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The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government [Kindle Edition]

Philip K. Howard
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The secret to good government is a question no one in Washington is asking: “What’s the right thing to do?”

What’s wrong in Washington is deeper than you think.

Yes, there’s gridlock, polarization, and self-dealing. But hidden underneath is something bigger and more destructive. It’s a broken governing system. From that comes wasteful government, rising debt, failing schools, expensive health care, and economic hardship.

Rules have replaced leadership in America. Bureaucracy, regulation, and outmoded law tie our hands and confine policy choices. Nobody asks, “What’s the right thing to do here?” Instead, they wonder, “What does the rule book say?”

There’s a fatal flaw in America’s governing system—trying to decree correctness through rigid laws will never work. Public paralysis is the inevitable result of the steady accretion of detailed rules. America is now run by dead people—by political leaders from the past who enacted mandatory programs that churn ahead regardless of waste, irrelevance, or new priorities.

America needs to radically simplify its operating system and give people—officials and citizens alike—the freedom to be practical. Rules can’t accomplish our goals. Only humans can get things done.

In The Rule of Nobody Philip K. Howard argues for a return to the framers’ vision of public law—setting goals and boundaries, not dictating daily choices. This incendiary book explains how America went wrong and offers a guide for how to liberate human ingenuity to meet the challenges of this century.

Editorial Reviews


“Philip Howard has been on a lonely crusade for common sense, good government, and other quixotic ideas. He’s done it again with The Rule of Nobody, an utterly compelling and persuasive book that, if followed, could change the way America works—or doesn’t work.” (Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World)

“It’s so damn hard to fix things when people can’t—or won’t—make new choices. This powerful book shows how Washington is sinking in legal quicksand, literally beyond the power of those supposedly ‘in charge.’ Perhaps the only solution, as Howard argues, is to prune out these obsolete laws and chop away on the bureaucracy so that citizens of common sense can roll up their sleeves and get to work again as America has always done. Today, leadership is practically illegal.” (Alan K. Simpson, U.S. senator, Wyo. (retired))

“Philip K Howard has always struck me as an eminently reasonable, articulate advocate for common sense solutions. No wonder no one listens to him.” (Jon Stewart, The Daily Show)

“Philip Howard offers a startlingly fresh slant on what is holding America back. No one is free to make choices, including, especially, government officials. Regulatory law has become a nearly impenetrable web of detailed prohibitions and specifications. Everyone is hamstrung. Dense regulation discourages individuals, communities, and companies from taking new initiatives. It also prevents government officials from making the case-by-case judgment needed for effective regulatory oversight. This is an important reason why it is so expensive to start a business, why healthcare costs have gone through the roof, and why innovation has slowed to a crawl.” (Professor Edmund S. Phelps, 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics and director, Center on Capitalism and Society)

“You’ll laugh and wince and cry at the ridiculous situation America has gotten itself into. Howard shows us how we manufactured the rope we are now hanging ourselves with. Then he shows us how to untie the noose and put America back on the path to trust, competence, and greatness.” (Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind)

“This book is so deep, appealing, and rousing that it has the potential to actually move politics out of its current stasis.” (Christopher DeMuth, Distinguished Fellow, The Hudson Institute)

“Amid the liberal-conservative ideological clash that paralyzes our government, it’s always refreshing to encounter the views of Philip K. Howard, whose ideology is common sense spiked with a sense of urgency… [This] book drives home some large truths.” (Stuart Taylor Jr. - The Wall Street Journal)

“Compelling.” (Nick Gillespie - The Wall Street Journal)

“Howard’s proposed fix is witty, and intriguing: a follow-up to the Bill of Rights called the Bill of Responsibilities. These would be five new Constitutional amendments aimed at making government work better.” (Kyle Smith - New York Post)

“Philip K. Howard’s important new book… helps to explain why government at all levels not only is on autopilot but on a flight path that can only end in disaster… The Rule of Nobody  ‘envisions a shift in values—away from automatic government and toward a structure that allows humans to make choices needed to adapt to local need and global challenges.’  Well, here’s hoping.” (Nick Gillespie - The Daily Beast)

“A convincing, provocative argument… Howard’s clear, levelheaded descriptions of how things are done elsewhere…proves his point: We really need to figure out a better way to operate, lest the country grind to a halt.” (Jesse Singal - Boston Globe)

“Rather than asking what’s right to do, Howard contends, government asks what the rulebook says to do. As a result, waste occurs, debt rises, schools fail, health-care costs soar, the economy falters—and even problems that seem simple and easy to solve become bureaucratic nightmares.” (Alan Wallace - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

“Howard has written a splendid book, as entertaining as it is alarming… I cannot imagine how anyone could read it without responding enthusiastically to his call to arms.” (F.H. Buckley - The American Spectator)

“Howard’s red tape case histories—Medicare and nursing home regulations, for example—boggle the mind… [He] is a caring critic, and his call for citizen groups to ally in the fight for responsible government should be heeded.” (Ronald Goldfarb - Washington Lawyer Magazine)

About the Author

Philip K. Howard, the author of the New York Times bestseller The Death of Common Sense, is the chair of Common Good. He lives in New York City.

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great on the diagnosis, weak on the cure April 14, 2014
"If you make ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law." Winston Churchill said these words in 1949 as he criticized the stifling regulation of industry and commerce by Britain's postwar Labor government. Philip Howard shows how we have not heeded Churchill's warning. In his several books, ranging from his 1994 book The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America to The Lost Art of Drawing the Line: How Fairness Went Too Far to this new book The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government, Philip Howard has written about a common theme -- that more regulation, more oversight, more government, more litigation, does not help America. Instead, it hurts.

