Aaron Gertler's Reviews > The Excuse Factory

The Excuse Factory by Walter Olson
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it was amazing

Anyone can take a wide-ranging collection of laws and find examples of ways they've been misused. Fewer can do it in such entertaining style. This is a story about lawyers, well-intentioned or not, ignoring things they should know about the world (e.g. the fact that society does benefit from jobs being done well) and hoping that everything works out anyway. In the process, they stomp on women, men, blacks, whites, Koreans (and probably most other American ethnic groups), unions, bosses, and common sense.

I'm not sure I've ever taken as many notes in any other book, ever. If I tried to list even a tenth of the examples that drew me in, this review would be too long. But I'll try to choose three where my reaction was intense enough that, at the time, I could find no words, such that my notes read as something like "(silent flailing of the arms)":

- Thanks to prohibitions against "age discrimination", airlines have sometimes been forced to hire pilots in their late fifties, even though commercial pilots must retire at the age of sixty.

- "Another federal law required many subsidized housing projects for the elderly to admit the disabled of all ages; youngsters whose 'disabilities' consisted of alcohol and drug addiction moved in and went on cat-among-the-pigeons crime sprees among the luckless elders."

- "City hall officials defending tests [of physical fitness for firefighters] say 'speed is critical' in fighting fires, reported the New York Times. In the best tradition of unbiased, we-take-no-sides journalism, it added, 'Opponents argue that it is not.'"

The book isn't perfect; a few of Olson's complaints rang false to me, and he never proves that the rise of employment law did substantial damage to the economy*. But he does prove a lot of scary things about the court system, and about the ability of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to hate pretty much anyone (so long as they've had the bad luck to be the cause of someone's firing, even if that someone ran them over with a bus). And his citations checked out every time I looked, even when I really, really hoped they wouldn't.

* Despite this lack of proof, I'd guess that the types of lawsuits Olson discusses, and the law's crackdown on employers sharing honest information with each other during the hiring process, have made a sizable contribution to American cost disease.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
December 18, 2018 – Shelved

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