The number of [Roman bureaucratic] recipients began to exceed the number of contributors by so much that, with farmers' resources exhausted by the enormous size of the requisitions, fields became deserted and cultivated land was turned into forest. To ensure that terror was universal, provinces too were cut into fragments; many governors and even more officials were imposed on individual regions, almost on individual cities, and to these were added numerous accountants, controllers and prefects' deputies. The activities of all these people were very rarely civil...
Lactantius [quoted in J.J. Wilkes, Diocletian's Palace, Split: Residence of a Retired Roman Emperor, Oxbow Books, Oxford, 1986, 1993, p.5]
The Provincial Governments [of India] found by experience that the less economy they practised and the more importunate their demands, the better their chance of obtaining larger annual allotments. 'The distribution of the public income,' Richard Strachey wrote, 'degenerates into something like a scramble, in which the most violent has the advantage.'
Sir Penendrel Moon, The British Conquest and Dominion of India [Duckworth, Indiana University Press, 1989, p.819]
In the growth of any successful organization, a now-entrenched bureaucracy may work to change its object from production of a product to protection of its (useless) jobs.
It is inevitable that the bureaucrat, awarded his job as a perquisite of superiors who wish to display their power and provide themselves insulation, will work, not primarily, but exclusively to obtain and exercise those same perquisites in his own behalf...
Government is the ultimate bureaucracy, from which has been abstracted not only responsibility for the product, but the product itself.
David Mamet, The Secret Knowledge, On the Dismantling of American Culture [Sentinel, Penguin Books, 2011, pp.76, 78]
Protesters [26 March 2011] were also agitating against proposed cuts to the [British] National Health Service. The cumulative increase in spending on the NHS from 1997 to 2007 was equal to about a third of the national debt. After all this spending, Britain remains what it has long been: by far the most unpleasant country in Western Europe in which to be ill, especially if one is poor. Not coincidentally, Britain's healthcare system is still the most centralised, the most Soviet-like, in the Western world. Our rates of post-operative infection are the highest in Europe, our cancer suvival rates the lowest; the neglect of elderly hospital patients is so common as to be practically routine. One has the impression that even if we devoted our entire GDP to the NHS, old people would still be left to dehydrate in the hospitals.
Theodore Dalrymple, Anything Goes, The Death of Honesty [Monday Books, 2011, p.238]
Everyone who experiences this weight of governmental interference and regulation knows how little any of it has to do with its ostensible justification...
For the official mind there is no problem that does not have its equal and opposite form to fill, that will at least absolve officialdom of the blame when the problem is not solved...
It is as if the leaders of our society had read three authors and had take[n] their dystopian imaginings for blueprints: Gogol for absurdity, Kafka for menace, and Orwell for mendacity and the corruption of language.
Theodore Dalrymple, Litter, How Other People's Rubbish Shapes Our Lives [Gibson Square, 2011, pp.114, 116, 117-118]
If anyone thinks the words government and efficiency belong in the same sentence, we have counseling available.
Senator Paul Tsongas (D-MA), March 2, 1992
The real mystery (assuming the allegations are true) is what sort of intel did America's spies think they could glean from snooping on the European Union?
Could it have been the early word on the European's Commission's directive this May (soon rescinded) mandating that olive oil be served only in nonrefillable bottles with tamper-proof caps and labels written in "clear and indelible lettering"? Or maybe it was the research notes of the three-year investigation leading to Brussels's 2011 decision to forbid bottled-water producers from claiming that water prevents dehydration -- on the basis that the claim lacked scientific evidence?
"The Spy Who Bored Me," The Wall Street Journal, 3 July 2013, A14
After three iterations [of remodeling] I finally blurted out, "What number are you looking for?" He didn't miss a beat: He told me that he needed to show $2 billion of benefits to get the program renewed. I finally turned enough knobs to get the answer he wanted, and everyone was happy.
Was the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] official asking me to lie? I have to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he believed in the value of continuing the program. (Congress ended the grants in 1990.)
Robert J. Caprara, "Confessions of a Computer Modeler," The Wall Street Journal, 9 July 2014, A13
Weíre all used to a certain amount of doublespeak and bureaucratese in government hearings. Thatís as old as forever. But in the past year of listening to testimony from government officials, there is something different about the boredom and indifference with which government testifiers skirt, dodge and withhold the truth. They donít seem furtive or defensive; they are not in the least afraid. They speak always with a certain carefulness -- they are lawyered up -- but they have no evident fear of looking evasive. They really donít care what you think of them. Theyíre running the show and if you donít like it, too bad.
