Sunday, October 10, 2010

Life Without Lawyers

When I am able, I try to find people, authors, speakers, etc. who address the same situations I find in need of attention. My focus is on America, and on the ways we are being (mis)used by the powers-that-be.

It is not often that I look to the NY Daily News for an unbiased picture of America. However, they printed an article which caught my eye, entitled Drowning in Law by Philip K Howard. I've posted the first page of the article. Click on the link above for the rest.

I also looked up Philip K Howard, and was led to a TED CONFERENCE, where Philip K. Howard was a keynote speaker. Here is the embedded talk. I think you'll like it.

Now to the NY Daily News article.

Drowning in Law: A flood of statutes, rules and regulations is killing the American spirit

By Philip K. Howard

Sunday, October 10th 2010

America is overwhelmed by the amount of law governing everyday decisions, and the constant threat of legal action by everyone from patients to employees.

Government is broken and the economy is gasping. The reason is the same: Americans no longer feel free to roll up their sleeves and make the choices needed to fix things. Governors come to office and find that 90% of the budget is pre-committed to entitlements and mandates enacted by politicians long dead. Teachers no longer have authority to maintain order in the classroom.

Legal mandates and entitlements have accumulated, like sediment in the harbor, until it is almost impossible for Americans to get anywhere without trudging through a treacherous legal swamp. Only big businesses, not small entrepreneurs, have the size (and legal staffs) to power through the legal sludge.

America will thrive only so long as Americans wake up in the morning believing they can succeed by their own efforts. Innovation, not cheap labor, is the economic engine of America. The net increase in jobs since 1980, according to research at the Kauffman Foundation, is attributed solely to newly-started businesses.

Unleashing these powerful human forces requires, however, an open field for individual opportunity - bounded by reliable legal structures that enforce contracts and other important social norms.

Instead, the land of opportunity is more like legal quicksand. Small business owners face legal challenges at every step. Municipalities requires multiple and often nonsensical forms to do business. Labor laws expose them to legal threats by any disgruntled employee. Mandates to provide costly employment benefits impose high hurdles to hiring new employees. Well-meaning but impossibly complex laws impose requirements to prevent consumer fraud, provide disability access, prevent hiring illegal immigrants, display warnings and notices and prevent scores of other potential evils. The tax code is incomprehensible.

All of this requires legal and other overhead - costing 50% more per employee for small businesses than big businesses.

The sheer volume of law suffocates innovative instincts, while distrust of lawsuits discourages ordinary human choices. Why take a chance on the eager young person applying for a job when, if it doesn't work out, you might get sued for discrimination? Why take the risk of expanding production in another state when that requires duplicating legal risks and overhead? Why bother to start a business at all?

Over the generations, the American spirit of individual opportunity has been manifested not only in new businesses, but in the civic and public life as well - in the culture of barn-raisings and boy scouts and cake sales. These deep roots of our common culture - which Tocqueville referred to as "self-interest, rightly understood" - have also atrophied before our eyes. Hardly any social interaction is free of legal the rest