The Practical Rules of Bureaucracy

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]


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

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.

  1. Spend Your Budget. This is the most important rule of bureaucracy and starkly differentiates bureaucracy from the purposes of private business. Of course, when a business becomes large enough, we start getting a bureaucratic dynamic within it -- as we often see in the "Dilbert" cartoons, such as the one above. But in a private business, of course, anyone with the welfare of the business at heart will want to cut costs in order to increase profits. Every dime saved is profit earned -- or it can be used to lower prices and sell more of one's product, which can increase profits on volume. In a bureaucracy, however, profit is not an issue. If you don't spend your budget, you may be congratulated on your economy, but then the reasoning will be that now you don't need that extra money in your next budget. So your budget will shrink, without any other benefit accruing to you. A shrinking budget then means shrinking power in the bureaucratic system. This is the last thing that a bureaucrat wants. Therefore, you must always spend your budget, and economizing is a sin devoutly to be avoided. Spending your budget, you can proceed to the next step, which is:

  2. Fail: "Screw up, move up". Whatever it is that your bureau is supposed to be doing, if you don't do it very well but can produce a reasonable argument that your failure is from lack of money (or enough power), then you can (if you've spent your budget) always ask for more money, i.e. to be "fully funded." In private business, this is a delicate matter, for there is always the danger that your protestations will not be believed and that your office or project might simply be abolished -- or you fired. Even if a private business is bureaucratized, as the level of responsibility rises, you will always reach a point where someone realizes that they need to worry about costs and profits. This may be addressed in a foolish way, to conceal costs and fraudulently inflate profits, but a day of reckoning will eventually arrive and the deceptions will be unmasked. Management may be fired, the company may be bought out, or the company may go bankrupt. In government, you are much safer, for your superiors are just as likely to be in the business of increasing their budget as you are, and they are perfectly willing to take your arguments and make them in turn to the next higher level of authority and funding. In government, this can easily go all the way to the top. Thus, in the United States we have a political Party, the Democratic, whose approach is to claim in every area possible that the government doesn't have enough money and that taxes always need to be increased to provide absolutely essential services. This claim is made the most consistently and openly in relation to public education, whose failures are conspicuous, notorious, and perpetual, but whose only problem from a political point of view is claimed to be lack of money. Of all the ways to show the vacuity of these claims (e.g. better funded districts, like Washington, DC, do much worse than poorer districts, as in Utah), the best example has been the Court ordered spending on the Kansas City public school system. Some of the highest levels of school funding in the country, mandated by the Court, were unable to improve the performance of the schools at all. The whole story of this is discussed in a Cato Institute paper. However, nothing like actual facts or outcomes has inhibited in the least the political claims that public education is not "fully funded." Indeed, there is a symbiosis between the ignorance of the public, products of public education, and the ease with which falsehoods can be uttered with impunity both by politicians and by media organs who are in league with the politicians (and the teachers unions).

    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 Calfiornia, 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:

