The primary business of our times — and it may remain so for a century — is slaying the bureaucratic dragon. If our prosperity has stalled and social justice is in jeopardy, this is largely because imperialistic, yet sclerotic, bureaucracies have over-reached themselves.
Bureaucracies have a tendency to both grow and become choked in impenetrable underbrush. Time and again, they spread out to control whatever they can; yet they do so by proliferating as many pointless jobs and stultifying rules as possible. At the close of the day, they develop into endpoints unto themselves — quite oblivious of their original purpose.
The only way to cut back this malignancy is to be ruthless. We, as a society, must unsheathe our vorpal blades. They must go snicker-snack, so that we can go galumphing back to reclaim our independence. Only when the dragon has been brought to ground can we safely resume life as usual.
Our weapons must cut deep because bureaucratic tyrants multiply more quickly than rabbits and regulatory brambles propagate more lushly than kudzu. In the name of providing essential services, they rob us of our freedom and set us to completing useless tasks designed only to keep us in bondage.
Actually, I don’t mean that we must slay the dragon; rather we must tame it. Bureaucracies perform vital functions. They allow us to coordinate extremely complex activities that can be managed in no other way. Modern industries, governments, and universities could not exist without them.
But to use another analogy, they often mutate into unkempt lawns. Unless the vegetation they generate is regularly mowed, it soon grows so high, and becomes so weed infested, as to destroy the curb-appeal of the most handsome McMansion.
So what to do? As I say, we must be ruthless. First off, overgrown bureaucracies, such as the federal government, must be frozen in place. They must be denied additional sustenance so that they cannot increase their legions of superfluous administrators.
Next, unnecessary positions must be excised. Organizational slots need to be terminated and their incumbents dismissed, transferred, or allowed to retire. This is painful, but no less than we would do for a metastasized cancer.
Lastly, we must combine titles. Instead of two vice presidents, we can have one with an expanded portfolio. This will not only reduce the number of redundant managers, but eliminate unnecessary duties.
What, you say, there will not be enough people to handle the work that needs doing. In a sense, this is true. But remember Parkinson told us that work expands to fill the space allotted for it. Thus, when you shrink the space, you discover that it does not take as many hands to accomplish what is required.
In a civilized society, we need rules. We also need enforcement agents. But we do not need so many rules that we cannot keep track of them and so many administrators that they have to invent reasons to intrude into our lives.
Hence a university that boasts more vice presidents than if has full professors is well on its way to no longer being a university. When more people keep tabs on those who do the teaching than there are persons teaching — surprise, surprise, there is less education.
Likewise, when there are more government administrators making sure that small businesses do not engage in abuses than there are small businesses, the free market and the bounties it has provided are on the way to extinction.
Politicians tell us that they are merely protecting us from exploitation, but they are actually ensuring that we are neither free nor prosperous. Theirs is the justice, and equality, of what Max Weber called the Iron Cage.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.