3/26/2007

Death of Common Sense

fixBuffalo reader suggested that I take a close look at the work of Philip K. Howard - the author of The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America (Random House 1995) and The Collapse of the Common Good: How America's Lawsuit Culture Undermines Our Freedom (Ballantine 2002).

Just found Philip K. Howard's Common Good Coalition and signed up for the e-newsletter. What an amazing advisory board, some of my favorite thinkers and writers are pushing this ball forward.
Why did the New York City building code crush Mother Teresa's plans to build a shelter for the homeless? Why do your tax dollars pay for policing elementary school art displays? How did a handicap-access law deny public bathrooms for thousands of able-bodied people? America is drowning: in law, legality, bureaucratic process. Abandoning our common sense and individual sense of responsibility, we live in terror of the law, in awe of procedure, at was with one another. Philip K. Howard has written the explosive manifesto for liberation--one of the most talked about sociopolitical treatises of our time. Citing dozens of examples of bureaucratic overkill--everything from the labeling of window cleaner as a toxic substance to the U.S. Department of Defense spending $2 billion on travel and $2.2 billion processing the paperwork for that travel--The Death of Common Sense shows how far we have wandered, how we got into this mess, and how we can--and must--get out.
Policy analysis here that requires a closer examination. I mean, if we keep doing the same thing over and over - ie, piece meal urban planning - and expect different results, well that's the height of stupidity right?
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4 comments:

Derek J. Punaro said...

Wow, do we ever need a group like this. Thanks for pointing them out.

fix buffalo said...

Make sure to sign up for the e-newsletter. Lots of policy briefs and links to their work appearing in the msm, too...

Anonymous said...

I read Death of Common Sense a few years ago, and was singularly unimpressed. As I recall, he skips all mention of historical context. He writes as if the robber baron era never happened, as if there was no prolonged struggle simply for workers in dangerous industries to have the legal right to organize.

Clearly we are strangled with regulation and litigation in this era. It shows up for various reasons. If the author wants to make arguments that run parallel to tired right wing sociopathic drivel he needs to ground them in something other than complaints about the worst excesses of regulation. I wanted some history, some discussion of the varied ways we got to this state. I do not remember getting any such thing.

fix buffalo said...

Anon...

Correct, Howard's not rehashing the same class based neo-marxist drivel that students are spoon fed in the classroom today. He's injecting common sense into the bureaucratized and sclerotic equation that most people would rather hide behind...

He refers to a number of historical periods and includes Aristotle and Polybius with more modern interpreters of this malaise, too. Hannah Arendt and Charles Dickens are hardly "right wing psycho paths" - he focuses primarily on late 20th C American manifestation.

Re-read it. I picked it up earlier this evening and couldn't put it down 'till I finished.

Love how he starts with the story of Mother Theresa buying a building from the City of NY for $1 for a homeless shelter and then walking away from the deal after being told she'd have to install an elevator - like homeless people need that, like duh!

Your characterization of Howard depicting the worst excesses of mind numbing regulation is wrong. His critique runs deeper and relies on a more penetrating analysis of "process" and "rationalization" instead of results. Dumb.

Lots to chew on here, folks. Howard clearly articulates what's wrong and offers a clear solution. Some people may scoff at the conclusion because "it's not fair"...oh well...