The Rule of Nobody by Philip K Howard

A short book that’s long on emotional arguments. The author seems to believe that merely repeating the phrase “American government is broken” often enough will substitute for producing evidence that over-specification of rules in law has harmed American business or society.

Not that I think our laws are perfect, or aren’t in need of simplification (I’m looking at you, tax code). But I don’t need to read 200 pages of someone repeating that phrase to me, and telling me that other countries do it better. I need specific examples and evidence of how a different approach has saved countries time or money or boosted their GDP or — anything, really, to back up the claim that our government is mired in too much red tape to be effective, and the author’s principles-based laws would solve the problem.

Despite the general lack of facts, I did manage to learn a few things from the book:

  • President Clinton had a line-item veto — granted by Congress via law — for two years, until the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional.
  • Presidents used to be able to hold back money for programs they felt were wasteful or inefficient, till that power was specifically outlawed by Congress.
  • Iraqis who worked for the US Army after the invasion were supposed to be given special visas to immigrate to the US (because of the death threats they received), but the Immigration Service delayed their processing over rules so long that some died after waiting more than a year