A lawyer himself (a partner at the prestigious law firm Covington & Burling), Philip Howard writes well about how this theme of overlawyering and overgoverning permeates our lives and keeps us from improving our lives as much as we otherwise could. Unlike many who write on this topic, Philip Howard does not take a political side. In 2002, he founded the nonpartisan, nonprofit coalition Common Good whose "philosophy is based on a simple but powerful idea: People, not rules, make things happen." The advisory board for Common Good includes politicians from both parties -- former government officials Senators Howard Baker, Bill Bradley, George McGovern (he's still listed on the website, but died in 2012), and Alan Simpson, and Governors Jeb Bush and Tom Kean.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing to Find A Non-Ideological Writer - April 8, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
Author Howard believes rules have replaced leadership in America - bureaucracy, regulation and laws tie our hands and confine policy choices. We wonder, 'What does the rule book say?' instead of 'What's the right thing to do here?' Thus, America is now 'run by dead people' - political leaders from the past who enacted mandatory programs that continue, regardless of waste and irrelevance.

Example: The 2009 economic stimulus package included $5 billion to weatherize some 607,000 homes; the requirement that it also comply with the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act meant the Labor Depart had to decide how much 'weather-proofers' (new classification) had to be paid in 3,000 some counties. The stimulus plan projected that California would weatherproof 2,500 homes/month, but by the end of 2009 the total was 12.

Example: Pulling out a tree blown over by the wind that was causing flooding by blocking a creek required 12 days and $12,000 to get a permit.

Example: The average length of environmental review for highway projects is over 8 years - replacing eg. the Goethals Bridge in N.J. took about ten years for plan approval.

There's no active plan to rebuild America's electrical grid (transformers average 40-years in age, it is not digitized, operates at capacity in some areas --> limited ability to develop alternative energy sources and/or transfer power between areas), primarily because of regulatory issues.

Dr. Berwick estimated Medicare wastes about $200 billion/year, largely because of skewed fee-for-service incentives.

Asking a NYC employee to help a co-worker could violate rigid civil service classifications, promoting him/her for good performance would be unlawful - jobs must be filled by written examination.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a rant, but still worth the read June 2, 2014
By RonnieT
Format:Kindle Edition
I liked this book, even though much of it was not new to me and it is 80 pages of ideas crammed into 179 pages of text. Further, I think he is too optimistic in his outlook and proposed solutions.

Howard’s main point is that over regulation has diminished our freedom, depressed innovation, and forced people to focus on the rules and avoid judgement and principle.

He suggests that the 1960s was the turning point, when people came to distrust authority that was unfair – to minorities, women, the environment etc. The solution was rules: specific, detailed laws that would take the arbitrariness out of enforcing laws and regulation.

But this had an unintended outcome. The law became more arbitrary: rules and regulation could be applied randomly. Any suit, no matter how absurd, is heard. Government infra-structure projects take years to be approved and decisions are slowed to a crawl as no one has the authority to say yea or nay, but anyone can find a rule, law or regulation that will allow a challenge. No matter how trivial or unrelated, it has to be heard, after all, we must be fair to everyone.

He gives some horrifying examples of people being mistreated and even dying as nursing home staff and fire-fighters followed the rules without concern for the end result. In one example, the fire chief even applauded the inaction of fire-fighters that led to the drowning of a man. Rules, regulation and the fear of law suit paralyse the front line teacher, nurse, doctor, and bureaucrat.

Howard does a great job of explaining how Congress has become incapable of governing as 14,000 lobbyists representing thousands of interest groups constantly push for rules and laws that will benefit their members.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Makes excellent sense
Published 4 days ago by Pat
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
An interesting read but full of unverified "facts" from an author who is anti-regulations.
Published 5 days ago by W. T. STEWART
5.0 out of 5 stars Government isn't the solution, government is the problem. Read this...
This book gives many examples of government gone awry. President Reagan put it best: "Government isn't the solution; government is the problem."
Published 9 days ago by Phillip B. Panczuk
3.0 out of 5 stars Our system of a "government of law" is broken
The book raises some important issues, but it is sometimes redundant and this makes for slow reading. I agree that our system of making and continuing laws needs reform.
Published 26 days ago by Janet B. Zehr
3.0 out of 5 stars He makes some very good points, but could have done it with one ...
He makes some very good points, but could have done it with one tenth the words. It is an editorial in the newspaper disguised as a book.
Published 1 month ago by Charles Dale
5.0 out of 5 stars perhaps his best book, he lays out in detail the hurdles ...
Phil Howard is the masterful story teller about what ails the regulatory state. In this, perhaps his best book, he lays out in detail the hurdles at all levels of government to... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Robert E. Litan
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This book is well written and makes one think.
Published 2 months ago by David Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for all US citizens
I read The Death of Common Sense a few years ago and it became one of my 10 seminal books in understanding how the legal system in the US works and needs urgent reform. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Ajit N Maira
4.0 out of 5 stars Rebuild
When it comes to public policy, have we become so polarized by ideology that there’s no room left for common sense? Philip K. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Stephen T. Hopkins
4.0 out of 5 stars but not an easy one.
Thoughtful, and timely! An important read, but not an easy one.
Published 3 months ago by JJP
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