More on Bureaucracy

Here’s Peter Drucker, writing way back in 1969:

Whether government is “a government of laws” or a “government of men” is debatable. But every government is, by definition, a “government of paper forms.” This means, inevitably, high cost. For “control” of the last 10 per cent of any phenomenon always costs more than control of the first 90 per cent. If control tries to account for everything, it becomes prohibitively expensive. Yet this is what government is always expected to do.

The reason is not just “bureaucracy” and red tape; it is a much sounder one. A “little dishonesty” in government is a corrosive disease. It rapidly spreads to infect the whole body politic. Yet the temptation to dishonesty is always great. People of modest means and dependent on a salary handle very large public sums. People of  modest position dispose of power and award contracts and privileges of tremendous importance to other people–construction jobs, radio channels, air routes, zoning laws, building codes, and so on. To fear corruption in government is not irrational. This

This means, however, that government “bureaucracy”— and its consequent high costs—cannot be eliminated.  Any government that is not a “government of forms” degenerates rapidly into a mutual looting society.

(Emphasis added. I’m confident Professor Drucker would agree that whether the forms are paper or electronic makes no difference at all in this context.)

If government operations are fully proceduralized, to the point of eliminating individual employee and frontline manager discretion, they will be cumbersome and inefficient. If they are not fully proceduralized in this way, then they will be subject to widespread corruption and tyrannical behavior.

Hence, the expansion of government into all aspects of human life leads to increasing inefficiency, eventually resulting in sluggish performance across the entire economy–while the increasing frustration with bureaucracy results in a widespread demand to “make government more responsive” by giving more discretionary authority to administrators and to their political superiors. This, in turn, results in a government which is not only a looting society but a tyranny. Yet at the same time, there will still be enough baroque proceduralization (selectively enforced) to ensure high levels of inefficiency and very high government administrative costs.


13 thoughts on “More on Bureaucracy”

  1. …and what causes government bureaucracy to grow?

    I am convinced that it is paved with good intentions with unforeseen consequences

  2. Have you read Dalrymple’s essay “The Uses of Corruption” on the difference between England and Italy?

    “Where bureaucrats are honest, no one can cut through their Laocoönian coils: their procedures, no matter how onerous, antiquated, or bloody-minded, must be endured patiently.”

  3. “Have you read Dalrymple’s essay “The Uses of Corruption” on the difference between England and Italy?”

    It’s excellent and explains a lot.

    The trouble, as Margaret Thatcher once said, is that eventually Italy ran out of other people’s money.

  4. And so it begins … insiders realizing that there is one last opportunity for redemption, and spilling the beans on what has been going on. (Although I still think Bradley Manning was a hysterical and immature little goof having a temper tantrum.)

  5. The problem is forms. Everything that is done in business and government, depends on, and is created by a form process.

    This is, and will become, a larger problem as time goes by. If only the aspects of reality that can be encapsulated by a form and the attendant organizational situation created by that are used, we are very probably doomed.

    For starters there is not enough ‘grain’ in a form, it’s a cudgel when we need a rapier.

  6. Sgt Mom – I have never figured out how Manning – a Pfc (1) had access to so many secrets (2) was with a computer that had apparently so little security checks allowing him to simply dump them and (3) so many secrets (weren’t there over 200,000 dumped?)

    Maybe (3) goes back to the point of this post.

    But apparently he is on TDY at Leavenworth

  7. Here’s Peter Drucker, writing way back in 1969

    Sounds a lot like Hayek writing 25 years earlier from 20,000 feet higher.

  8. Pen…”only the aspects of reality that can be encapsulated by a form”

    Consider three organizations, each using forms but in very different ways. In all cases, the process involved is the hiring of a new employee.

    In organization #1, the form has blanks for the name & address of the person to whom the offer will be extended, the salary to be offered, and signatures blocks for: the immediate manager to whom the person will report, the next-level manager, and someone in HR. The culture of the organization is that the immediate manager is the decision-maker, since he will be responsible for the new employee’s performance, and that decision will be overridden by one of the other two individuals only in rare cases.

    In organization #2, the form has spaces for comments and rating by 8 people who interview the prospective new employee, a “recommendation” block for the immediate manager, and a signature block for the CEO of the 2000-person company, who makes the final decision.

    In organization #3, the form has dozens of entries for various criteria: IQ, degree, years of experience, veteran status, ethnicity, with quantitative weights to be attached to each factor and a threshold that must be reached for the individual to be hired.

    All three of these organizations use forms, but the degree to which the form micromanages the process differs greatly from one organization to the other.

  9. Bureaucracy is used to regulate – to force people to live by certain standards.

    In America the industries that are the most heavily regulated make no new technological progress. What little creativity that exists is devoted to finding ways to both stay in business and comply with regulations,

    Brand new industries show enormous growth and wealth until regulators are able to bring them under control. Automobiles were a growth industry, now the Big Three totter on the edge of bankrupty.

    Similarly aviation, railroads, landline telephones, domestic oil companies…

    Regulations can destroy the future because no one misses what they never had.

    Where’s my flying car? Why can’t I honeymoon on Neptune’s moon?

  10. From the Preface to Ludwig von Mises’ Bureaucracy (1944 Edition):

    “The main issue in present-day social and political conflicts is whether or not man should give away freedom, private initiative, and individual responsibility and surrender to the guardianship of a gigantic apparatus of compulsion and coercion, the socialist state. Should authoritarian totalitarianism be substituted for individualism and democracy? Should the citizen be transformed into a subject, a subordinate in an all-embracing army of conscripted labor, bound to obey unconditionally the orders of his superiors? Should he be deprived of his most precious privilege to choose means and ends and to shape his own life?”

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