THE RULE OF NOBODY by Philip K. Howard


Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government
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A blast against dysfunctional government, which Howard (Life Without Lawyers: Restoring Accountability in America, 2010, etc.) calls “a form of tyranny.”

In the author's view, when push comes to shove and problems need to be solved through action, and not another feasibility study, nobody has the authority to act. He evinces particular fury in considering long-standing legal obligations that bind the hands of government at all levels. Howard examines many of the usual suspects: “In 2010,” he writes, “70 percent of federal tax revenue was consumed by three entitlement programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) that don’t even come up for annual congressional authorization.” Another group consuming funds is public sector employees—police, firefighters and teachers, among others—whose contracts and work rules hamstring state and local governments. Howard ridicules bureaucratic idiocies typified by the shenanigans regarding New Jersey's Bayonne Bridge, which needs upgrading or replacement to prepare for supersized Panamax ships. After more than a decade and nearly 50 approvals obtained from 20 different government entities, the project is still in limbo. Where other countries—e.g., the Netherlands—have “one stop shopping” for approvals, the United States now ranks 16th worldwide in ease of access for construction permits. Howard adds environmental and other kinds of laws to his list of contributors to dysfunctional government, and he dismisses most politicians as complicit. The author claims that the rule of law has become a kind of “automatic government” undermining predictability while “leaving citizens open to arbitrary state power.” As for solutions, Howard calls for a Napoleonic type of codification of law at all levels, a system of special commissions to smooth out infrastructure approvals, the addressing of overlapping government functions and mandatory elimination of certain old laws.

Some may find the diagnosis persuasive, but the cures proposed may worsen long-standing inequities.

Pub Date: April 14th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-393-08282-1
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2014


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