Philip K. Howard’s 1995 “The Death of Common Sense” provides a cogent and convincing examination of how bureaucracy, excessive regulation and tort law often undermine personal responsibility and create inertia at the expense of problem-solving. It’s a message the nation needs more than ever as policymakers grapple with the coronavirus outbreak.
On Tuesday, Mr. Howard offered his assessment of the response to the pandemic in an op-ed for USA Today. The modern bureaucratic state, he argues, has simply not been up to the task.
Mr. Howard notes that governments at all levels have ripped up red tape that proved counterproductive to addressing the virus. This, he notes, has “unleashed waves of energy and ingenuity” to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. The most high-profile example of this involves pharmaceutical companies and private labs taking the lead on test kits and testing. Other instances include states easing medical licensing requirements to get more health care professionals on the front lines, jurisdictions loosening restrictions on telemedicine and federal regulators allowing states to design their own testing protocols.
Smaller steps have been taken locally. To help struggling eateries, the cities of Henderson and Las Vegas have relaxed rules and now allow alcohol with takeout or curbside orders at many establishments.
The fastest way to get the nation moving again, Mr. Howard believes, is to replicate this approach when the nation begins to emerge from this unprecedented challenge.
“Once the crisis is under control,” he writes, “the same kind of energy and resourcefulness will be needed to get America’s schools, businesses, government agencies and nonprofits up and running again. What’s needed is a temporary Recovery Authority with a broad mandate to identify and waive unnecessary hurdles to recovery.”
This is an excellent idea on both the state and national levels. Many progressives have argued that the pandemic highlights the need for bigger government and greater regulation in order to protect workers. But workers won’t have jobs to which they can return if elected officials insist on piling additional mandates on small and large businesses that were forced to shut down through no fault of their own.
This relief could come in a number of forms, including streamlined permitting and fewer wage mandates. But whatever the steps, tapping the brakes on the administrative state will be vital if we hope to speed a return to normalcy.
“Looking toward recovery,” Mr. Howard writes, “the regulatory landscape is littered with countless thousands of legal land mines that can be used to skew or prevent expeditious action.”
Congress should take Mr. Howard’s advice to heart. And Gov. Steve Sisolak should create a statewide panel to accomplish the same objective in Nevada.