And all this is a new bureaucratic style on the national level. During Watergate those hauled in and grilled by Congress were nervous... But commissioners and department heads now -- they really think theyíre in charge. They donít bother to fake anxiety about public opinion. They care only about personal legal exposure. They do not fear public wrath.
Peggy Noonan, "The New Bureaucratic Brazenness," The Wall Street Journal, October 4-5, 2014, A13
To Hegel, bureaucrats were the "universal class" whose interests were identical to those of the state. This was questioned by Marx, who expected that bureaucrats simply pursued their own interest, regardless of that of the state, or of anyone else. Now this is a large part of modern economics, Public Choice Theory, which is discussed here with Rent Seeking. I was in a candidate forum, running for California State Assembly, in the mid-90's, when one of the participants asserted that things done by government are always done more efficiently than when done by private business. There were so many ways in which this assertion was preposterous, but I did want to be able to give one essential reason why it was impossible. This first rule of bureaucracy provides us with that reason.
The British psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple (the pen name of Anthony Daniels), who retired in 2005, is familiar with the follies of the British National Health Service. In his Anything Goes, The Death of Honesty [Monday Books, 2011], he details a brilliant bureaucratic strategy of the NHS to deal with budget cuts. First of all, over the decade from 1997 to 2007 the Labour government poured money into the institution, an amount, Dalrymple says, "equal to about a third of the national debt," precisely to address protests about long waits and the poor quality of service. However, as Dalrymple says:
Wherever one looks into the expanded public sector, one finds the same thing: a tremendous rise in salaries, pensions, and perquisities for those working in it. [p.239]
This is also what we have seen in the United States, especially as promoted by public employee unions, and their conscious tool, the Democratic Party. When the money runs out, then something must be cut:
Unfortunately, it does not follow from the existence of immense waste in the public sector that budget cuts will target that waste. After all, most of the excess is in wages, precisely the element of government spending that those in charge of proposed reductions will be the most anxious to preserve. It is therefore in their interest that any budget reduction should affect disporportionately the service that it is their purpose to provide: cases of hardship will then result, and media will take them up, and the public will blame them on the spending cuts and force the government to return to the status quo ante. Another advantage of cutting services rather than waste, from the perspective of the public employee, is that it makes it appear that the budget was previously a model of economy, already pared to the bone.
I have seen it all before, whenever cuts became necessary in the NHS budget, as periodically they did. Wards closed, but the savings achieved were minimal because labour legislation required the staff -- the major cost of the system -- to be retained. Surgical operations were likewise cancelled, though again the staff was kept on. To effect any savings in this manner, it was necessary for the system to become more and more inefficient and unproductive. [p.240]
This is exactly the political strategy we have seen in places like California, where budget cuts are immediately applied to obvious and necessary public services, like the police, fire departments, and education, while entire hidden bureaucracies in Sacramento, unknown to the public, continue on their useless way, unmolested. This is called the "firemen first" tactic. Politicians, including the once and now Governor of California, Jerry Brown, claim that their only option is to cut services, and they (and he) warn the public that only tax increases will save the day. Nothing serious is ever done about inflated public employee wages; and only minor tinkering is allowed with benefits and the pension systems, about which the public has been somewhat alerted. Thus, voters passed Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 tax increase in November 2012, in light of threats that school funding would be cut. Subsequently, The Wall Street Journal discovered that almost all the revenues from Prop 30 would go into propping up the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS), and the schools would need to find their funding elsewhere ["The Calstrs Tax," 1 March 2013]. We have seen this at the federal level in the phony "sequester crisis" of 2013, where tours of the White House were stopped, despite their modest expense, while the President's golf trips, much more expensive, continued. The very success of such deception, and of failure and increasing inefficiency, of course, is the fruit of the next rule:
