THE DEATH OF COMMON SENSE by Philip K. Howard

THE DEATH OF COMMON SENSE

How the Law is Suffocating America

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Attorney Howard makes an obvious but important point by decrying a system of governmental regulations whose complexity and detail often cause more harm than good; but his solutions are vague and quixotic. Howard contends that our nation has substantially abandoned a legal system that requires judges, legislators, and administrators to exercise good judgment and common sense. Rather, in an effort to promote certainty, uniformity, and fairness, we have created a nightmarish system of regulations managed by ineffectual and often corrupt bureaucrats who can avoid responsibility for the destructive consequences of the system they design and enforce. Our laws and regulations have become a morass of excruciating minutiae. This regulatory quagmire, Howard asserts, has failed to obtain its goals, such as making job sites safer and reducing pollution. Instead, the system has exacerbated the very problems it was designed to solve. The book's strength lies in describing and illustrating through examples the myriad ills of the regulatory system. Howard supports his argument with a dollop of history, a handful of statistics (such as the cost to Amoco of complying with environmental regulations), and anecdote upon anecdote; he relates, for instance, how the New York City Building Code prevented Mother Teresa from converting an abandoned building into a homeless shelter. The book's weakness is that Howard assumes that ``common sense'' is a self-evident proposition and that those who will not embrace it are misguided at best, corrupt at worst. He does not tell us how a good legal system would choose the ``common sense'' solution. This leads to the book's much too brief concluding chapter, which offers hyperbolic and ambiguous solutions such as ``relying on ourselves'' and seeking ``sensible results [which] come out of discussion and negotiation....'' A useful introductory essay that falters in failing to provide a definition of the ``common sense'' Howard says is needed to reform our regulatory system.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-42994-8
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1994




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