This article originally appeared on NYPost.com on 01/27/2019.
For decades now, Americans have slogged through a rising tide of idiocies. Getting a permit to do something useful, say, open a restaurant or fix a bridge, can take years. Small businesses get nicked for noncompliance of rules they didn’t know. Teachers are told not to put an arm around a crying child. Doctors and nurses spend up to half the day filling out forms no one reads. Employers no longer give job references. And, in the land of the First Amendment, political incorrectness can get you fired.
We’d all be better off without these daily frustrations. So why can’t we use our common sense and start fixing things?
But common sense is illegal in Washington. Red tape has replaced responsibility. No official has authority even to do what’s obvious. In 2009, Congress allocated $800 billion, in part to rebuild America’s infrastructure. But it didn’t happen because, as President Obama put it, there’s “no such thing as a shovel-ready project.” Even President Trump, a builder, can’t get infrastructure going. The entire government was shut down in a spat over one project, the Mexican border wall, that the parties don’t agree on. How about fixing the broke rail tunnel coming into New York?
Washington’s ineptitude is only the tip of the iceberg. A bureaucratic mindset has infected American culture. Instead of feeling free to do what we think is right, Americans go through the day looking over our shoulders: “Can I prove that what I’m about to do is legally correct?”
Every Republican administration since Reagan has promised to cut red tape with de-regulation. “Washington is not the solution,” as Reagan put it: “It’s the problem.” But Washington has only gotten bigger during their terms in office. That’s because deregulation is too blunt: Americans want Medicare, clean water, and toys without lead paint.
The steady accretion of rules is why government has become progressively paralytic over the past few decades.
Americans are not stupid. Government drives people nuts because it prevents anyone from being practical. Nothing’s wrong with requiring a permit for a new restaurant, but should you have to go to 11 different agencies? Who has the job of moving things along in Washington, and making sure officials focus on real issues? That would be, uh, no one.
No one designed Washington’s giant bureaucracy either. It just grew, like kudzu, since the 1960s. Its organizing idea is to tell everyone exactly how to do everything correctly. Mindless compliance replaced human judgment. A new problem? Write another rule. The steady accretion of rules is why government has become progressively paralytic over the past few decades.
Back in the old days, of say, JFK or Howard Baker, government fixed problems by giving some official that job, and then holding them accountable. Congress authorized the Interstate Highway System with a 29-page statute, and nine years later, over 21,000 miles had been built. Today, the red tape would probably prevent it from being built at all.
It’s time to bite the bullet: Washington can’t be repaired, it must be replaced. Creating a coherent governing framework is not so daunting. Most bureaucratic detail is irrelevant when people are allowed to take responsibility again.
Instead of bickering over a laundry list of reforms, Americans should demand a few core principles:
- Radically simplify regulation. Law should set goals, not require mindless compliance with thousand-page rulebooks. Let Americans take responsibility and meet public goals in their own ways. More local control will not only work better, but restore pride and self-respect.
- Accountability is key. Democracy is toothless without accountability. Accountability today is lost in legal quicksand and then strangled by public unions. Fairness should be protected with oversight, not exhausting lawsuits.
- Shake up Washington. Obsolete laws, bureaucratic stupor, partisan politics, and lobbyists’ money all preserve the status quo. Reboot everything. Disrupt the electoral process by changing campaign rules. Move most agencies out of Washington — the bureaucratic culture there is toxic. Let the FDA go to Boston or San Diego. Send the worker safety agency to Ohio.
Experts say change is impossible, pointing to the gridlock in Washington. Incremental change may be impossible, but big change is inevitable. Americans are fed up. That’s why they elected Donald Trump president, and why Democrats are steering to the far left.
What’s missing is not public demand for change, but a coherent vision of how Washington can work again. My proposal is basic: Replace the dense bureaucracy, and put humans in charge again. Empower Americans, at all levels of responsibility, to make practical and moral daily choices. Then hold them accountable for how they do. Let Americans be American again.