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Something is wrong. Throughout the West, people are angry, anxious, and discontented. Paradoxically, the ill temper arises amid wealth unimaginable to our recent ancestors. (But perhaps this is not a paradox after all. Recall 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”) Shouldn’t we be at ease, sated or at least palliated by material and technical advances that have taken so much suffering out of life?

In Everyday Freedom: Designing the Framework for a Flourishing Society, Philip Howard ventures to diagnose the cause of the puzzling distempers of our time. Our malaise proceeds from the fact that the most advanced societies of the West have deprived human beings of agency. We live, often well, but we are not in charge of our circumstances. We can’t act in accord with our own judgments. Although we’re afforded many rights, we’re not permitted to roll up our sleeves and get things done.

A lawyer and noted advocate of regulatory and government reform, Howard has written extensively about the suffocating grip of rules, procedures, and “best practices.” His 2014 book, The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government, documents the evolution of today’s technocratic regime. Well-meaning people fight corruption, waste, and fraud. Good! The problem is this: To prevent bad things from happening, we’ve adopted elaborate systems to check abuses, and these systems, replete with detailed regulations and bureaucrats to enforce them, have the unintended effect of preventing good things from happening.

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