Project. Click the image below to watch the video:

The video is the first “Weekly Stupid” product created as part of Common Good’s recently-launched “Who’s in Charge Around Here?” campaign.

Download the press release on the video here.

Click here to read Common Good’s May 2016 report on the Gateway Project, “Billions for Red Tape.”

And to learn more about and sign up for the “Who’s in Charge Around Here?” campaign, visit You can also follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: #TakeCharge.

Comment ›

Philip Howard, Bill Bradley, Tom Kean Talk Broken Government

The co-chairs of Common Good’s “Who’s in Charge Around Here?” campaign have appeared on TV and radio in the past few days to discuss the effort and, in particular, the need for it.

On Friday, campaign co-chair Philip Howard appeared on CNBC’s “Power Lunch,” arguing: “Americans are frustrated, but it’s like punching a pillow, because Washington is this giant hairball of accumulated regulations that prevent everybody, even the President, from [getting anything done].”

Click the image below to watch a five-minute clip of the interview.

On Monday, former Senator Bill Bradley, the other campaign co-chair, appeared with former Governor Tom Kean, a campaign endorser, on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.” “We have a lot of talk about the problems we face as a country, but there’s no coherent plan to fix Washington,” said Bradley. “And what we’re trying to do is lay out a plan to fix Washington ….”

Click the image below to listen to the 23-minute interview.

Learn more about and sign up for the campaign at You can also follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: #TakeCharge.

Comment ›

 1 2 3 >  Last ›