The Blog

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

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Common Good Launches a New Website

We are thrilled to announce the launch of Common Good’s new website, which will serve as the online home for our Start Over campaign. 

Start Over seeks to revive America’s can-do spirit. For anything to work sensibly, people in charge need to be free to make responsible choices. Today, an ever-thickening blanket of law and regulation has suffocated common sense. Everyone, even the President, is shackled by too much law. It’s time for a spring cleaning.

Start Over aims to shift the debate in America towards the need for a structural overhaul of law and government—so that all Americans have the freedom to take responsibility. It is motivated by one simple premise: Only people, not rules, make things happen.

Government will never fix itself. That’s why we must come together and force a basic overhaul—to restore a structure based on individual responsibility and accountability, not legal paralysis. 

Our new website will provide information, host discussions with leading experts, and offer ways for you to get involved. We encourage you to click through the site—sign up for our newsletter, join us on Facebook and Twitter—and offer your feedback. We also ask that you share this website with your friends and colleagues and encourage them to join the campaign.   

This movement will be historic. It could even be fun. But it will require you. We thank you for visiting—and hope you return often. It’s time to Start Over.

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Four Ways to Fix a Broken Legal System

At the February 2010 TED conference, Philip K. Howard speaks about how we can radically simplify law in the United States.

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Legal Idiocy #5: The Early Bird Keeps Its Job

According to a February 2011 report by The New Teacher Project, “it’s actually illegal in 14 states to consider any factor other than a teacher’s length of service when making layoff decisions.”

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Legal Idiocy #4: Buffalo Can’t Thin the Herd

A January 2011 Economist article relates that Buffalo, NY, “has as many public workers in 2006 as it did in 1950, despite the fact that the city has lost half its population.”

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Legal Idiocy #3: Guarding Against Efficiency

Despite housing no offenders, a Fulton County, NY, juvenile detention center continued to employee 30 people in 2010 due in part to a state law that “requires a one-year notice before closing the facilities run by unionized workers.” “We’re paying 30 staff people to baby-sit an empty building,” said then New York State Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo. “It is bizarre. It is something that has to be stopped immediately.”

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Legal Idiocy #2: West Virginia School District Swings and Misses

In response to liability concerns, the Cabell County school district in West Virginia removed all of the swing sets from its elementary schools in late 2010. Commenting on the district’s decision, and the pressure he’s felt to take similar action, the local parks director stated: “The whole situation is ridiculous …. It’s a real injustice in this society whereby an agency feels that it has to take playground equipment away from children because of the fear of a lawsuit. I understand the position that the school board is in, but if you’re going to remove swing sets, you might as well take down all of your playgrounds and forget about it. It’s impossible to protect every single child from getting injured on a playground.”

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Legal Idiocy #1: It’s Getting Harder to Build for the Future

Editorializing on the decade-long process to approve America’s first offshore wind farm, Cape Wind, The Wall Street Journal writes in April 2010: “Contemplate this depressing change in America’s can-do spirit: The 6.6 million-ton Hoover Dam that tamed the mighty Colorado River was finished in 1936 after a mere five years. Yet 130 offshore wind turbines … may take three times as long to complete.”

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One Nation, Under Too Many Laws

Writing the lead op-ed in the Washington Post's Outlook section, Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard proposes that every law Congress enacts should expire after ten or 15 years. “A healthy democracy must make fresh choices,” he writes. “Such a universal sunset provision would force Congress and the president to justify the status quo and give political reformers an opening to reexamine trade-offs and public priorities.” Howard also calls for the radical simplification of law, writing: “The current convention of law-as-instruction-manual suffers the idiocies of central planning, forcing everyone to go through the day with their noses in rule books instead of using their common sense.” Howard concludes his piece by quoting Thomas Jefferson, who famously argued that small revolutions from time to time were “a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.” A movement for legal overhaul, Howard writes, “is the medicine that America very much needs today.”

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Free the Teachers

Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard writes in the New York Daily News that the common denominator among schools with good teachers is that those teachers “feel free to teach in [their] own way.” “Inspiration requires spontaneity and originality,” he continues. “Teachers must own their classrooms. This is the secret of every successful school.” Teachers’ freedom, however, is under attack. “Instead of letting teachers inspire students with their passion and spontaneity,” Howard explains, “America has organized public schools as bureaucratic assembly lines. There is a rule for everything—so many rules that no one can know them all.” “We must abandon the bureaucracy so humans can take back control, school by school, classroom by classroom,” Howard concludes. “Not everyone will succeed. But many will, and probably much quicker than imagined. There’s nothing so contagious, the saying goes, as enthusiasm.”

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Time for a Movement for Legal Reform

In his recent article in The Atlantic, Philip K. Howard argues that “modern law has severed people from their best judgment.” He relates that, in addition to America's schools and hospitals, Washington is so “paralyzed by the accretion of law” that even President Obama “is powerless in the face of [it]” (noting that an obsolete 1931 law “prevented the President from hiring thousands of people last year”). “Reviving personal initiative is impossible without basic legal overhaul,” Howard writes – but “neither political party in the US has even a glimmer of interest in this issue.” “What's needed here is a movement," he concludes. "People who believe the system is broken have to band together and force change upon a political system that seems content to preside over a status quo of slow suffocation.”

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