Obsolete Law—The Solutions, part of “America the Fixable”

Our founders didn’t anticipate that it would be much harder to repeal a law than pass it in the first place. Here’s how we can revise the status quo and build a more efficient democracy.

I just received an email from Common Good alerting me to a special report at The Atlantic “America the Fixable“. I’ve only had time to read Philip K. Howard’s introductory article – I hope all are this good. Philip begins with this: 

The regulatory state exists because of the practical necessity for a traffic cop to oversee common resources and enforce minimum norms of safety and fairness. This is a dynamic role, requiring government to be an active umpire in a crowded world, adapting to new challenges while keeping its own house in order.

But America’s massive, convoluted, rigid legal structure makes it almost impossible for government to do this job sensibly and within budget. Laws are piled upon laws, making adaptation essentially illegal. Congress doesn’t clean out the stables in part because of a constitutional flaw — our founders didn’t anticipate that it would be much harder to repeal a law than passing it in the first place. Bureaucracies don’t clean out regulations for the additional reason that the agencies become inbred, and are run by people who do things this way because that’s how it’s always been done.

The regulatory state has taken a life of its own, insulated from democratic accountability by thick walls of law. The status quo is defended by legions of lobbyists on K Street and by a million or so lifetime bureaucrats who can’t imagine any other way of doing things. Want to do something different, like, say, balance the budget? Sorry, old laws and mandates stand in the way.

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