Beaver Transcript: On Bureaucracy

beaver 16In light of the recent government shutdown in the US and the drama that surrounds it, one cannot help but wonder, how did we get here?  How is it that our congress and government in general can’t seem to get anything done?

Even looking at local city governments in larger cities and how they act, i.e, homelessness issues/public defecation in San Francisco, clean water or lack thereof in Flint, Michigan and all sorts of other strange and modern wonders of urban living, one can’t help but wonder, how are decisions made that result in how things are in these places?

The answer to it all is very briefly and succinctly described in this essay by Beaver on the nature of bureaucracy itself:

So apparently there’s a mod who doesn’t like these threads. Reposting:

Some call bureaucracy a necessary evil. I call these people fools or liars.

It would be absurd to expect the leader of any organization which gets large enough, whether it be a nation or a business, to oversee every single day-to-day decision made within it. No matter how great they might be, leaders are still humans, bound by space, time and biology, and the management needs of an organization can quickly become too much for a single individual to handle. At that time, the leader must delegate, and thus bureaucracy is born.

In essence, that is what bureaucracy is supposed to be: Individuals granted a level of power and autonomy, though still answering to superiors and acting in line with their wishes, who handle lesser decisions and tasks in the management of the organization in question. Now, some would like you to believe that corruption and inefficiency become inevitable as bureaucracy grows, as if we should accept this. Of course, the people spreading this nonsense are those who themselves have a vested interest in convincing people not to fight back against corruption and inefficiency in bureaucracy, or those foolish enough to believe them.

Yet, how can we prevent the dreaded C&I? It is far simpler than you might expect, though simple does not always mean easy.

First, one has to understand why inefficiency comes about. Why is bureaucracy inefficient in the first place? What does the bureaucracy do which would cause people to judge it inefficient?

Well, this simply means looking at the decisions taken, the time it took to take them and how much it cost. If the wrong decision has been taken, it means that the people in charge of those decisions do not know what they are doing. If they do not know what they are doing, then why are they in charge of that particular decision? Some would of course claim that leaders are sometimes put in positions where they must take decisions on topics upon which they are poorly educated, but then these leaders have a duty to obtain advice from those who do possess this knowledge. Hence, why were the right people not consulted? Or why were people with poor knowledge consulted?

As for time, we can ask the same question: Why did it take so long to take a decision? Is it because it was a committee and they could not come to an agreement? Is it because of negligence? In both cases, we can ask the questions: Why couldn’t that committee come to an agreement? Why was there negligence? Likewise about costs. Why is it costing so much? Why wasn’t a less pricey yet equally good decision taken?

The answer to all these questions is the same: Incompetence or corruption. And in the case of incompetence, we can ask: Why was an incompetent individual put in charge? And our answer is a vicious cycle: An incompetent or corrupt superior. Assuming that the upper echelons of management are not incompetent, that means that at some point, a corrupt individual was promoted to a position of power and has been promoting other corrupt or incompetent individuals to positions of power.

So, corruption is the root of the problem. But how do we solve it?

The answer is oversight. In any bureaucratic system which is crumbling under corruption and incompetence, one can immediately detect a lack of oversight from the upper echelons of power.

When an individual is given a position of power within the bureaucracy, they are expected to act for the benefit of the organization, and so to take decisions in line with this. Assuming they are honest, they will do so. However, it is entirely possible for a dishonest individual to hide his true nature until it is too late and he has obtained a position of power, at which point he will run amok, promoting friends and family to positions of power regardless of their competence, harassing his subordinates and claiming credit for their work, etc. What then prevents said individuals from doing so?

As said, it is oversight. If that person’s superiors keep an eye on what he’s doing, they will become aware of his actions and so will be able to remove him from that position, stop him from doing more damage and maybe even undo the damage he did. Furthermore, such actions will act as a deterrent to others who might be thinking of doing the same. Likewise, a lack of oversight will have the opposite effect, encouraging others to do as they please since they know they won’t face consequences for their actions. Thus, as long as superiors keep an eye on what their subordinates do and insure they don’t abuse their powers, corruption can be prevented.

Of course, it is reasonable to claim that there is a limit to how much oversight an individual leader can have over his subordinates, and the entire point of having subordinates is to delegate tasks to them in order to have more time for other, more important tasks. Hence, too much oversight defeats the purpose of bureaucracy, which is to lighten the load of leadership on individual leaders. Yet, as exposed, a lack of oversight will damn the bureaucracy and thus be fatal to the organization it serves.

In conclusion, what matters is that not only leaders must remember to keep watch over their subordinates for signs of corruption, but they must be willing to listen to those even further down the ladder when they denounce corruption. And when corruption there is, it must be torn out like the tumor it is. Otherwise, you will find your bureaucracy may become a greater enemy than your actual opponents.

Original screen cap:

beaver bureaucracy


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