The Collapse of the Common Good: How America’s Lawsuit Culture Undermines Our Freedom

ISBN: 034543871X
ISBN 13: 9780345438713
By: Philip K. Howard

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About this book

In pursuit of fairness at any cost, we have created a society paralyzed by legal fear: Doctors are paranoid and principals powerless. Little league coaches, scared of liability, stop volunteering. Schools and hospitals start to crumble. The common good fades, replaced by a cacophony of people claiming their "individual rights." By turns funny and infuriating, this startling book dissects the dogmas of fairness that allow self-interested individuals to bully the rest of society. Philip K. Howard explains how, trying to honor individual rights, we removed the authority needed to maintain a free society. Teachers don't even have authority to maintain order in the classroom. With no one in charge, the safe course is to avoid any possible risk. Seesaws and diving boards are removed. Ridiculous warning labels litter the American landscape: "Caution: Contents Are Hot." Striving to protect "individual rights," we ended up losing much of our freedom. When almost any decision that someone disagrees with is a possible lawsuit, no one knows where he stands. A huge monument to the unknown plaintiff looms high above America, casting a dark shadow across our daily choices. Today, in the land of free speech, you'd have to be a fool to say what you really think. This provocative book not only attacks the sacred cows of political correctness, but takes a breathtakingly bold stand on how to reinvigorate our common good. Only by restoring personal authority can schools begin to work again. Only by judges and legislatures taking back the authority to decide who can sue for what can doctors feel comfortable using their best judgment and American be liberated to say and do what they know is right. Lucid, honest, and hard hitting, "The Collapse of the Common Good" shows how Americans can bring back freedom and common sense to a society disabled by lawyers and legal fear.

Reader's Thoughts

Mike Kowalczyk

Finally a voice of reason among the insanity! I found this book to be enlightening on a subject I have long taken interest in. The first half of the book was especially intruiging, in which Philip Howard discusses the culture of lawsuits that has taken hold in the last 20-30 years. People sue each other for every minor infraction and as a result it has come to the point where people have to watch every minor move they make. Through examples, historical cases, a history, he shows the evolution of this culture and the damage that it is doing to our society as a whole. Of the many examples, he cites the infamous hot coffee case and an interesting series of lawsuits against GM in the 1990s. In short, the first case alleged GM was culpable for damages because the gas tank, located on the passenger side of the car, burst in a side impact crash. A case later in the decade held GM liable for an explosion of a gas tank, now in the rear of the car as a result of the previous case, as a result of a rear impact crash. Such insanity takes place every day and costs consumers and taxpayers tens of billions every year.In the second half he goes on to talk about the voluminous red tape that enshrouds our bureaucracy and the downfalls and holes in the affirmative action system.


The title sums up the premise of this book and to anybody who has been paying attention for the past several decades, this should not be a startling theme. There is no doubt that our tort system is out of control and the costs are spread throughout society. Most consumer products come with a "lawsuit tax" in the form of higher retail prices to offset the costs associated with litigation. Often, the "lawsuit" tax increases the costs of consumer goods where the inherent dangers of using such goods should be obvious. One such product might be a household step ladder. In "The Collapse of the Common Good," Howard goes beyond the tried and true method of providing absurd examples of our legal system, though he does include many. Here, he exposes how the assertion of individual rights through litigation in nearly every aspect of daily life has resulted in a society where people become so fearful they act irrationally. Through real-life examples, Howard demonstrates how this has negatively impacted the functioning of institutions such as schools, the work place, and government. The book did seem to stray away from the central premise at times. For example, sometimes it was difficult to see how the discussions on bureaucracy and race relations fit into the overall theme, though they were interesting. Nonetheless, Howard's call for common sense in the way we conduct ourselves-within the legal system and otherwise-is a welcome call indeed. Unfortunately, common sense too often does not prevail.


Man bites dog.Therefore, the world is going to hell.A Treatise by Philip K. Howard.The author raises some interesting issues regarding the (hyper and negative)interaction between laws and society. I understand where he is coming from. A system of laws is definitely not perfect. However, by definition, laws derived from an imperfect source are bound to be imperfect.But a system without laws similarly fails. So let's resolve to work on the balance. I won't resolve to be friends though, Mr. Howard.I think you could skip this one without missing much.

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