In Praise of Red Tape

In Praise of Red Tape

Is there any figure in American political discourse more reviled than the bureaucrat? Say the word and a potent caricature leaps to mind: the petty and shiftless paper pusher who wields his small amount of power with malice and caprice. Whatever the issue–from school reform to overhauling the nation’s intelligence apparatus–the bureaucrat is on the wrong side of it.

Hayes makes an argument that I try to make at mixed gatherings everywhere. Unfortunately, I do not make it as coherently as he does. The secret to any functioning government is a good mid-level bureaucracy that has enough technical experience to implement reasonably good policy, but isn’t overly politicized or corrupt. When I was growing up in India, one of the constant refrains was “Why can’t we be like the Americans? You can actually get a driver’s license without bribing someone!”

The DMV (which is low level bureaucracy) still works well in the US (yes, my American friends, try getting a license in India!), but the mid level bureaucracy has gotten overly politicized in its top leadership over the years. This leads to that vicious cycle I have blogged about previously:

  1. Appoint lackey to head agency
  2. Appoint viceroy to oversee regulation
  3. Rewrite rules to increase power of executive over legislative
  4. Shift burden of proof away from the regulated to the regulators
  5. Slash budgets so regulating agencies cannot do the work adequately
  6. Hound competent employees out of the agency
  7. Routinely bash said agency as an example of “big government”

Repeat steps 4-7 as often as necessary to ensure “success”

Well, it appears that the mid-level bureaucrats pushed back, and Hayes catalogs the results.

I leave you with a good truism:

Red tape is what binds those in power to the mast of the law, what stands in the way of government by whim

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