Trying to put us back in charge


My old friend Philip K. Howard sent this along. It’s well worth reading, and joining Common Good.

-- Robert Whitcomb

Common Good has  launched a national bipartisan campaign – called “Who’s in Charge Around Here?” – to build support for basic overhaul of the federal government.  

The campaign, which has been endorsed by leaders from both political parties, will show how to remake government into simple frameworks that  let people to take charge again. Rules should lay out goals and general principles – like the 15-page Constitution – and not suffocate responsibility with thousand-page instruction manuals.

The campaign is co-chaired by former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley (D.-N.J.) and Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard. Among those who have already endorsed the campaign are former Governors Mitch Daniels (R.-Ind.) and Tom Kean (R-N.J.), and former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R.-Wyo.) who co-chaired the Simpson-Bowles Commission on government reform.

Americans are frustrated. They can’t take responsibility. Bureaucracy is everywhere. The president can’t fix decrepit roads and bridges. A teacher can’t deal with a student disrupting everyone else’s learning. Physicians and nurses take care of paperwork instead of patients. A manager can’t give an honest job reference. Parents get in trouble for letting their children explore the neighborhood. Washington does almost everything badly. Take any frustration, and ask: Who’s in charge around here? That’s a problem.

Modern government is a giant hairball of regulations, forms and procedures that prevent anyone from taking charge and acting sensibly. No one designed this legal tangle. It just grew, and grew, and grew, until common sense became illegal. That’s the main reason that government is paralyzed. That’s why it takes a team of lawyers to get a simple permit. Every year, the red tape gets denser.

Our campaign will use video and social media to drive a national conversation to return to Americans the freedom to let ingenuity and innovation thrive in their daily lives. The campaign’s first three-minute video, narrated by Stockard Channing, uses white-board animations to explain how government should work. Titled “Put Humans in Charge,” the video is available here. 

Americans know that common sense has taken a backseat to stupidity, but political debate has not drawn a clear link to suffocating legal structures. The campaign features “The Stupid List” showing how obsolete and over-prescriptive bureaucracy undermines infrastructure and the environment, schools, health care, jobs and the economy.  The Stupid List is available here.  

“Whether you are Democrat or Republican, you are a citizen first,” said Co-Chair Bill Bradley. “A functioning government serves a citizen’s interests. We need sensible reform that encompasses compassion and responsibility. Common Good demonstrates such an outcome is not impossible.”

 “Voter frustration with broken government will only grow until Washington reboots to reset priorities and cut needless bureaucracy,” said Co-Chair Philip K. Howard. “It’s time to mobilize for a dramatic overhaul – replacing mindless compliance with common sense. That’s the only way to liberate American initiative and make government responsive to modern needs. America’s global competitiveness depends upon it.”

The campaign’s Website is The campaign is active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For further information, contact Emma McKinstry at

Common Good ( is a nonpartisan reform coalition whose members believe that individual responsibility, not rote bureaucracy, must be the organizing principle of government.

The founder and chairman of Common Good is Philip K. Howard, a lawyer and author of The Rule of Nobody (W. W. Norton) and The Death of Common Sense (Random House), among other books.