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Bureaucracy

I treat people as individuals. That means that if you and I have things in common, if you do good things, and if you are friendly enough, you can be my friend. So with some exceptions (say, serial killers), I do not hold the chosen careers of my friends against them. But in some cases, I would like them to reconsider. Some of my best friends are bureaucrats. Sorry, civil servants. No, bureaucrats. It’s not really surprising: some 1 out of 8 Canadians of working age, or 8% of the entire population and growing, are employed by the government. (1) That might sound reasonable until you realise that the government does not actually produce anything. In fact, it sucks money out of the productive sector and gives generously to the “public” sector. I think any job created that takes money away from the public and so well because of its power rather than because the market priced its salary is not part of the public sector. In fact, the private sector is the public sector and the public sector is the government sector. And like all government, it rewards itself generously because it has power over trillions of dollars created by its subjects. (Have you seen how much better bureaucrat compensation packages are than yours? (2)) No wonder corruption, in the sense of outright stealing from public coffers, has been largely eliminated in the rich countries: it has become legal. Some bureaucrats have it great: working at a job that wouldn’t exist in a free market, at salaries and pensions that add up to millions of dollars that should have been contributed to the economy but were instead sucked out of it, and they cannot even get fired. (3) And that means that any job that is a government job, whether or not it makes sense to be so (4), is pretty sweet!

Private sector unions negotiate over private money, money that comes from the income the workers play a role in generating. It is a private affair and there is nothing wrong it. Public sector unions however, are organisations that wrangle the government over taxpayer money. In this they are the same as a lobby group. Public sector workers do not compete with anyone to provide services, so they do not need to improve the quality of the services they provide, nor do they ever need to do so cheaper. Politicians have little reason not to cave in to union demands, for the same reasons as with lobby groups: giving more taxpayer money to special interest groups garners support and votes for the politico, and taking it away and giving it back to the taxpayers would create a new group of enemies. As they do with all their favourite lobby groups, politicians depend on public sector unions to fund their reelection campaigns. Public sector salaries have nowhere to go but up, while the government debt they are contributing to blows up like a balloon.

The legal sector—lawyers—is another group created by the existence of government. How much do they make? (5) You may already be able to guess. And trial lawyers are a powerful lobby group. Lawyers are only a “necessary evil” in a world of laws. Their jobs get more and more necessary in our society because the laws keep piling up. And as laws pile up, you lose.

Ron Paul, though not an anarchist, is nonetheless a very keen observer of government. “We need to understand the more government spends, the more freedom is lost…” said Paul. “Instead of simply debating spending levels, we ought to be debating whether the departments, agencies, and programs funded by the budget should exist at all.” (6) For instance, Gary Becker points out in “The Economics of Life” that the Department of Labour lobbies on behalf of the workers vis-a-vis business and farming; the Department of Agriculture works to improve the position of farmers against business and labourers; and the Department of Commerce is the wing that is supposed to look out for business over workers and farmers. They are all superfluous. We do not need most of the jobs in government, and those that exist could easily be privatised. But new laws and regulations necessitate hiring new people. Because we are still being told we need all these laws, that we need government and we need millions of people staffing each one, we cannot see the noose the bureaucracy has around our necks.

Bureaucracy is the workings of government. It is the blood of the government. But the government is not necessary. Is what the bureaucracy does essential? Useful? Benign? Let’s ask Wendy McElroy, an anarchist writer who has, like all of us, had to deal with the bureaucracy.

For years, I have been complaining to my husband that the transaction costs of being alive were soaring—and almost always because of increased governmental requirements and ensuing governmental inefficiency. Here’s one example: a few years ago, it took me eight months to get a replacement birth certificate that I needed for no other reason than to meet the requirements of another government form. I needed to fill out the other government form in order to legally engage in an activity the license for which had previously required only the production of a driver’s license.

To perform a single act that should never have been licensed at all, I had to wait eight months and fill out two additional forms. For the privilege of going through this infuriating process, I paid two fees. And then insult was added to injury: the whole process was just a prelude to filling out yet another government form and paying yet another fee. The transaction costs of life are soaring….

[M]y freedom of travel is being denied, and that denial comes in the form of transaction costs. Government regulations are making the exercise of my rights so expensive in terms of additional fees, time, inconvenience, and sheer unpleasantness that these considerations are beginning to outweigh the actual cost of exercising my rights….

[T]he true winners will be government fee-mongers and heartless bureaucrats who cherish social control. They seem determined to burden the exercise of rights with transaction costs so heavy that the knees of the ‘free’ will buckle under them. (7)

And how could it be accountable? The only parts of government that the people elect are the legislative and maybe executive branch. What if some bureaucrat screws you over just because he felt like it? Are you going to go running to your congressperson and beg them to fire the guy? Your congressperson is slightly accountable to you; the bureaucracy is not accountable to you at all. They have power over you.

Everyone has complaints about bureaucracy. Why? It is not only because they are annoying and high paid. The problem is that the arbitrary rules governments impose necessitate bureaucracy. They take our time as we jump through endless hoops to obtain the right to live our lives. If we didn’t need so many pieces of official ID so the government could track innocent citizens (8), we could eliminate a few $50,000 a year desk jobs that add nothing to the economy but are impossible to destroy because of the powerful pull the bureaucracy has on the government. And the bigger the bureaucracy gets, the more powerful the arbitrary power of government gets and the more of our tax money it consumes. Let’s eliminate this wasteful mess.

(1) http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/68-213-x/2007000/4094533-eng.htm

(2) http://www.usa.gov/Federal_Employees/Benefits.shtml, http://federaljobs.net/

(3) http://danieljmitchell.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/its-a-bird-its-a-plane-no-its-super-bureaucrat/

(4) http://biggovernment.com/dspady/2011/05/06/200000-lifeguards-to-receive-millions-in-retirement/

(5) http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Attorney_%2F_Lawyer/Salary, http://www.aboutlawschools.org/law/jobs/salaries/, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/starting-salaries-for-city-lawyers-soar-to-pound60000-400918.html

 

(6) http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ron_Paul

(7) http://mises.org/daily/5228/The-Freedom-to-Cross-a-Border

(8) http://www.lvrj.com/opinion/an-alien-in-my-own-land-120563539.html

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