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The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America [Paperback]

Philip K. Howard
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 May 2011


“We need a new idea of how to govern. The current system is broken. Law is supposed to be a framework for humans to make choices, not the replacement for free choice.” So notes Philip K. Howard in the new Afterword to his explosive manifesto The Death of Common Sense. Here Howard offers nothing less than a fresh, lucid, practical operating system for modern democracy. America is drowning—in law, lawsuits, and nearly endless red tape. Before acting or making a decision, we often abandon our best instincts. We pause, we worry, we equivocate, and then we divert our energy into trying to protect ourselves. Filled with one too many examples of bureaucratic overreach, The Death of Common Sense demonstrates how we—and our country—can at last get back on track.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade (3 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812982746
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812982749
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.2 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 489,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Philip Howard's insights help us understand why government appears arbitrary, almost never able to deal with real-life problems in a way which reflects an understanding of the situation. Peppered with pointed anecdotes about absurd regulatory inflexibility and the lack of the use of judgement, Howard's book reveals that we have concocted a system of regulation that "goes too far while it does too little."
In the decades since WWII, specific legal mandates designed to keep government in check have proliferated. The result is not better government, but more and poorer government. In a free society, we are supposed to be free to do what we want unless it is prohibited. But highly detailed regulations proscribing exactly what to do turn us toward centralized uniformity, Howard says, where law has replaced humanity. Detailed rules and uniform procedures have nonuniform effects when applied to specific situations.
Our old system of common law recognized the particular situation and invited the application of common sense. Common law evolved with the changing times and its truth was relative, Howard tells us, not absolute. But in this century statutes have largely replaced common law, and in recent decades regulations have come to dominate the legal landscape. Howard observes that the Interstate Highway System (still the nation's largest public works program) was authorized in 1956 with a 28-page statute. Now, we attempt to cover every situation explicitly. He cites one contract lawyer who received a proposed definition of the words and/or that was over three hundred words in length. (Let alone the more recent and prominent lawyer who parsed carefully over the definition of what the word "is" is.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is food for thought, not only for law students, lawyers and practitioners but also for the common citizen. In particular, for all those that get lost in the ill conceived red tape of mother bureaucracy, get stuck in fragmentary and nonsensical regulations. Not only the author provides enough examples of organizational lunacy, due to excess of formalism or elaborate distorsions of clear legal texts and principles, but also gives some insights about possible solutions to the problem of the excessive weight of rules and procedures so precise that no one has the chance to think for himself or find a solution to a problem applying common principles...
This is a provocative book written by somebody that has been a practicing lawyer, as well as a teacher. These two hats permit the author to better size up the frustrations and limitations that paperwork and stupid regulations inflict upon the citizens.
It should be required reading for law students.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reason is dead in America 10 Oct 1997
By A Customer
Affirmative action legislation creates an atmosphere stifling the very goals it seeks to achieve. Environmental law pollutes our air and water. The cry for the rights of the few denies the same rights for the many. These are but a few of the outrageous abuses perpetrated on the American public by a well-meaning legal system run amok.
Phillip Howard details horrid abuses of the American lifestyle in this fast-read book perpetrated by a bureaucracy that is no longer able to get out of its own way and so ensnarls public servants that they are unable to fulfill the very roles with which they have been charged.
Howard talks of a charitable fund run by the organization with which Mother Theresa was involved. They bought from the city of New York a number of dilapidated structures and sought to renovate them for the homeless. However, when it came time to open them, the city decided that the three-story structures required the installation of elevators at $100,000 per building. The charity did not have the funds to install the elevators and so the homeless were denied clean, warm housing in the interests of not forcing them to endure the evils of walking up a flight of stairs.
OSHA promulgates thousands of pages of documents to protect American workers from the tyranny of unsafe working environments resulting in an atmosphere where the use of a hammer or stepladder is covered in hundreds of pages of unintelligible legalese. Howard talks at length of one firm which has now accepted the fines levied by OSHA as an expense of doing business since it is not humanly possible to comply with all of the requirements.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Common Sense 29 Dec 2011
By Andrew
I enjoyed this book even though (as per the title suggests) it is very US centric. Some of the stories are a bit dated but I think we all have to be reminded from time to time that people get lost in bureaucracy sometimes and forget what they are trying to achieve in the first place.
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5.0 out of 5 stars No longer the Land of the Free 4 Sep 1999
By A Customer
The repetitive, silly prose near the end urging us to break free of the stranglehold of unjust and stupid laws (which we must) can easily be forgiven: this book exposes the arrogance and stupidity which have become "normal" legal proceedings. Like our friend Tacitus said: "The more corrupt the government, the greater number of laws." Message to God: "I will believe in You the instant every leeching lawyer that has contributed to America's current enslavement is struck by lighting!!!"
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars it was great
loved it it is true
Published on 12 Jan 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars Rethinking the Rule of Law
As the author notes in the book, these days it seems we're being ruled by law instead of the reverse. I found the book to be a fantastic and thought provoking read. Read more
Published on 21 Dec 1998
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful arguments, but uneven in style
I agree with the reviewer who concluded that this book is much too long; Howard would have more compelling if he had prepared this as a (long) magazine article. Read more
Published on 1 Sep 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars This Philip K. Howard must be a communist.
The audacity of this character, attacking the United States of America. Everything is perfect here and if your life isn't perfect you should kill yourself. How dare Phillip K. Read more
Published on 31 July 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars Uncommon Sense
This is a much more concise book than Bovard's "Lost Rights" - and yet makes the point that Bovard fails to: we are lost in a misguided legalism that is not to any... Read more
Published on 13 April 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars A Hard Hitting Account of Whats Wrong the United States
The United States has 5% of the worlds populaton, yet 50% of the worlds lawyers. We have a problem here, too much law, too many inflexiable rules, and too many bottom feeders... Read more
Published on 11 Jan 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars Ammunition for those who love to hate "the system"
One would think someone about to enter law school in the fallwould be disturbed by Howard's bashing of the very institution he will soon become a part of. Read more
Published on 9 April 1997
4.0 out of 5 stars Insiteful
This book was exteremely well written. It is a very thought provoking book and a must read for all politicians as well as voters.
Published on 17 Jun 1996
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