  3. Cover Your Ass. If you are a bureaucrat, you want to be sure that nothing is ever your fault. If it were, and if you were not simply starved for the money and power that you are seeking, then the reckoning might actually cost you money, power, or even the existence of your job. One of the best jobs of ass covering in history was accomplished by the Federal Reserve System at the beginning of the Great Depression. The System had been created principally to ensure the liquidity of banks in credit collapses and banking panics. Since banks only hold a fractional reserve of their assets in cash, a panic can result in a run on banks, with all the reserve cash being withdrawn, which means the bank defaults, "breaking" the bank. The first line of defense against that had been the ability of banks to call in loans. However, borrowers quite often, especially at the time of a credit collapse, are unable to immediately repay their loans, which simply means that as the banks go bankrupt, they pull down the borrowers with them. Another line of defense, which was used in the panic of 1907, was the banks simply refused to pay cash. You could close your account and withdraw your money, but you could only get a check for it. As long as other banks accepted the check, this might annoy hard money customers, but it did not affect in the least anyone's liquidity or solvency. Unfortunately, the practice was illegal -- banks were required to pay out cash on demand. The Federal Reserve was supposed to regularize an equivalent practice. If a run on a bank threatened its solvency, it could simply call up the Reserve and ask for more cash. A new form of money, Federal Reserve Notes, was created specifically for this purpose. Federal Reserve Notes could be redeemed in gold, but it was stipulated that this could only be done at the Treasury in Washington (where the Treasury itself only held a fractional reserve). This certainly limited the practicality of cash payouts in the event of a panic, and it lifted the onus of payment suspension from the banks. Unfortunately, when the day came, most importantly late in 1930, that the banks really needed support, the Federal Reserve suddenly had an attack of financial caution, reasoning that banks that needed emergency cash probably were not very well run anyway, to be in such circumstances. Better that they should fail. Unfortunately, this attitude of sober caution allowed the whole banking system to collapse, taking the economy down with it. Who was being protected by the Federal Reserve? Certainly not the banks. Certainly not the economy. Certainly not the Nation. No, all that was being protected was the Federal Reserve System -- protected in a wholly gratuitous way, since the Fed could simply create money; it wasn't borrowing it from anyone else. Nevertheless, did the Federal Reserve succeed in covering its ass? Yes indeed. Few people knew what the purpose of the System was supposed to be, or that it had manifestly failed in its mission. The result was that the Federal Reserve System was given more power than it had before by the Roosevelt Administration. Eventually, Federal Reserve Notes became the only currency in the United States. Fortunately, under Volker and Greenspan (at least), the Federal Reserve has had a better idea of what it ought to be doing, but the fact remains that the Fed possesses an irresponsible authority that it was not originally supposed to have and that can easily be misused with changes in politics and leadership. The only institutional change that would make the Fed do its job is if it were answerable to the member banks. However, in the present, continuing climate of political hostility to finance, banks, and corporations, the consensus is to support irresponsible bureaucratic control over the banks.

    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.

  4. Replace Useful Work with Useless Work. A good way to avoid accountability is if a new bureaucratic goal is created that is unrelated to the actual supposed mission of the bureaucracy. It is then easy to meet the fictitious goal and proclaim success, when nothing has been done about the original mandate. An example of this is an anecdote from Havana during an international conference some years ago. Reporters were wandering around the city marvelling at the unimproved, Fifties look of the place. Outside a bakery was a line for bread -- a common sight in Soviet-style command economies. Long before all the customers had been served, the baker closed the shop. He had sold out of bread. The people still in line were angry, and the response of the baker was, "I baked my quota!" In other words, the purpose of his bakery was not to provide bread for the public, but to satisfy the quota established by the government. Any bureaucrat can be proud of achieving a goal that only exists to enable the bureaucrat to achieve it. The principle that "useless work replaces useful work" was originally formulated to describe the operation of the British National Health Service. A good recent example of its operation is a rule laid down that patients in an Emergency Room would need to be treated within four hours. The problem, of course, is that the lack of relevant resources and the general inefficiency of a bureaucratic stucture meant that people were waiting for many, many hours for treatment in Emergency Rooms. The proper solution, of course, was to get rid of the bureaucracy, free up the resources, and streamline the operation. Instead, the simple rule requiring that patients must be treated within four hours was simply met by not allowing new patients into crowded rooms! They could wait outside in ambulances or on the street. Presto! We've satisified the rule!

    A similar lesson has emerged from the recent [2014] 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.

  5. Multiply Procedures and Paperwork. Something like "Outcomes Assessement" is an example of another excellent bureaucratic strategy. If there is a problem or complaint, then obviously we need to do something about it; and to do something about it we obviously need studies, more bureaucrats, and "solutions" that involve new rules, new procedures, less autonomy for those on site, esoteric jargon, and a great deal more paperwork. If the studies take long enough, and the procedures and paperwork are voluminous enough, then the original problem or complaint may simply be forgotten long before the system actually gets around to doing anything substantive. Even better, if the rules and procedures are of the "useless" variety, then there is no threat that anything would ever get done about the matter anyway. Useless procedures and paperwork provide much of the steam for the operation of Parkinsonís Law (Cyril Northcote Parkinson, 1955), that "Work expands to fill the time available for its completion." After all, if extra time actually helped in accomplishing the original mandate, then the original mandate might actually be accomplished. But if the original mandate doesn't get accomplished, then obviously more time is needed and, as we have seen, more money and power are probably also going to be needed. This will all benefit the bureaucracy marvelously.

