Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Pournelle on bureaucracy
CalTrans got the I-5 open again a day earlier than they thought they could. There are still some good engineers in that bureaucracy, and this should remind us that bureaucracies are not evil; it's just that they will always end up under the control of those more dedicated to the bureaucracy than to its goals. Case in point, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and particularly the water department. It does its job and does it well. It has also managed to get 20 to 50% higher wages for its employees than other civil servants manage for exactly the same qualifications and job descriptions.

None of this should be astonishing. As Possony and I pointed out a long time ago, government often does good, and the usual way it does so is to set up a bureaucracy. My favorite example is rabies shots for dogs. Rabies is endemic in the hills above our house, but there have been essentially no cases of human rabies in Los Angeles since the 1930's. This is because we require proof of rabies shots as a condition for getting a dog license -- and the animal control bureaucracy is zealous in detecting unlicensed dogs. Now you and I are not likely to be obsessed with snooping on the neighbors to detect an unlicensed dog, but we are very glad that someone does that. The bureaucracy attracts the kind of people who do take that job seriously. Everyone profits and the public weal is served. I could multiply these examples.

Government can do two things: send armed men to intervene in your life, and set up bureaucracies. When we want government to do something, we should keep that in mind. If the problem can't be solved by force or through a bureaucracy, then perhaps it ought not be entrusted to government.
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