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This book provides a devastating critique of the blizzard of rules and regulations that government has promulgated in the past century and the damage they have caused to our society & our economy.

Howard provides numerous examples of nonsensical regulations (New York City refusing to allow Mother Teresa to build a homeless shelter unless a $100,000 elevator is installed, the EPA ruling that bricks are poisonous because if they are sawn in pieces there may be some silicate particles, etc.), but these are easy targets.

The most graphic illustration of the insanity of government regulation comes in his discussion of the Americans with Disabilies Act & the mayhem it has caused: kneeling buses spend a half hour during people's work commute, loading & unloading a wheelchair rider; public transportation vehicles end up with far less seats than before in order to accomodate the chairs; street curbs are ramped for the wheelchairs, but now the blind have trouble telling where the curb ends, etc.   It's time to ask whether all this is a worthwhile price to pay to benefit a minute proportion of the population.

Equally disturbing, is the discussion of Special Education.  What is the sense of an educational system that devotes a huge proportion of it's resources to nearly ineducable students?

The most interesting part of the book may be his examination of the motivation behind the regulatory scheme we now face.  He points out that the original motivation for regulation was fairness.  Social policy planners believed that only be having an elaborate & inflexible pattern of regulation that covered every eventuality, could you guarantee that bureaucrats would be freed from outside influences.  However, the result has been to require that everyone follow the same scheme of rules, regardless of whether they make any sense.

As Howard argues, this has brought us to a crisis point in American life.  We are increasingly frustrated by the intrusion of these rules into our lives, increasingly distrustful of government & increasingly willing to find ways around these regulations.

However, and this is a significant weakness of the book, Howard does not offer a real prescription for these problems.  His critique is powerful enough that it's hard to believe that we wouldn't be better off if we scrapped all government regulation & started over, but Howard understandably shies away from any such radical solution.


Grade: (B)


See also:

Phillip Howard Links:

    -ESSAY: Facing the Limits of Law, and of Lawsuits: Congress should reconsider whether lawsuits arising over the events of Sept. 11, other than those against the terrorists, should be allowed at all. (PHILIP K. HOWARD, 9/21/02. NY Times)

Book-related and General Links:
    -BIO : Howard, Philip K. (Covington & Burling)
    -BOOKNOTES : Author: Philip Howard  Title: The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America  Air date: February 12, 1995 (C-SPAN)
    -BOOK SITE : The Lost Art of Drawing the Line
    -ESSAY : Common Sense and the Law (Philip K. Howard, September 1996, IMPRIMIS : The journal of Hillsdale College)
    -ESSAY : The Rules of the Game : Play hard and stop whining. (PHILIP K. HOWARD, July 20, 2001, Wall Street Journal)
    -REVIEW : of Death of Common Sense (Steven Hayward, Reason)
    -REVIEW : of Death of Common Sense (Anne Ward, Perdido Magazine)
    -REVIEW : of Death of Common Sense : ANECDOTES NOT ANTIDOTES : Philip K. Howard is everyone's favorite anti-regulatory guru, but his best-selling book is flawed (RICHARD LACAYO, TIME)
    -REVIEW : of Drawing the Line by Philip K. Howard (Cass Sunstein, New Republic)

    -ESSAY: The Lethal Threat to America's Legal System:  Multiculturalism is not a response to injustices of the pastóit is a weapon deployed against the legal system that is the very foundation of a free society. (Balint Vazsonyi, American Outlook)
    -ESSAY : Shaky Ground : Why Flexible Rules and Reasonable Regulators Are a Builder?s Worst Nightmare (Gene Callahan, January 2001, Reason)