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May 13, 2014

And the beat goes on . . .

Philip K. Howard, one of whose books, The Death of Common Sense, is an all-time favorite of mine, has a new book, The Rule of Nobody. I haven't read it yet, but here's an excerpt

It sounds like Mr. Howard is revisiting his long-standing theme. This is not a knock: it's darn good theme. 

Automatic law causes public failure. A system of detailed dictates is supposed to make government work better. Instead it causes failure.


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Eric Falkenstein

Loved it. Interesting critique of Hayek, against 'stakeholders'. Basically, he argues for more governmental discretion, especially at the bottom levels. For this to work, you need to be able to remove bad government employees, so this isn't trivial.

But, wonderful, quick read with lots of great anecdotes.


"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."

The first two claims need to be heavily caveated to be considered in any way meaningful, while the last is patently false.


Also, I am in favor of rigidly enforcing rules precisely for the reasons that Howard recoils from them: absurd rules create tragedies. The correct solution is GET RID OF the terrible rules.

Instead, Howard wants to give incredible discretionary power to bureaucrats to follow, or not, rules in place. That is a greater recipe for disaster than rigid enforcement of stupid rules.

On a deeper level, though, that these rules are kept in effect, rather than simply ignored is a failing of us as a culture. That we fail to hold those who write the rules accountable is the greater failure.

David Foster

Peter Drucker addressed all this back in 1969: "Any government that is not a “government of forms” degenerates rapidly into a mutual looting society."

You can give the lower-level bureaucrats lots of discretion, and get both corruption and tyrannical behavior. Or you can deny them discretion, and get rigidity, inefficiency, and frequently suboptimal / unjust decisions in individual cases.

This conflict is one main reason why the expansion of government to too great a role in society must be resisted.

Extended Drucker quote and more of my thoughts on this, here:

eric falkenstein

Zero tolerance policies are clearly a bad end game. And a vacant house on my street remains in limbo for 3 years because no one has the authority to seize it. These are the kind of bad things Howard rightly addresses.

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