There’s an interesting op-ed by Philip Howard at the Wsshington Post on what broke Washington. His basic thesis is that the sheer accumulation of laws is the major problem:
The main culprit, ironically, is law. Generations of lawmakers and regulators have written so much law, in such detail, that officials are barred from acting sensibly. Like sediment in the harbor, law has piled up until it is almost impossible — indeed, illegal — for officials to make choices needed for government to get where it needs to go.
I think there’s a certain amount of truth in this and that our system is particularly susceptible to such accretions. Our laws tend not to have sunset clauses and over time constituencies grow up for any expenditure for whom the expenditure has become a matter of life and death.
Something he doesn’t take note of is that we have a common law system. Under a common law system the laws enacted by legislatures are only the tip of the iceberg. The overwhelming preponderance of law is the law written by judges. We now have more than 300 years or accumulated judge-written law and in some areas, e.g. tax law, even specialists don’t understand the law.
One thing I want to caution you about. Mr. Howard is reckless in his assertion of fact. For example, when you examine his footnotes about this statement:
Special education, for example, now consumes about 25 percent of the total K-12 expenditures.
they don’t support the claim. He’s inferred it from a combination of hard data, testimonial, and guesswork. I haven’t bothered investigating any of his other statements of fact but verbum sap.
It’s an interesting op-ed nonetheless. I’m more concerned than he apparently is with his prescription.
This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?