April 30th, 2014
03:05 PM ET

Howard: U.S. laws have taken on life of their own

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with Philip Howard, founder of Common Good and author of The Rule of Nobody, about the biggest barrier to political and legislative progress in the United States. This is an edited version of the transcript.

One of the things you've always said is that America is uniquely, perhaps because it's a society founded on law, has a reverence for law that has gone into a kind of a warped place, where our laws are so detailed that nobody has any judgment. Give a few examples of it.

So law is supposed to be a tool of democracy. Instead, democracy now just does whatever the law orders it to be, as if it's on autopilot. Here’s the example. Special-ed laws are very important, passed in 1975 because we had a history of locking away disabled children. Now that law has morphed into using up over 25 percent of the total K to 12 budget in this country. There's no money for gifted children, almost no money for pre-K education. Is that the right balance? Nobody is even asking the question. These laws just take a life of their own.

And the administrators don't have any leeway to use judgment.

Right. So there's no room for judgment. In 2009, we had an $800 billion stimulus plan. And the point of the plan sold by President Obama was to rebuild America's infrastructure. They came out with a five year report recently, where I tried to find how much was used for rebuilding the decrepit infrastructure of this country. Well, it turns out only 3 percent was spent to rebuild America's transportation infrastructure, because no one, not even the president of the United States, has authority to approve even the most obvious rebuilding jobs. We're not talking about power lines through virgin forests, we're talking about just fixing up an old bridge or...

Because you would have to waive certain environmental regulations...

…Yes. We have all these procedures. You have to do this review and if somebody complains, you have to go to there. If they don't think it's fair, it goes into litigation. And the density of the system of law can hardly be overestimated. I mean literally, you go in, you want to fix something, you've got to send out notices to fix a bridge in New Jersey, you have to send out notices to Native American tribes all over the country to ask them to get permission. The law required them to do a survey of historic buildings within a two mile radius when the project wasn't touching any buildings.

The law is piled high with literally millions of requirements like that that prevent anyone from actually moving forward and doing a job.

So one of the things I liked about this book is that you have a series of constitutional amendments that you propose. And the first one is the 28th Amendment, which would impose a mandatory sunset on all laws.

Right. And so Congress is never going to go back and clean up all these laws because it violates the laws of legislative business to take anything away from any special interest. So, I think the only solution is to have a constitutional amendment that says every 15 years, any program with budgetary impact must expire and Congress doesn't have the authority to reauthorize it until an independent commission has actually given a report, made recommendations and we've had a chance for public debate. Because right now, democracy is like a runaway train.

Topics: GPS Show • Politics

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soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Peter

    The law is meant to protect and enhance national progress and not the other way round

    April 30, 2014 at 3:31 pm |
  2. Peter

    The law is meant to protect and enhance national progress and not the other way round.

    April 30, 2014 at 3:33 pm |
  3. chrissy

    Lol laws protect and enhance thf top 1% ya mean.

    April 30, 2014 at 3:55 pm |
    • rupert

      I agree with peter, not with chrissy.
      Sorry chrissy.

      April 30, 2014 at 9:27 pm |
    • ✠RZ✠

      @ chri§§y, your sarcasm is duly noted. And I pray that you, along with all others certainly have enough common sense to completely disregard and entirely dismiss the senseless comments and idiotic banter that might spew forth from loathsome trolls such as our friend rupert here, though for whom we can all at least be grateful does NOT have any of the education, expertise, knowledge, questionable associations, and potentially sinister and dangerous underpinnings of a one Philp K Howard. It would not surprise me at all if he might very well be one of the bought and paid for tools being honed to bring about the further demise of the "consatooshun and other ledgeslation". He's a lawyer with the potential of being about as good as bad gets, and we're talking big money in big circles here. There's usually a very simple rule to remember in these situations, and that is "If you don't understand exactly what they're selling, then don't be foolish enough to buy it". But in Howard's case there's also an added addendum, and that being "Especially if you don't know who's behind it".

      April 30, 2014 at 11:17 pm |
  4. Dayne

    Laws & Regulations because reasonable individuals based on their beliefs
    interpret end up with different interpretations of what the law allows.
    Thus, we end up with more details in the law and regulations to
    restrict and usually only allow what is in the best interests of the
    majority in the country.

    Chrissy, We all benefit from the laws. Yes, we have allowed some
    ot the Tax laws to benefit the 1% more than the rest of us in
    the mistaken belief that they create jobs. Consumers create jobs
    by purchasing the products or services. If consumers do not have
    money or want the product of service the business fails.

    April 30, 2014 at 4:35 pm |
  5. Dayne

    Laws & Regulations – We have more complex laws and regulations
    because reasonable individuals based on their beliefs
    interpret and end up with different interpretations of what the law allows.
    Thus, we end up with more details in the law and regulations to
    restrict and usually only allow what is in the best interests of the
    majority in the country.

    April 30, 2014 at 4:37 pm |
  6. chrissy

    I was bein sarcastic for the most part.