  6. Pass the Buck. An excellent way to cover your ass is to deny you have responsibility, not just for things that go wrong, but for the whole issue. Thus, the Federal Reserve System escaped accountability for its role in creating the Great Depression because it could blame the banks, i.e. the banks were responsible for their own liquidity, not the Fed. This was especially outrageous because (1) the Federal Reserve System was created specifically to support the liquidity of the banking system, (2) the Fed had lowered reserve requirements during the 20's precisely because banks would not need as much in the way of reserves with the System to back them up, and (3) the Fed required banks to hold their reserves even when that was all the money they had left, which meant that from a banking point of view, the reserves were actually useless -- they served no role but to provide assets to pay off the creditors of broken banks. In poker this whole process is called "sandbagging," i.e. tempting someone into an exposed position by giving them false confidence in their strength or security. Then you reveal the true weakness of their position and destroy them. The Federal Reserve would have no rational ground for doing this. It certainly happened out of a sheer bureaucratic dynamic. The Fed was answerable to no one who was going to have to worry about the cost of the business, and the failure of the entire banking system hurt the Federal Reserve itself not in the least. On the contrary. At the same time, deflection of responsibility from the Federal Reserve provided a very useful tool for politicians. Franklin Roosevelt could blame the Depression on the banks, on finance, on "speculators," in short, on capitalism. If the agency or responsibility of the government for the Depression could be obscured, then a reasonable case could be made for giving the government greater power, raising taxes, etc. This has driven American politics ever since. Conventional wisdom about the Great Depression, even from (economically illiterate) historians, continues to assign responsibility to banks, finance, etc., and this continues to support political programs that disparage capitalism and promote more power for government. The evil long-term consequences of this have thus been incalculable.

  7. Don't Rock the Boat. An excellent way to avoid responsibility in bureaucracy is not to be noticed. That is one meaning of not rocking the boat, or not making waves. And, of course, an excellent way of not being noticed is to pass the buck. Most Americans have by now probably had the experience of dealing with a government agency or a large corporation where it was all but impossible to find anyone actually willing to admit that your problem falls under their authority. One form of this is long waits on the telephone, after being put on hold, while someone transfers a call to whoever can actually deal with you, only to be told by them that you need to talk to someone else. And, as often as not, that someone else isn't there -- they are on vacation, have a day off, left early, aren't at their desk, are on the line with another person, etc. So, after hours of frustration, who in particular can you complain about? Another meaning of not rocking the boat, however, concerns the chain of command. Your superiors are in charge of your evaluations and your budget. If you have succeeded in spending your budget and avoiding responsibility, the evaluation of your work is probably going to depend on personal and political considerations. In a real business, with a bottom line, this is deadly. When a private business gets large enough, however, either the internal dynamic is completely bureaucratized, or it may be possible for your superiors to take credit for your good work, perhaps without your even realizing what they have done. In a small enough business, where enough of management is personally familiar with more of the workers, it is more difficult for someone to take credit, and conceal that, for something they have not done. In a vast, impersonal, governmental bureaucracy, there may be no genuine credit for anyone to take; and the accomplishment of the office or the program may consist of a tissue of sophistry and babel, which conceals the pointlessness and futility of whatever it is that is going on. An entirely fictitious system of useless goals and purposeless criteria is liable to be created. There is a saying to this effect that originates with one of the great modern bureaucracies, a peacetime military. Thus, we hear that "There is the right way, the wrong way, and the Army's way," i.e. this is the way that the Army does it, even if it doesn't make any sense. This sort of thing, of course, can get a lot of people killed in the event of an actual war. Without war, though, the follies can accumulate almost without limit. In such a climate, personality and politics are everything. Not rocking the boat or making waves thus means avoiding anything that will annoy or embarrass the superiors, or create any kind of problem for them. They are not going to like problems that you create and will probably retaliate. On the other hand, not creating problems, but helping out in the overall project of bureaucratic empire building will be rewarded -- with a greater, if still subordinate, place in the empire. The great exception to this, on the other hand, is if you can go over the head of your superiors and destroy their credibility with the next level of management. This can move you up in the management hierarchy. Such an action can be called Machiavellian, or Byzantine, the former as an example of the raw exercise of power (where economic considerations like costs, profits, etc. are irrelevant), the latter as an example of the only successor of Imperial Roman bureaucracy in early Mediaeval Christendom. "Byzantine" itself is thus an excellent term to use in relation to the bureaucratic dynamic.

