Our Real ailment:Ruled by rules,Psychopath Studies, Iraq's First King & Pixar Lessons

By Wallace, Alan | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 19, 2014 | Go to article overview

Our Real ailment:Ruled by rules,Psychopath Studies, Iraq's First King & Pixar Lessons


Wallace, Alan, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


To the author of the new book "The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government" (W.W. Norton & Co), gridlock, partisan polarization and self-dealing -- problematic as they may be -- are just symptoms, not the disease.

What truly ails federal, state and local government is a surfeit of detailed, rigid laws, rules and regulations that have made leadership, even commonsense decision-making, nigh impossible, according to prominent Manhattan attorney Philip K. Howard, founder and chairman of the nonpartisan reform coalition Common Good.

By making lawmakers on both sides wary of giving each other any leeway, today's deep partisan and ideological divisions encourage such burdensome rules and laws. Howard also points out that corporations favor the barriers such restrictions impose on potential competitors, public employees like how such rules limit their accountability for the actions they take, and "self- interested plaintiffs' lawyers" find plenty to exploit in our "rules- based regime."

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.

Among examples that Howard cites is the case of Franklin Township, N.J. After a winter storm there, it took 12 days and $12,000 to remove a fallen tree that had caused a creek to flood -- because of engineering work and permits mandated by a state environmental rule.

Howard urges that America "radically simplify its operating system and give people -- officials and citizens alike -- the freedom to be practical," according to the publisher. And in doing so, he'd have the nation be guided by the Framers' notion that laws should set goals and boundaries, not dictate details of behavior. He reminds that James Madison warned about laws "so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood."

The book is an impassioned plea to do away with the regulatory minefield that government has become -- while Americans, regrettably accustomed to such burdens, still can find a way out.

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412- 320-7983 or awallace@ tribweb.com).,Alan Wallace,"The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience" by Kent A. Kiehl (Crown, available Tuesday) -- Robert Hare, creator of the 20- question Psychopathy Checklist, served as mentor to author Kent A. Kiehl, a University of New Mexico professor. Kiehl developed and took into prisons the first mobile functional MRI scanner, examining the brains of more than 500 psychopaths and 3,000 other offenders. …

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