by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Government just doesn’t work very well. That’s the persuasive thesis of three important books published this year.
John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s The Fourth Revolution takes a historical and international (and British) perspective.
They argue that the welfare state, a creation of early-20th-century Brits, has become clunky in comparison to recent reforms in Scandinavia and the Asian model most highly developed in Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore.
Peter Schuck’s Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better looks at a multitude of federal programs and concludes that most, though not all, have “deep structures” that make “policy failure and mismanagement” inevitable.
Philip K. Howard’s The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government takes a different approach.
Howard, a New York lawyer and founder of a group called Common Good, starts off with anecdotes showing how law prevents problems from being sensibly solved.
A bridge blocking New York’s harbor from the newest supertankers can’t be elevated without 47 permits from 19 government agencies, and environmental groups will bring lawsuits at multiple stages.
A lifeguard is fired for saving a man outside his zone of the beach. A community soup kitchen was shut down because it served potluck meals and had no kitchen to be inspected. Day-care centers have to offer two sets of blocks with at least ten blocks a set (who counts them each day?).
You get the idea. You’ve almost certainly encountered this sort of thing in your daily life. “Legal rigidity trumps everything,” Howard writes. “Law has crowded out the ability to be practical or fair.”
American laws and regulations tend to be over-detailed and to rob government officials of all initiative and, therefore, responsibility. Case in point: The 2,700-page Obamacare, with a 28-word definition of “high school” and a (so far) seven-foot-high pile of regulations.