Blog — Government
Common Good Chair Philip Howard recently appeared on “Dialogue,” Idaho Public Television’s statewide public affairs program. The 30-minute discussion with host Marcia Franklin covers such topics as principles-based regulation, the role of judges, the need to review old laws, and how to bring about change.
“In a sensible system of government,” Howard tells Franklin, “everybody ought to be free to ask, ‘What’s the right thing to do here?’ Instead we’ve got this crazy world where teachers are told never to put an arm around a crying child, and playgrounds are not allowed to have things that are fun for kids, and businesses don’t give job references, and all these things where people are paralyzed in all kinds of ways that make no sense, because of the detailed rules."
Click here to watch the full interview.Comment ›
*** Click here to access proposed legislative language to implement the report's proposals. ***
Today Common Good released Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals, our new report on the costs of delaying infrastructure permits. The report concludes that a permitting delay of six years on public projects costs the nation over $3.7 trillion, more than double the $1.7 trillion needed through the end of this decade to modernize America’s decrepit infrastructure.
Read the press release here.
Read the report here.
This report came out of the May 2015 forum Common Good co-hosted with the National Association of Manufacturers, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Covington & Burling LLP.
Common Good is pushing for a radically simplified approach, with all reviews and approvals completed within two years. “Two Years, Not Ten Years” is our rallying cry.
We would welcome your comments and suggestions on this crucial national issue. You can e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.Comment ›
Philip Howard recently sat down for an extensive conversation with Arthur Levitt on his Bloomberg Radio program “A Closer Look with Arthur Levitt.” Topics of discussion with the former SEC chairman included the civil service system, environmental review, education, and presidential authority.
Click here to listen to the interview.Comment ›
In a paper addressing Edmund Burke’s concept of nationhood, Alfred University Professor Robert Heineman draws from The Rule of Nobody. He writes in part:
In his aptly titled book, The Rule of Nobody (2014), Philip K. Howard examines the deterioration of values and authority in contemporary American culture. He chronicles the attempts of legislatures to compensate for the moral vacuum in American public policy by enacting detailed legislation, thinking that the greater the detail the more likely that national goals will be met. The problem, of course, has been that legislation must be implemented and that implementing agencies have taken refuge in process. Procedures have replaced individual judgment, and, most important, this moral neutrality, perhaps impotence would be a better term, has led to egregious examples of outright stupidity, if not tragedy. In Howard’s words, ‘The philosophy of neutral rules pushed society another giant step toward immorality by basically abandoning any pretense of moral responsibility. Just go by the book.’
Professor Heineman’s paper, “America Today: Burkean Nation?,” was delivered on February 28, 2015 at the Edmund Burke Society Conference at Villanova University. You can read a draft copy of it here.Comment ›
The Sacramento Bee ran a good piece last week on the efforts of five retired California public employees who are trying to slim down the state’s outmoded job classification system—to some 2,000 job titles, from the current 3,666. Here’s an excerpt from reporter Jon Ortiz’s story:
They asked questions like this: Does the state really need 27 pay levels for prison math teachers? How about forensic toxicologists I, II, III and IV? The Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency was abolished 11 years ago, so why are its job classes still on the books?
‘We were amazed by that one,’ Fong said.
Simplifying the system won’t cure the state’s ailments, but it would signal that government values efficiency and wants to make itself more available to outsiders currently mystified when they apply for a state job. It would also cut down on needless, costly testing for promotions between jobs with little real difference. And it would clear out the clutter of tailor-made job classifications that sometimes were devised by a department with a single person in mind.
UPDATE: On the Volokh Conspiracy blog at the Washington Post, David Post writes about Philip’s Cato essay, calling it “very interesting and thought-provoking.” Read the entry here.
ORIGINAL 11/17/14 POST: Writing for the Cato Institute's online forum on reviving economic growth, Philip Howard argues that we must radically simplify law to unlock the potential of the individual:
Law needs to get rebuilt. There’s no avoiding it. Sensible choices today are illegal.Productive activities are sinking in legal quicksand. Even the president can’t break loose. It’s the law.
But the new approach to law is not (generally) captured in the idea of “deregulation.” Most Americans want environmental review, special ed, financial regulation, licensing of food vendors, and oversight of healthcare delivery. Lawsuits are an essential tool of the rule of law.
All of these desirable goals of law, which should enhance our freedom, are instead undermining our freedom. Indeed, it’s hard to find one government program that isn’t broken, and often counterproductive.The evidence is irrefutable: Read Peter Schuck’s book, Why Government Fails So Often. My favorite failure is civil service — designed to be “the merit system,” it instead makes it illegal to judge anyone based on merit.
The mutant root that has produced this impenetrable bureaucratic kudzu is the idea that law can supplant human judgment. We have tried to create a hands-free legal code, without any risk of human frailty. Most legal detail is aimed not at important legal goals or principles, but at dictating daily implementation. That’s why the Volcker rule is 950 pages. The Constitution, by contrast, is ten pages.
American law has become central planning. Actually, it’s worse, because the planners are dead.Detailed laws and regulations are still dictating behavior decades after they are written, when circumstances have long since changed.
