Monday, December 27, 2010

The ends of power is bureaucracy

From Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy (from Jerry Pournelle):

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representative who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

This law can be disproven by having a bureaucratic organization that has realized it has met its ends and self-disbanded as no longer needed.  Thus, like any physical law, it has conditions that, if met, will disprove it.  It is possible to disprove it by finding a bureaucracy that acts contrary to this Iron Law.  While such 'Iron Laws' are not real physical laws, they are often used to characterize the condition of man who sets up certain social artifacts that then run beyond any original limits.

While government is the most often cited organizational system, do note that even charities run afoul of this Iron Law.  Two quick examples:

1) The March of Dimes - This should have disbanded with the invention of a polio vaccine.  Instead the organization 're-purposed itself', that is expanded its bureaucratic boundaries from the inside, and continues to this day wishing to use the cachet of its former good works as an umbrella for its current works.  It could have been a successful case to disprove Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy but, instead, becomes a quintessential case for it.

2)  Mothers Against Drunk Driving - By highlighting the social problem of drunk driving this organization caused the public to be aware of it and deal with it.  Drunk driving went down as a problem and traffic statistic because of this.  MADD has continued, however, and is now a form of neo-temperance organization that has goals to eradicate alcohol from so many venues it is hard to count them all.  Instead of declaring victory and disbanding, a credit to social work and history, it fell into Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

There is a compounding problem that is of particular interest when applied to larger bureaucracies when they become dysfunctional as a set of organizations.  This is not that often seen in the private sector or charity, but is rife in the public sector and is one that demonstrates the belief that the ends of power is the creation of bureaucracy.  It is a belief in the power of regulation to make man safe from harm while, in fact, doing just the opposite.  I have no easy 'Iron Law' for this phenomena but it can be described.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks a number of agencies inside the federal government were seen as not working well together: those of the INTEL Community (IC) and those that dealt with traffic flowing into the Nation from foreign lands.  The reaction of the political class was that the bureaucracy needed to be 'reformed' to make it more 'accountable' so as to 'remove inefficiency' to give a leading organization (newly minted in each case) power to control the underlying structure.  Thus to get cooperation another layer of bureaucracy was landed on top of pre-existing bureaucratic structures and given its own set of mandates.

The problem in both areas (IC and ingress functions) was that of lack of communication between organizations and an inability to share information amongst organizations due to 'turf' conflicts between pre-existing Congressional mandates for disparate organizations.  To address these problems Congress need only have strengthened or amended previous mandates and, let a few heads of organizations disappear, and put stronger accountability standards in place to the bureaucracy with hard and fast rules that would say: 'if you screw this up you are fired'.

That is how you 'reform' bureaucratic organizations: tighten the power definitions, remove or sharpen mandates, and cut staff from the top down to the mid-level so there is no longer a finger-pointing structure able to deflect criticism.

That is sane.

This did not happen.

Instead the pre-existing mandates were lightly massaged over, all the higher level staff in organizations going under their 'umbrella' leader organizations (the DNI for the IC, DHS for the disparate ingress functions of immigration and commerce) and then those higher level organizations need to formulate sub-parts to address the functions under the 'umbrella'.

Staff was no only not cut or kept the same, it was increased.

Bureaucratic layers added on got their own 'turf' inside the new 'umbrella' organizations.

Communications were not flattened between organizations mandated to work together, but were funneled through yet another series of even higher level 'channels' which added their own time and relevancy problems, as well as massaging information from analysts yet again.

Adding a layer of bureaucracy to dysfunctional organizations does not address the prior dysfunctions and only adds to them and makes them worse.  Doing this is a definition of insanity by Albert Einstein:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The belief that bureaucracy can be used to improve the human condition has a loose association with factual evidence for such things as military and diplomatic affairs amongst Nation States.  Beyond that criminal laws to hold private organizations accountable have a demonstrated effect only when enforced.  The bureaucratic regulation system is an outgrowth of the primary ideal of bureaucracy (used in the military and diplomacy) given power by the secondary ideal (criminal laws) and then 'softened' to punitive levels that are not has harsh as the secondary level so as to coerce accountability of private affairs to this tertiary level of government.

In Marxist terms this is a petit power over the petit bourgeoisie, which includes small business and 'middle class' workers in large institutions.

Larger institutions better able to control the regulatory State form an internal alliance via political channels that then creates a crony capitalist class nominally under the petit power but, in fact, in control of it via political channels.  This has many names: State Capitalism, State Socialism and National Socialism, which are all variants of Fascism.  The concept of Fascism, the bundling of sticks so as to make an axe, puts forth that the bundle is that of society, the axe blade is that of crony capitalists and the power to wield that structure is of the State.

This conception of the refining abilities of bureaucracy via intra-State means is one that pre-exists Marxist terminology, as in the Hamiltonian outlook on economics (American School) that would be embraced just prior to the US Civil War.  This system gave the federal government a strong say in the economic system of the Nation with a goal to centralize the planning and deployment of infrastructure and a "Harmony of Interests" between the owning class and working class of citizens.  That 'harmonization' is seen as an economic goal undertaken via legislation via the secondary route (tariffs and trade restrictions) and then enforced via the third route (internal regulation).  The result was economic growth, but only with a series of booms and busts that happen with government intervention to support some industries over others done via protectionism and taxation.  Mind you this 'harmonization' still didn't happen and the economic swings were seen as a cause of the non-harmonization .

Yet this system would have added on to it: Dept. of Agriculture (under Lincoln), anti-trust laws, the Federal Reserve, the SEC, the Labor Dept., FHA, Freddie, Fannie, securitization pushed by HUD to create Ginnie Mae, the FDA, FCC, EPA, Energy Dept., Education Dept., National Endowment for the Arts...

The American School of Hamiltonian-based economics that seeks to 'harmonize' culture by intervening between individuals and big businesses is little different from the National Socialist venue that seeks to do the same thing, save that the Fascists concentrate on secondary (laws) over tertiary (regulations) effects while the American School reverses those, going for regulations over laws.

If it appears that the bureaucratic State has grown by leaps and bounds under the beneficent and ever-helpful eye of the US government: you are right.  Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy works at the large and the small scale of bureaucracies and is scale independent.

No bureaucracy has ever declared itself at an end and dissolved itself.

The power of bureaucracy only grows unless it is checked by government and the people, and since government is all about power,  it is left to the people to tell government when the bureaucratic State has reached its end and must be dissolved.  That is your responsibility to be made heard through the organs of government.

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