Misdirection such as that at the beginning of the Depression can have political uses far beyond bureaucratic ass-covering. Thus, for many years the Democratic party labored to make mortgages available to people who otherwise would not qualify for mortgages. Since housing prices were also going up because of policies like "slow growth" (another Democratic favorite), which restricted the construction of new housing, especially in places like the Bay Area of California (dominated by radical Democrats), high prices then required larger mortgages. Federal policy thus encouraged "sub-prime" or risky loans through exhortation, through funding, through the publicly chartered mortgage guarantors like Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac (protected from oversight by Democratic members of Congress, such as Barney Frank), and through threats of prosecution if the right proportions of loans were not made to (unqualified) minority borrowers. Many banks that made these loans realized that financially they were hot potatoes, and the practice began of bundling them into investment packages that could be sold to investors who might not realize how risky they were. Thus, this all fed into a great financial bubble, which, like all financial bubbles, eventually burst. All through 2008 the problem grew, until, as luck (?) would have it (for the Democrats), the full collapse came just a few weeks before the November 2008 Presidential Election. The bubble of the bad loans was bad enough, but the "investment" packages began to take down brokerages as well as banks. As the economy slowed, the automakers suddenly were endangered by lagging sales. As we might expect, the first words out of the mouths of certain political types were that "Capitalism has failed." Since voters tend to blame the party in power for bad economic news, and the Republican Presidential Candidate, John McCain, famously announced that he didn't know much about economics (he didn't), it was perhaps inevitable that the Democrats, who engineered the whole problem in the first place, were voted in with the expectation that they would fix it. How stupid American politics has gotten was evident in the instinct of McCain himself to attack Wall Street rather than the Democrats over the finanical mess. Well, it worked for Roosevelt, why not again? Indeed. This dishonest blame game worked just fine for Barack Obama and his Party.
The political instincts operating in this credit collapse ended up sinning in the opposite direction of those at the beginning of the Depression. The Federal Reserve supported the banks, but then the notion became current that brokerages and other businesses, not to mention Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, might be "too big to fail" and should be bailed out. Not only was this the wrong idea, but it was a strategy that was applied with considerable political specificity. General Motors and Chrysler were bailed out in deals that stiffed bondholders (which included public employee pension funds) and awarded the United Auto Workers union, which not coincidentally was a political ally of the Democratic Party. Banks that had been sound, like the Bank of America, where pressured or threatened into taking over failed brokerages that turned out to be in worse financial condition than they were represented as being -- with the Bank of America then being blamed, and even threatened with prosecution, in classic fashion, for this deception of which it was the victim. The strategy is still playing out in 2011 of blaming banks and finance, as in the Depression, for the mortgage collapse, and calling for more regulation, while studiously ignoring the regulations and political interference that determined the behavior of banks and finance in the first place. Even the nitwit who made Inside Job, the Academy Award Winning documentary (!) of 2010, which places all the blame on Wall Street, seems to realize that the villains whom he despises and wants prosecuted are actually being protected by the politicians he admires and expects to do the prosecutions. He may not have noticed, or is bewildered by the cognitive dissonance of it, that many of his Wall Street villains ended up working for the Obama Administration. The meaning of this for the naive Left is elusive. The harder Left understands the (Stalinist) strategy of it.
A similar lesson has emerged from the recent  scandal in the United States over Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals. The bureaucrats required that waiting lists for things like appointments and surgery not be allowed to grow more than a certain length. The perfectly rational bureaucratic response was to create (secret) waiting lists to get on the waiting lists! Rule satisfied! However, since this was obviously an evasion, the secondary waiting lists were kept secret ("double secret probation"!), even if records subsequently needed to be (illegally) falsified. Meanwhile, of course, veterans waiting months for appointments, therapy, or surgery might just die instead. The scandal was exposed when a doctor in Phoenix complained to the press about patients dying because their treatment was delayed. At the same time, none of this was really new. The Inspector General of the VA had been reporting these problems for years; and Barack Obama ran for President in 2008 with a promise that included reforming the VA system. Nothing was actually done about it, and the White House Press Secretary told reporters that in 2014 the President only learned of the problem by watching the news. The enduring lack of attention to the matter had also allowed people like Paul Krugman and Senator Bernie Saunders (CP-VT) to boast that the goodness of VA hospitals vindicated government run "socialized medicine." The exposure of typical bureaucratic bungling, neglect, and dishonesty left Saunders fumbling for lame excuses. At the same time, waiting lists for appointments, therapy, and surgery are a common experience and common knowledge in Canada. No one can be unaware of that, which means that people like Saunders, supposedly from a place, Vermont, where Canadians come across the border to get timely medical treatment, are either psychopathically self-deceived or dishonest.
