Why are government rules so complex? A guide to a radically simpler system.

No one would design the regulatory system that we have now. No area of it, from environment to education, works as it should. It is unimaginably wasteful, diverting and discouraging legitimate activity of every kind.

Another key feature, after simplicity and accountability, would be mandatory sunset provisions for all regulations, since old regulations tend to take on a life of their own. Even good programs can spin out of control.

Consider our federal special-education laws, passed in the mid-1970s to end the shameful neglect of the small percentage of students with special needs. Special ed has now grown to consume 20% of the total K-12 budget in the U.S. Programs for gifted children, by contrast, get less than half of 1%.

Philip K. Howard, Chairman of Common Good in a WSJ op-ed proposes a radical regulatory overhaul. Howard wants to replace the rule-based nightmare with very simple, goal based language. And every rule to sunset so that Congress has to make fresh choices, including the null choice.

There are lots of ways to address the practical questions. One I like is independent oversight:

One new approach might be to allow independent oversight: Just as most businesses have a CPA who blesses their books, they could have a “certified regulatory expert” to monitor their compliance. Government would oversee CREs but not businesses themselves.

You can enjoy a full-length version of this essay at Common Good, which begins with this memorable paragraph:

This past summer county officials closed down a children’s lemonade stand near the U.S. Open golf championship in Bethesda, Maryland—because the children didn’t have a vendor’s license. Officials decided not to compel the children to go to court, and issued a summons instead to their parents. Local television crews were soon on the crime scene, interviewing the kids who had organized the enterprise as a way to raise money for pediatric cancer.

American’s should recall that their constitution is only 15 pages long. How do accomplish the radical surgery? Philip suggests adapting the base-closing model. I agree; allow Congress only a straight up-down vote; no amendments.

A radical makeover of American regulation is daunting. Congress can’t even agree on a debt limit, much less recodify several thousand volumes of law. Recodifications through history have always been designed by small committees—such as the small groups of jurists appointed by Justinian and Napoleon for their historic legal overhauls. The best model for us is probably to create new versions of “base-closing commissions,” area by area, whose proposals have to be accepted or rejected in total by Congress, without the opportunity for special interest negotiations.