    April 30, 2014 at 4:47 pm |
  7. The GOP Prayer

    The GOP Prayer/Mantra/Solution: Dear God...With your loving kindness, help us to turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Female, and Gay people into slaves. Then, with your guidance and compassion, we will whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Male, and Straight. Or until they are dead. God...Grant us the knowledge to then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military during the next "unfunded/off-the-books" war. God...Give us the strength during our speeches to repeatedly yell........TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!!..........and........GET RID OF SS AND MEDICARE!!!
    In your name we prey (purposely misspelled, or is it?)........Amen

    April 30, 2014 at 9:22 pm |
  8. 100 % ETHIO

    Back in several Hundred Years, the British cleaned-up those who contradicted with them, by force. Such as; Spanish, Portuguese and French.

    Then, British introduced, BNA acts.
    Until recently, we live under British North American acts.

    Sadly, those(Jewish) who never contributed anything for the establishments of America, they keep hardly trying to destroyed American history and to implant their Satanic activities.

    America was established by Christians, with Christian Mindset. But now, some arrogant, who cried day/night to come to America, hold a promise to destroyed Christians.

    May 1, 2014 at 3:49 am |
    • banasy©

      "ETHIO", a dose of Bayer would likely cure what ails you.


      May 1, 2014 at 9:11 pm |
      • bobcat2u

        Oh no, it's the old pharmaceutical defense.

        May 1, 2014 at 10:45 pm |
      • banasy©

        Consider what I wrote and who I wrote it to, and you'll get the gist of why I wrote it.
        Today it's Jews. Tomorrow it will be Nazis. The day after is pharms on the rotation.

        May 2, 2014 at 1:51 pm |
  9. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    He also obeys the law who only stops his Mercedes-Benz at a red light in order to avoid killing a poor man who drives a Chevrolet.
    Traffic lights must be included in budgets. Therefore, Mr. Howard must want to watch a mandatory sunset for traffic laws.

    May 1, 2014 at 7:25 am |
  10. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    Ah, yes, those in the top 1% have destroyed the USA because of their greed.
    Let us now restore balance.
    I propose that all decions regarding the common good be made by the lowest 1%.
    They will decide fairly, as they have no greed, having been born without it.

    May 1, 2014 at 7:37 am |
  11. palintwit

    We need to pass a law that requires all tea party patriots to wear a teabag stapled to their lapel and to have their ID #'s tattooed on their forearms.

    May 1, 2014 at 10:05 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      @ palintwit:
      Do you make your tea with bags?
      Can't you taste the string, or the paper?
      I guess not.
      Do you like Earl Grey? I think that is sold in bags.
      We a quite fond of black currant tea, with glazed lemon cake, served on the lawn.

      May 1, 2014 at 1:33 pm |
      • palintwit

        Tea party patriots and NRA members are quite fond of Everclear in a mason jar, with roadkill, served on the front porch of their trailer.

        May 1, 2014 at 2:20 pm |
      • banasy©

        Trailers have front porches?


        May 1, 2014 at 9:16 pm |
  12. chrissy

    Joey Joey Joey! Forgot what life was like BEFORE you became one of the elite? Think back when you were WORKING MIDDLECLASS. Those are thd ones we need running this country because they dont have snooty views and THEY Know how to work....unlike that bratpak called Congress.

    May 1, 2014 at 9:21 pm |
    • banasy©

      A return to 50's "values" means a return to 50's taxes....I wonder how many people would agree to that?

      May 1, 2014 at 10:48 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      @ chrissy chrissy chrissy:
      I remember, every day, that the reason for my fascination with cars is that my parents didn't own one until I was in junior high school.
      We walked to town and shopped with a little red wagon.
      Did I work after that?
      You betcha.

      May 2, 2014 at 9:40 am |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        @ chrissy,
        I must have been in the 6th grade when we finally got a car. That isn't really junior high school.

        May 2, 2014 at 10:13 am |
  13. chrissy

    Most of us remember living that way @Joey! So WHY is so ok to dog the poor NOW! Are they any less important?? Thats the kinda talk that totally pizzes me off cuz i remember being poor and NO ONE CHOOSES to be poor!!

    May 2, 2014 at 12:20 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      @ chrissy,
      One does not "dog" the poor by answering @ palintwit, who advocated required badges or tattoos for Tea Party members or sympathizers.
      Not every USA citizen who retains some conservative values is as extreme as the Tea Party.
      Success, either moderate or grand, is not shameful.
      I wish that all advocates of the genocide of billionaires would read "Wormwood Proposes a Toast," by the Anglican theologian C.S. Lewis, understand that statement regarding democratic equality, and then try to tackle the principle illuminated in ATLAS SHRUGGED.
      We are going through a period during which many human beings need a lot of help.
      My view is that our goal should not be to render this economic swamp permanent.

      May 3, 2014 at 6:41 am |
  14. John Smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    May 2, 2014 at 3:37 pm |
  15. chrissy

    Joey when i said im tired of people "doggin the poor" im talking about the general consesus that goes on here on a daily basis that all of the USs probs are because ppl want everything for free! And THAT IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE!

    May 3, 2014 at 5:04 pm |
  16. chrissy

    And the answers to the issues is not shutting down whole school districts for certain! And shipping jobs out of the country! And it DAMN sure aint havin homeless vets!

    May 3, 2014 at 5:09 pm |
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    May 5, 2014 at 2:53 am |

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