Problems like this were also common knowledge in the Soviet Union. A marvelous example concerns the manufacture of nails. The Russians typically concentrated each industry in one facility. Hence something like the "People's Nail Factory." Also, the nail factory was given a quota for production, like the Cuban baker. However, the factory then had difficulties, typical for the Soviet economy again, obtaining the steel it needed to make its nails. The brilliant bureaucratic solution was to simply meet its quote of nail production with really small nails, using as much steel as could be obtained. So the Soviet Union found itself with only small nails, which were inappropriate for many tasks. The solution of the Central Planners was to change the quota of the factory from the number of nails to a weight of nails. This, however, created a different incentive. It as easier to make a small number of large nails than a large number of appropriate diverse sizes. Pravda iself, the Communist Party newspaper, itself featured a cartoon showing the logical end of all this: one gigantic nail for the year.
While the Cuban baker did bake some bread, and the British Emergency Rooms and VA would eventually get to all the waiting (and still living) patients, the purest form of the useless bureaucratic rule is one that indeed accomplishes absolutely nothing. A good example of that is the "Outcomes Assessment" (OA) in American education. For many years, students have been graduated who do not read, write, do simple mathematics, or know much about anything. The reason for this has obviously been the dumbing down and politicization of the curriculum, replacing substantive instruction with "activities" and indoctrination about things like global warming. Since the public was alarmed about the lack of accountability in the system for these failures, the response has been new criteria and procedures to make sure that the schools are teaching what they set out to teach. This all looks good, and looks like accountability, but since "what they set out to teach" merely need be defined in the dumbed down and politicized terms already used, the whole process represents no accountability whatsoever in terms of the original complaint. In deceptive salesmanship, this can also be called "bait and switch." Yes, we are going to be accountable! But, no, it does not mean that anything is really going to change! As long as the public is deceived and the politicians don't care, the solution is optimal for bureaucratic irresponsibility. If that were the whole problem, it would be bad enough; but in fact the dumbed down and politicized curriculum represents a positive political goal for those involved, who regard the proper role for education as indoctrination in their own political ideology, while mere things like grammar, spelling, science, and mathematics are elitist constructs of capitalist oppression. I kid you not. Thus, we do not simply have a dynamic of bureaucracy, but a deliberate strategy conformable to that dynamic. Also, if stuff like this actually worked, then failure could not be used as an excuse for more money.
It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed? [Federalist Paper No. 62]
The reasonable response of the bureaucrat (who isn't even of the choosing of the voters in the first place) to this would be, "Sounds like a good idea to me!" You do not want law or regulation to be a "rule of action," because then people would know beforehand what is required, prohibited, or allowed. Your power, to decide all those things arbitrarily, would be diminished. Indeed, looking at almost any part of federal or state regulations, no one can honestly deny that they "be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood." This is not an accident. It serves a purpose. And we see something else. Regulations are not created by elected legislators. Politicians have covered their own asses by passing the power of making regulations to bureaucrats, creating the unconstitutional system of "administrative law." The irresponsible bureaucrat thus comes to rule the modern state. The only drawback of this is its twilight existence. The bureaucrat needs to be faceless, both so as not to rock the boat with superiors but especially so that he can play his essential political role. The politicians who give bureaucrats power will always take credit for whatever works but then will always blame the bureaucrats for whatever goes wrong. As long as those bureaucrats are kept faceless, and it is the "system" that is the problem, then we actually have blame without accountability and without consequences. Nothing need be done, unless, of course, it is to give the bureaucrats more money and more power, because, after all, what else could really be wrong?
Maintaining anonymity is essential to bureaucratic self-protection. "Faceless bureaucrat" is an expression that speaks to a key reality. The news likes to personalize issues and highlight wrongdoers. The Left, especially, likes to personally vilify political opponents, to the point of picketing their homes, harrassing their families, and creating a disturbance in their neighborhoods. The protection of the Stalinist Left for government bureaucracts is thus facilitated when we don't even know who those bureaucrats are. The EPA and other engines of tyranny thus perpetuate their injustices in a completely impersonal way, which allows continuing midconduct by agents without honor, conscience, or accountability. They easily get away with it, again and again. This is part of "cover your ass" and "pass the buck," but it is also a salient feature of bureaucracy in its own right. "Who are those guys?" [Paul Newman, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969]. Mostly we don't know.
Essential Truths of Corporate Business