Sunday, January 5, 2014
The Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy
To talk about today's topic, I have three stories:
Years ago, when I lived in South America, I received a package from the US that hadn't been sent in a diplomatic pouch. Instead, the package was sent through the mail and I had to pick it up at the aduana—the customs office.
Bureaucracies in many South American countries are a masterful combination of corruption and futility. In order to pick up the package, I had to pay about 10,000 pesos ($250 at the time), in addition to the thousands of pesos I paid in bribes. The package was tracked on a sheet of paper the size of a desktop calendar, and by the end, that large sheet of paper had 20 stamps, 25 signatures, and had to be filed in an oversized book that could have crushed small children. The process took about three hours.
When I was a graduate student at UCLA, I worked full time in the school's management library as a cataloger in order to put myself through school. The library received books and periodicals every day, and each piece had to be entered into the school library database. When I first took the job, the office where I worked was buried, floor to ceiling in uncatalogued materials. My predecessor had let the stacks of books get so backlogged, that I could not find the top of my desk, let alone get to the shelves that were supposed to hold incoming shipments. Some periodicals in the stacks were several years old. Yellowed memos of library procedures and a wide variety of junk filled the drawers of my desk.
It took me several months to catalog everything, on top of my regular workload, but I was able to clear out the entire workroom. I then discovered something interesting about my job. With the new books and periodicals that came in, I could finish all of my work in about one hour a day. Yet, if I did that, my manager would berate me for not keeping busy and for not "doing my job." I quickly learned what I call "the bureaucratic shuffle." This is the state of work where I would spend hours looking busy, shuffling from place to place in the library, while doing absolutely nothing. Using this technique, it always took me exactly eight hours every day to complete the cataloging of the books and periodicals that had arrived.
A few months ago, I went to the post office to retrieve a certified letter. While I didn't have to pay money to retrieve it, nor did I have to bribe anyone, I spent two hours in the post office, waiting in line, to retrieve a letter I didn't want in the first place. As I stood in line, I noticed that every single employee in the post office moved at the speed of the bureaucratic shuffle.
Government programs, entitlements, and agencies always create bureaucracies. That is the one consistent fact of every government ever created throughout all of history. The larger and more intrusive the government, the larger the bureaucracies it creates. Alexander's empire fell under the weight of its bureaucracies. The Roman empire fell under the weight of its bureaucracies.
Bureaucracies are unfeeling, uncaring, unyielding, unbending entities that slow down production, waste money, and annoy the heck out of most people who have to deal with them in order to get something they want. They suck time and money from the economy like a Miele S 7580 Premium Class upright vacuum picking up dryer lint from a tile floor.
In short, bureaucracies always create waste, cost more, and produce less than private industry or the free market.
This is one main reason why the US cannot sustain the massive government buildup we've created since Johnson's "Great Society." With each new government program, the bureaucracy that it creates sucks more money from the economy and, over the long run, always creates poorer quality service than what the private sector can provide. It also inevitably becomes a corrupt institution. Obamacare is no exception. The bureaucracies that it creates will stifle the free market, drive up costs, and produce mediocre services at best, seriously crappy services at the worst. And, in the end, it will become merely another corrupt government bureaucracy.
This is call the dictatorship of the bureaucracy. We who are enslaved by bureaucracies cannot turn to government to help. Government is the source of the problem. We cannot turn to Congress to help. Once the bureaucracy is built Congress has little will or incentive to disassemble it. We cannot fight the system, as there is no single entity in a bureaucracy to attack and "fix." We cannot complain to anyone for the problems we experience within this dictatorship. All complaints are handled at the speed of the bureaucratic shuffle.