- Hardcover: 202 pages
- Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (January 13, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679429948
- ISBN-13: 978-0679429944
- Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (138 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #254,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Business agreements in the U.S. typically run to several hundred single-spaced, typewritten pages; in Switzerland, the same documents might be 10 pages. Charging that American law has become "the world's thickest instruction manual," New York City attorney Howard blasts excessively detailed, rigid government regulations that leave no room for judgment or discretion. He cites as examples occupational safety rules that fail to distinguish among different workplace situations, environmental laws that prove counterproductive and a "drive toward mandated perfection" that has stymied affordable day care and housing. He also lambastes overly complex procedural rules that stifle individual initiative, whether the task involves repairing a bridge, hiring a new employee or fixing a lock in a public school. A cogent brief for legal common sense and balance.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
The nuns of the Missionaries of Charity believed two abandoned buildings in New York City would make ideal homeless shelters. The city agreed and offered to sell the building for one dollar each. Yet the shelter project faltered: the city's bureaucracy imposed such expensive remodeling requirements on the buildings that the shelter plans were scrapped. To Howard, an attorney practicing in New York City, this is but one of many examples of the law's suffocating Americans by extensive decrees on what may and may not be done. His book is truly a catalog of horror stories, actually quite engrossing and adding to the story of public inefficiencies chronicled by David Osborne's Reinventing Government (Addison-Wesley, 1992). What Howard does not do as well, however, is offer guidance on remedies. His answer seems to be that we should take personal responsibility, gather up our courage, and step out into the sunlight away from government's shadow. More highly recommended as a study of the negative impact of law is Walter K. Olson's The Litigation Explosion (LJ 2/15/91) even though its focus is on lawsuits and the courts.
Jerry E. Stephens, U.S. Court of Appeals Lib., Oklahoma City
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Howard says this emotionally based attitude has replaced humanity; and, that it has its roots in rationalism. He gives numerous examples, with many rulings so ridiculous even to the point of laughable. Although Wilson's "Great Society" and Roosevelt's "New Deal" (whom he quotes) spawned this form of bureaucracy it still took many more presidents to bring us to this point. These two progressives probably never envisioned it to this degree. It takes more than an individual, it requires an unbridled beast--the first beast--government. His sources are lengthy for so compact a volume. There is also a lengthy bibliography, but it would have been helpful to add endnotes.
We need to get back to individual responsibility; the direction we're headed is simply not attainable.
"The virtue of rights, at least to the advocates, is that they are absolute. What's a little inefficiency when there is complete justice for me? Absolutes sound good, but generally leave behind a landscape of paradoxes and bruised victims."
"The Death of Common Sense" consists of four long chapters, presented without an introduction or conclusion. They deal with (1) the impossibility of devising laws and regulations that will sensibly address every variation and permutation of a given problem without the need for human judgment; (2) the pitfalls of elevating legal process over objectives; (3) the destructive consequences of creating "rights" for more and more disadvantaged groups without much heed to the burdens imposed on the rest of the population; and (4) the author's proposed solution to the problems discussed, which is for all concerned to stop looking to the law as a source for "final answers."
Howard is not averse to government regulation as such; indeed he lauds the accomplishments of the New Deal (pp. 77-78) when administrators could act with lightning speed because their brand new agencies were writing on a blank slate. The passage of the Administrative Procedure Act shortly after World War II (p. 78) started things on a downward track, in his telling, from which it has never recovered.
It is refreshing that an attorney would write a book so critical of his own profession, and most of the specifics ring true. However, Howard gives insufficient attention to the possibility that the government has spread itself too thin. Empowering unelected bureaucrats to exercise seat of the pants judgment in addressing all of the issues in which the government is involved might be more efficient than the present arrangement, but would the country like the results?
Rather than providing some drab history on our national problems, Mr. Howard give us an informative, and dare I say entertaining, cause and effect model to help up understand just how we ended up with a government that hardy functions. Moreover, it is not some sort of blame game that suits some hidden agenda or political party's attempt to keep the status quo. It is obvious Mr. Howard understands there is plenty of blame for everyone, even us (the public) that willingly fiddles while our metaphoric version of Rome burns.
Though published in 1995, the addition of an addendum for the 2011 release updates us on how we have progressed (or regressed as the case may be) since.
Mr. Howard shows us the problem and suggests a process to end the problem. The only question remaining is if you will read his book and help do something about the problem.
Freelance writer and editorial cartoonist
and award-winning author of Life's About the Adjectives