05 May 2014

Government Making America Inept

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Philip K. Howard, at the Daily beast, served up an excerpt from his new book on how excessive regulation is rendering America dysfunctional, The Rule of Nobody.

In February 2011, during a winter storm, a tree fell into a creek in Franklin Township, New Jersey, and caused flooding. The town was about to send a tractor in to pull the tree out when someone, probably the town lawyer, helpfully pointed out that it was a “class C-1 creek” and required formal approvals before any natural condition was altered. The flooding continued while town officials spent 12 days and $12,000 to get a permit to do what was obvious: pull the tree out of the creek.

Government’s ineptitude is not news. But something else has happened in the last few decades. Government is making America inept. Other countries don’t have difficulty pulling a tree out of a creek. Other countries also have modern infrastructure, and schools that generally succeed, and better health care at little more than half the cost.

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What lawyers have done is driven the cost of making a wrong decision so high that nobody is willing to make a decision at all. In the creek example, any rational person would quickly conclude that the cost of not pulling the tree was greater than any foreseeable cost from doing so. Except that the town realized that some lawyer with time on his hands could sue the city for not following the exact permitting procedures. A world of “follow the rules” is more profitable to lawyers than a world where common sense is allowed to prevail. It is to their advantage to pile rule upon rule upon rule. It is not a coincidence that two-thirds of all legislators are lawyers.


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