Disclaimer: We all know the bureaucracy and have formed our own opinions. The author (that’s me!) has decided that he doesn’t like most bureaucracies. Therefore, the views expressed in this article are his and do not reflect the stance of Sound Economics at large. If you are a fan of bureaucracies, and/or you think this article may hit a little close to home, simply click on over to Brennan’s fantastic piece on umbrella usage. If you feel as though the above qualifiers do not apply to you, I welcome you with great excitement to continue along with me now and read about umbrellas right after. Also, look for “†” throughout the text—there are continued narratives as post-script for you to enjoy).
Being a college student, I quite literally live in a bureaucracy, which gives me adequate time and expertise to speak to its weaknesses. Not only that, but through my on-campus job, I get to see the whole other side of it, and what I see isn’t, as they say, pretty. While there are many issues I choose to take with the bureaucracy, my chief distaste for the thing stems from its exuberant costs.
The initial cost issue is the sheer redundant size of most bureaucracies. Dividing each sequence of tasks that one person could reasonably do all alone into singular tasks, then hiring one person to do each individual task is kind of expensive. It takes way more people to get something done, and it takes way more time for it to happen. The assumed advantage of doing this “delegating” is that the company or institution in question can hire increasingly less-skilled and/or incompetent workers to complete increasingly dumbed-down tasks at increasingly lower wages, rather than hiring a few competent, skilled workers. From a business perspective, this doesn’t sound half bad, but it’s still mega yucky! Slower and less efficient doesn’t sound ideal to me, yet it gets worse; this same characteristic of bureaucracy turns human thought and problem solving into an assembly line. The brain itself is numbed into a binary of sorts: on or off, then the worker plops their “response” down the line to the next person, and this happening over and over again just to complete a task is where we find the secondary cost issue, and boy does it get really expensive.
No one is connected directly to any situation, and because of this, no one faces the consequences of their actions. When an untrained dog takes an sh*t on the rug, you’re supposed to shove their face in it to make them aware of their actions. The bureaucracy and its inherent disconnect make this impossible. To give an example, let’s take a look at a *fictional* character named Joe Blow. Joe Blow has been an idiot since birth, he scored just 160 on the SAT, and he can’t tell sh*t from shinola. However, thanks to the bureaucracy of our government, Mr. Blow has managed to float through life thus far without a care in the world, landing him an interview at a mid-sized university nearby. The hiring department *shudder* was looking for a new cog to slap into their machine that is accounting. They didn’t want to pay a high salary, but, luckily, they figured, the job was menial enough that any ‘ole dunce could do it. Then, in walks Joe. The interviewers asked him a few questions (for whatever reason, that day he decided to only speak in words with less than one letter) before saying “please excuse us for just a moment,” then excitedly jumping into the nearest cleaning closet and whisper-screaming (with huge grins) “he’s PERFECT!” The pair strut back into the interviewing room with big smiles, telling Joe “you’re hired!” Joe didn’t entirely understand what that meant, likely because he had passed out from sticking complimentary mints up his nose †. Nonetheless, Joe got a job, and many, many people like Joe also get jobs, but anyways, back on topic!
If Joe Blow in his new job were to simply lack the common sense and personal agency to be competent in his position, and a big ole’ f*ck fest was to occur as a result, why should he care? He doesn’t see or likely even hear of the repercussions, and he definitely doesn’t have to do anything about it. Someone else lower-down on the bureaucracy food chain has to deal with Joe’s screw-up. To go back to the dog-rug analogy, the dog is never having his snout shoved into the “droppings.” Meanwhile, Joe will go home that night, blissfully unaware of the situation (though he will probably get into a car accident on the way since he’s frighteningly incompetent at most things, and many times attempts consumption of an ice cream whilst behind the wheel ‡). Then, Joe will eat his green beans for dinner (which have to be cut up by someone else, since he lacks any skill, whatsoever) and go to bed. The next morning, he’ll wake up and make the same mistakes again.
Now you’re probably thinking, “what on earth did Joe ever do to Noah?!” and to that, I answer “absolutely nothing,” but the truth is, Joe has cost all of us a lot of money.
Retroactively cleaning up mistakes made by people like Joe requires even more manpower, and manpower costs even more money. It would be much much simpler (and CHEAPER, in the long run) to just hire one competent person who can take responsibility and not screw up to begin with. Ahhh.. what a nice thought, but it’s never going to happen, because once a bureaucracy starts, you cannot ever go back.
† — This isn’t the first time Joe has passed out from nose insertion, however, this is his first time experiencing it from a mint. His go-to is either skittles or jelly beans.
‡ — Yes, shockingly, Joe does have his driver’s license. In addition to EATING behind the wheel, he also frequently chooses to drive from the passenger’s seat. Because of this, Joe averages 7 car crashes per week, which works out to an average of one accident per day, though he doesn’t drive on weekends.