I just finished reading a very interesting new book titled, “Life Without Lawyers” by Philip K. Howard. Yes, I admit that it was the very interesting title that first drew my attention to this book as I cruised the new book section of my local library but strangely enough, the book really doesn’t beat-up on lawyers at all. Instead Mr. Howard’s theme and belief is that we, Americans, are over-regulated, over-litigated, and over-legislated. Mr. Howard-a lawyer and best-selling author-painstakingly build his cases by drawing examples from medicine, from education, from business, from everyday life in which too many rules and regulations interfere and in many cases actually destroy the activity or process they are meant to protect. Its why teachers cannot teach. Doctors cannot treat. Business cannot build. Why individuals are scared and frightened to voice opinions and make decisions. He argues that many of these rules and regulations have been passed trying to eliminate risk or to remove all differences between persons, groups, etc. supposedly to even the playing field and to protect us-the public-from the evils of the world. These evils may come from government, from business, from teachers, from ourselves. Mr. Howard demonstrates that the concept of life without risk, without personal involvement actually inhibits and limits our freedoms and our rights essentially destroying what they were designed to protect. Teachers cannot teach if they have to always worry are they breaking some regulation or they have to stick to some inflexible guidelines. Doctors cannot treat if they have to practice defensive medicine and cannot freely interact with their patients. Business cannot grow if it has too many regulations and rules to manage. We as individuals cannot expand if we have to worry that our opinions and actions will offend someone outside the boundaries of normal social decorum.
Mr. Howard backs his arguments with hundreds of examples. It takes almost 27 months to suspend a violent student from New York City schools so the student sits in the classroom interfering with the education of the other students. An agency serving the visually-impaired could not replace an incompetent director because she sued on the basis that she was being fired because of her disability-she was blind. Interestingly, the person they were trying to replace her with was also blind. Guess who won? The book is filled with numerous examples but more importantly, Mr. Howard provides solutions to these problems and he proposes how to start this “revolution”. Mr. Howard by the way is not “anti-government”; in fact, he strongly supports government’s role in our society. He merely points out that the manner of how our government is functioning is outside its role and its design.
I have listed here Mr. Howard’s “Agenda for Change”:
1) Restore the authority of judges to draw legal boundaries so the people have confidence that justice will be reliable.
2) Replace the vocabulary of rights with the goal of balance.
3) Liberate teachers and principals from legal rules and processes. Bureaucracy can’t teach.
4) Restore responsibility to government by giving authority to identifiable officials.
5) Provide checks and balances for official decisions up the hierarchy of responsibility, not generally by legal proceedings by dissatisfied individuals. The goal is the common good, not the lowest denominator.
6) Revive personal accountability. Your freedom hinges on the freedom of others to make judgments about you.
7) Decentralize public services to the extent feasible. Citizenship requires active involvement in the community.
8) Organize a national civic leadership to propose a radical overhaul of government. Washington is paralyzed and must be recodified. This requires outside leadership.
I know that by themselves, these sound a lot like what we hear politicians say everyday but Mr. Howard has also demonstrated examples where this has occurred and why it succeeded.
I liked the book’s ideas so much that despite having read the book after borrowing it from the library, I went out and bought my own copy.
Herluf Lund MD