Bill wrote last month about bureaucracy, and it was scathing. I have no more love for bureaucracy than the next man and all the scorn he heaps on bureaucracy is well deserved, but from my experience in the public sector, I think he is mistaken about bureaucrats.
Bill has a lot of scathing criticism of bureaucrats, but it is not the bureaucrats who are the problem, it is the bureaucracy itself. The system is what destroys.
I’m not saying there aren’t bad bureaucrats, just that bureaucrats are just like workers anywhere else. Most bureaucrats are decent enough folks, some are assholes, and most are just doing their job and trying to get ahead. They respond to incentives just like anybody else.
There’s the problem: the system of incentives that government bureaucracy has created for its workers is what is destructive.
1) You will never have to do anything.
2) If you ever actually do anything it will be useless.
3) If you ever actually do something useful, it will be rendered useless by subsequent layers of management.
It is this system which oppresses its own workers that is the problem.
Now, there are some not-so-great trends among bureaucrats: bureaucrats do tend to lean somewhat more leftwards and believe more in the efficacy of government solutions, but (most) bureaucrats are not trying to screw you, no more than any other group of people. Most bureaucrats either don’t care, are just going their jobs, or they honestly believe that they are helping the public.
This is the first in a planned short series of why government bureaucracy doesn’t work, where I’ll go into the incentives that create government failure in more detail.
For now though, I’ll address a few of his points:
The real power of the government is with the petty bureaucrat, the one you might see from time to time.
A single petty bureaucrat has almost no power; he can at most moderately inconvenience you. The petty bureaucrat is a slave to the rules. The biggest problem from a petty bureaucrat is not what the bureaucrat himself, but if he decides to put you into the system.
The system is a maze that is almost indecipherable to anyone who is not a lawyer or bureaucrat in that particular system. The system can ruin your life: whether it’s the family court system, the tax system, or what have you, but rare is it that a single bureaucrat can hurt you that much until you’re in the system.
The problem with the system is not with the people, it is the rules. Each person in a bureaucracy has a specific role and rules guiding his role. There are no deviations from your role or your rules. Even if breaking the rules in a minor way would benefit everyone involved, the bureaucrat is not allowed to deviate. There are also no exceptions to the rules, they have to be applied as written (and interpreted) to everybody equally, which is why you’ll occasionally here about stupidities, like bureaucrats shutting down children’s lemonade stands.
The rules are hard, cold, and unyielding. Even if they make no sense, the rules or roles are still paramount.
The people who are attracted to bureaucratic or government jobs know that they are unsuited for any social success or productive work and it infuriates them, so they want payback. What better way to get payback than to fuck with people who they know are their betters? They relish their jobs because every time they can make someone wait, audit their tax returns, place a lien on their property or in extreme cases cause someone to die, they feel that their revenge is taken.
In most countries, most bureaucrats aren’t any more (or less) competent than employees the private sector. The US is somewhat of an exception, for reasons I’ll explain in a later post. Most can, and many do, switch between the private and public sectors.
There are some gross incompetents in government, and the government union system makes removing incompetents much more difficult for bureaucracies than for the non-unionized private sector, but most government employees are reasonably competent at their functions.
Also, most bureaucrats (again, there are the occassional exceptions) don’t care about you. They don’t want to fuck you and they take no pleasure in doing so. Some may want to help you, but for the most part, they simply want to do their job so they can get paid and go home, just like most people in the private sector.
That’s not to say they won’t fuck you. If the rules they follow require fucking you, they’ll follow the rules, and you’re fucked, but that is a problem with the rules not the people and most people won’t take any pleasure out of it unless you’ve been a complete ass to them. They will feel apathy. (Whether that’s better or worse is debatable).
No truer statement was ever uttered and if you don’t believe me on this, just fuck with one of these dickheads. They will ensure that, to all extent of their government bestowed powers, they will do anything they can to make your life as hellish as possible and make you pay even more of your hard earned money than you do presently. Fuck with them enough, or just be in the wrong situation at the wrong time and they’ll ruin your life…or get you killed.
Generally, bureaucrats will not go out of their way to hurt you, but like most people they do have a tendency revenge. If you fuck with anyone they will usually try to get revenge, bureaucrats are not different. Generally, though, the bureaucrats are apathetic. As long as you don’t personally piss off an individual bureaucrat, they don’t care
They have no reference for what it is like to live as a person, much less a free individual with hopes and dreams and the means to attain them. And so, we are dangerous. We don’t behave “by the book.” And we have to be controlled. It’s all for our own best interests, isn’t it? Why should anyone be allowed to follow their individual talents and drive for the life they wish to live? That might make someone else feel inferior, just like they do. So we must be at the least controlled, and at the extreme destroyed.
It is true that progressivism and statism are somewhat more common among bureaucrats than the population as whole. For the most part though, it is not about control; most honestly think they are helping. (See the term useful idiots). Now, there are probably some bureaucrats at the higher echelons who want control and there are little tin gods at various lower levels, but most don’t want control.They are either apathetic or believe they are doing good. There is little malice behind most bureaucrats.
I’ll be going over why the system fails in the future, but for now, it is enough to say that blaming the bureaucrats is pointless. In fact, blaming the bureaucrats is counter-productive. The bureaucratic system is the problem, blaming bureaucrats rather than the system merely makes the alt-right seem petty and vindictive and alienates potential allies within the government (and yes, there are people in the government who are in favour of limited government).