  8. Join the Union. The dynamic of the bureaucrat is to be a rent seeker. The union is what you need to accomplish rent seeking in the most complete way. It used to be that people thought of labor unions as the way to sock it to the capitalists. The practical effect of the free market, however, is that unions are unnecessary, since real growth in wages (or other compensation) comes from increased production (see Say's Law), while merely driving up wages, as unions do, simply creates surpluses in the labor market, i.e. unemployment. Thus, a peak of union membership in the United States of 36% of the labor force in the 1940's has declined to less than 16%. However, much of the membership now is in public employee unions -- the very idea of which was anathema to union pioneers like Samuel Gompers. Unionization of the private work force is now, I believe, less than 8%. Since, as we have seen, increased productivity has little to do with bureaucracy, driving up wages is the only way to increase compensation for public employees. Thus, instead of socking it to the capitalists, the purpose of unions is now simply to sock it to the taxpayer. Of course, the rhetoric remains the same, at least when people pay attention to what they are saying. Attacking taxpayers for their greed and selfishness tends to be a loser at the ballot box. Leftist politicians have much better luck attacking corporations -- though the most powerful corporation in the country, the state, then never comes in for criticism. Teachers' unions do the best job of deceiving the voters, by constantly blaming the failures of public education on lack of money. The voters somehow have become more gullible to this approach, perhaps as the result of public education! Unions in the private sector are caught in a paradox. They are eager to unionize the illegal aliens that have flooded across America's borders, looking to derive a great deal of money and political power from them. However, if such workers were legalized and unionized, and succeeded in driving wages to the level that union officials remember from before illegal labor flooded the market, they would only succeed in eliminated the jobs that attracted the immigration in the first place! They can maintain their double-think only by not believing that increasing the amount of labor actually does drive down wages. Either way, their only real hope of maintaining the power of unions is through public employee unions and putting all their political power at the service of political parties, principally the Democrats, whose project is to promote the power and size of government, and of government employees, over the private sector and the taxpayers. At the same time, if legalized immigrants lose their jobs, then a new Welfare system can be created to support them, which will keep them dependent and voting for government in perpetuity.

  9. Jerk People Around. Once bureaucrats have their rents and their power, what do they do with them? Well, they "serve the public." If they don't actually serve the public very well, there is not much that can be done about it, since they will have the protection both of the civil service system and of the unions, and it may be all but impossible to fire them. So why not have some fun in the meantime? Just say no. The public needs to be reminded that they are at your mercy, so you might as well make things as difficult for them as possible. It helps that an inefficient "spend your budget" bureaucracy is going to have tons of rules and regulations, where they are most likely to be incoherent and even self-contradictory. So you will have no difficulty quoting one rule to one person and another to another, requiring them to do different things, both of which can then be retroactively invalidated by a switch in the rules. James Madison wrote:

    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?

  10. Preserve Your Anonymity. In recent memory, a couple, planning to build a home on their land, discovered that a culvert under a public road through it had stopped up. They asked their State to clear it out. The State said it didn't have the money to do that but that the couple were authorized to do it themselves. Afterwards, someone from the federal Environmental Protection Agency told the couple that they had damaged a natural "wetland," that they would have to demolish the home they had already begun building, that they would be fined thousands of dollars every day until they complied, and that there was no judicial recourse of these measures. The couple went to the courts anyway and won their case -- after considerable expense, of course. One noteworthy feature of this episode, apart from its vicious, arbitrary, and mendacious injustice, is the anonymity of the public officials involved. Today, we all know about Lois Lerner from the IRS taking the Fifth Amendment before Congress; but again, the names of other IRS underlings remain largely hidden from public view. Lerner's error may have been to mention IRS political harrassment in a public forum in the first place. While it may have been an attempt to get out in front of an IRS Inspector General's report that was about to be released, her action put her on the public radar in a way that might not have happened otherwise.

    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.

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