Why Is the Bureaucracy Like It Is? Why Do We Put Up With It?
Bill Quick

Parent of dying boy has to prove her son can’t take standardized test

Andrea Rediske’s 11-year-old son Ethan, is dying. Last year, Ethan, who was born with brain damage, has cerebral palsy and is blind, was forced to take a version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test over the space of two weeks last year because the state of Florida required that every student take one. Now his mom has to prove that Ethan, now in a morphine coma, is in no condition to take another test this year.

The flip thing to say would be, “Parents, sending your kids to public schools is child abuse.”  And just because it is flip doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

However, at some point we have to ask where this overweening sense of bureaucratic entitlement comes from, and why do we, who pay their bloated salaries, permit them to enjoy it?

There are major problems on both side of that equation.  Let’s start with the problems of the bureaucratic mindset.  Every organization set up to deliver a good or service consists of two classes of workers:  Those who actually create the goods or services, and bureaucrats, who count means and make rules that determine how the actual creation and delivery of goods and services will be carried out.  We used to make that distinction by dividing workers into blue collar (the workers) and white collar (the management bureaucracy).

Guess which one because culturally, socially, and economically more desirable?  Well, your first clue might be that the bureaucracy runs the system, while the blue collars only work in the system at the direction of the white collars.

In short, white collar bureaucracy becomes the Ruling Class at every level throughout a society, culture, and economy.  Ruling Classes, once entrenched, tend to over-value themselves in relation to the those not engaged in their duties.  Hence, in American education, the value of a bureaucratic administrator is gauges as being as high as, if not  higher than, the teachers who actually deliver the service to teaching the kids.  And, equally ludicrous, administrators who teach nothing are valued as “educators” over those who actually educate.

Most teachers hate administrators.  Most teachers, if asked, would tell you that the fastest way to improve American education would be to kill all the lawyers cut about ninety percent of the school administration, and order the rest to get the hell out of the way and let them teach.

Administration corrupts workers in other ways.  Some workers enter a field in hopes of eventually achieving success in the bureacratic side of the system, rather than the creation/delivery side.  This goal corrupts the efforts of the worker as a worker, and tend to end up in a bureaucrat-clone trying to do actual work, but with bureaucratic mind-sets and attitudes.  These are the “teachers” who call the cops on five year olds for chewing Pop-tarts into gun shapes, and require that boys who color outside the line be forced to take calming amphetamines – Schedule A drugs banned in every other setting in our society, because such sinfulness offends their bureaucratic love of order. 

Some observations:  Bureaucrats are almost all, at heart, pocket Nazis.  Women tend to be more bureaucratic than men.  Bureaucrats of all sexes love power and control.  It’s why they become bureaucrats in the first place.  At the heart of their need is a deep-seated understanding that they just aren’t very good at actual doing, and so telling (or, more likely, ordering) sounds like a very attractive deal.

That our society is run by innumerable interlocking bureaucracies also adds to the attraction, not to mention the entitlement:  If bureaucrats are in charge of everything, it must be because they are better, right?  People come to them to be told what to do.  I can think of very little more affirming of their bloated sense of selves than that.  Of course, never mentioned is that they have created a culture in which non-bureaucrats have no choice other than to bow to the bureaucracy, because – and here is its dirtiest secret – the bureaucracy maintains a monopoly on legal force.

The division between doer and tellers – between the Ruling Class and the Ruled – between the bureaucracy and the worker – has existed throughout most of human history.  One of the attractions of Communism is that it exploits the permanent hatred between the petty bureaucracy and the class controlled by it.  Haven’t you fantasized about stripping your pointy-haired manager naked, sawing off his private parts, and feeding them to him?  Communism offers you a fully approved opportunity to do just that, and on a mass scale.  Ruling classes are always shocked and surprised when those they rule turn on them and string them from lamp-posts, because it is a tenet of their faith that they are better than the lowing cattle they take care of for their own good and the good of society.

Bureaucracies wreak havoc not only because they can, but because they must.  Their own cultural mindset requires that they demonstrate the reality of their power and control, because it affirms their status not just as other, but as better.  Keep that in mind.

Now, the other side of the coin.  There is a great deal of reality to the self-affirming mindset of the bureaucracy.  People are not equal.  Half of all people are “below average.”  Some of them are far below average.  And of those who are not intellectually handicapped in a basic sense, some have either by training and cultural acclimation, or by personal preference, decided that it is easier to not make decisions than to make decisions.

Among these folks you find a curious attitude:  They hate the bureaucrats who rule them, but not enough to take responsibility for their own decisions and lives.  In antebellum America, there were more than a few slaves content with their lot.  Today, there are parents who would rather see their children abused by the education system than take responsibility for themselves and their kids and rejet the bureaucratic shibboleths that subsitute for personal decision making.

And decision making is hard.  Bureaucrats are trained to make decisions, at least within the sphere where they are permitted to do so.  Workers are trained to work, and to accept the decisions made by bureaucrats.  Bureaucrats tend to be far happier with this arrangement than workers. but workers rarely, if ever, effectively resist this system.

Workers have tried to fight back against bureaucracy by creating bureaucracies that, in theory, answer to them, and make the sort of decisions they would like to make.  We call these organizations of “worker bureaucrats” unions.  The problem with this is that two lions will always have more in common with each other than with a worker zebra.  And worker bureaucrats and management bureaucrats will always find more of a common cause between themselves than with the workers whom they collectively represent/control.

And so, in the end, we come back to the human condition that progressives have worked so hard and so long to pretend does not exist, and yet, if it did not exist, progressives and bureaucrats (same difference) would not exist either.  Humans are different.  And many humans are intellectually lazy, ill-equipped to make sane personal decisions, and actually hunger for somebody else to do that for them.

Hence, bureaucrat Ruling Classes and the working Ruled.  It may be a permanent aspect of the human condition. 

There.  Feel better now?




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Bill Quick

About Bill Quick

I am a small-l libertarian. My primary concern is to increase individual liberty as much as possible in the face of statist efforts to restrict it from both the right and the left. If I had to sum up my beliefs as concisely as possible, I would say, "Stay out of my wallet and my bedroom," "your liberty stops at my nose," and "don't tread on me." I will believe that things are taking a turn for the better in America when married gays are able to, and do, maintain large arsenals of automatic weapons, and tax collectors are, and do, not.

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