The solution, broadly, is to restore human responsibility as the activating force of law and regulation. Law should be radically simplified into goals and governing principles, like the Constitution, and leave to accountable humans the responsibility to achieve those goals fairly and sensibly. Law becomes a fence around a corral, within which humans can try to achieve results in their own way. Any successful regulatory oversight works this way. The FAA, for example, certifies new planes as “airworthy” without detailed codes on how many rivets per square foot etc. Would you rather fly on a plane that was permitted to fly only because a court decided it complied with detailed regs? Australia replaced a thousand rules for nursing homes with 31 broad principles such as requiring “a homelike setting” and respecting “privacy and dignity.” The experts scoffed. Within a year the nursing homes were materially better.
Read the full essay here.Comment ›
Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard penned the following letter in today's New York Times:
In "Ideology and Investment" (column, Oct. 27), Paul Krugman rightly argues for greater investment in public infrastructure, but he doesn’t mention that bureaucracy, not ideology, has put the brakes on every recent infrastructure initiative.
A White House report in February revealed that only 3.6 percent of the $800 billion federal stimulus plan went to rebuilding transportation infrastructure. That’s not because ideology got in the way but because federal, state and local bureaucracy did.
Infrastructure approvals can now take a decade or longer, extending beyond the term of any president. In greener countries like Germany, by contrast, approvals rarely extend beyond 20 months.
To rebuild America’s decrepit infrastructure, responsible officials must be authorized to say “go.” An official of the Environmental Protection Agency must be given the job of deciding when there’s been enough review. A “one-stop shop” must be created to coordinate all needed approvals.
Infrastructure is a good investment. Bureaucracy, not ideology, is what stops it.
Read the original here.Comment ›
Posted 9/30/14 by Philip K. Howard
by Philip K. Howard
Most Americans think government is broken, and despair of either party fixing it—indeed, 58 percent say we need a new political party. But what should a third party—or an independent grassroots movement—stand for?
Let’s start with the simple, essential goal of fixing and modernizing our broken government. A crescendo from all sides is calling for a complete overhaul—including books by the editors of The Economist (The Fourth Revolution), Peter Schuck (Why Government Fails So Often), Francis Fukuyama (Political Order and Political Decay), Eugene Steuerle (Dead Men Ruling) and my new book (The Rule of Nobody). But Washington will keep doing what it did yesterday until forced to change. That will require a movement that millions of Americans stand behind.
The platform, in my view, should focus on neglected goals, not merely dealing with sleazy aspects of democracy. Goals are tangible touchstones, providing clear targets as well as a basis for accountability. The continued failure of the political establishment to make progress on core goals is also irrefutable.
In trying to appeal to the vast unrepresented middle, the platform probably also needs to accept goals that each ideological wing instinctively resists. Liberals care about the environment. Conservatives care about fiscal responsibility. Moderates care about both. As an alternative to political stalemate, this draft platform calls for balanced initiatives to achieve both fiscal responsibility and a sustainable environmental footprint. The way to pay for this is to radically simplify government, updating priorities and eliminating notorious waste, inefficiency and special interest subsidies that extend back to the New Deal. As a bonus, a modern, simplified government can liberate everyone from bureaucratic paralysis—getting millions to work on rebuilding infrastructure, and relieving doctors, teachers, small businesses and everyone else from the migraine headache of mindless bureaucracy.
Here it is.
Platform for the Future.
America is drifting toward the rocks. Political parties are unlikely to risk making tough choices. A new group needs to build support for a functioning future framework. The movement should be built upon three core principles, which the political system continually fails to act on. We must demand these principles not as partisan goals, but as moral mandates:
- We must modernize government. Government is paralyzed by an accumulation of obsolete programs and mindless bureaucracy. This bureaucratic blob is smothering the American spirit. Initiative and spontaneity are increasingly illegal—bogging down teachers, entrepreneurs, citizens, even the President. The solution is not to get rid of government but to reset priorities and simplify decision-making. Human responsibility, not endless bureaucracy, should be the organizing structure of government.
- American government must not mortgage the future. The undisciplined accretion of subsidies and entitlements is immoral, making our children pay tomorrow for today’s benefits. The solution is not to terminate programs but to overhaul them to eliminate their many inefficiencies and inequities, and to make sure they are responsibly funded.
- America must be a responsible steward of the earth’s resources. America will have no moral authority to lead worldwide initiatives for clean air and water, and to preserve the vitality of oceans, unless it is disciplined in its use and oversight of finite natural resources. This requires new incentives that protect base levels of sustainability.
To accomplish these goals, American government needs to be rebuilt. There’s no avoiding it. The status quo is set in legal concrete. Fulfilling moral mandates of responsible government requires new codes—replacing the massive junk pile of well-meaning laws and programs with modern, practical structures that meet the needs of today’s society, not yesterday’s.
America’s political culture will not be helpful. It has become an engine of the status quo, going nowhere at great expense, as special interests succeed in preventing change. Breaking free of this broken political culture requires a new vision, fueled by moral imperative, of where America needs to go. What’s the right thing to do? That’s the question that should guide our choices, and define America’s future.
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What do you think? I hope you will comment, here or at the Huffington Post.Comment ›