In the 6/29/14 Washington Examiner, Michael Barone contemplates, with the help of 3 new books, Why government isn’t working and how to make it better.
You’ve almost certainly encountered this sort of thing in your daily life. “Legal rigidity trumps everything,” Howard writes. “Law has crowded out the ability to be practical or fair.”
American laws and regulations tend to be overdetailed and to rob government officials of all initiative and, therefore, responsibility. Case in point: the 2,700-page Obamacare, with a 28-word definition of “high school” and a (so far) seven-foot high pile of regulations.
How did this democratic nation come to be saddled with, as Howard puts it, “a government run by clerks and jerks”?
Howard traces it back to Progressive and New Deal legislation, which gave regulators wide latitude to enforce vague laws. In response Congress in 1946 passed the Administrative Procedures Act, which tended to produce bureaucratic bloat and paralyze government action.
The biggest changes came in the 1960s. Southern segregationist officials purported to follow the law but in fact blocked equal rights for blacks. The response — effective in breaking segregation, but a disaster otherwise — was a distrust of all officials and detailed rules that robbed them of discretion.
At the same time, the just-born environmental movement used new statutes and court decisions to bring lawsuits to achieve the goal of BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything).
These were liberal initiatives, but conservatives also got into the business of tying officials’ hands. Corporations came to seek detailed regulations that would provide them “safe harbor” protection against prosecutions and lawsuits. K Street lobbyists with ties to both political parties developed a lucrative vested interest in complex laws and regulations.