Freeman

ARTICLE

Bureaucratic Blight

JANUARY 01, 1967 by WILLIAM HENRY CHAMBERLAIN

Mr. Chamberlin is a skilled observer and re­porter of economic and political conditions at home and abroad. In addition to writing a number of books, he has lectured widely and is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal and numerous magazines.

Alexis de Tocqueville, brilliant French political scientist of the nineteenth century, was equally skilled in drawing lessons from the past and foreseeing the shape of the future. He is able to com­press all the tragic frustration of the French Revolution, which began with cries of "Liberty" and ended with Napoleon’s military despotism, in a single incisive sen­tence:

"The last generation in France showed how a people might organ­ize a stupendous tyranny in the community, at the very time when they were baffling the authority of the nobles and braving the power of all kings — at once teaching the world the way to win freedom, and the way to lose it."

And here is one of Tocqueville’s visions that is turning into a night­mare before our eyes, the antici­pation of the welfare state, man­aged by faceless bureaucrats:

"Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and only arbiter of that happiness: it provides for their security, foresees and sup­plies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their in­dustry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their in­heritances — what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

"The will of man is not shat­tered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it pre­vents existence; it does not tyran­nize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a peo­ple, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shep­herd.

"I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described, might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom; and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people."

This was written more than 130 years ago, but it sounds amazingly applicable to the steady supplant­ing of the individual by the state bureaucrat — one of the ominous symptoms of the disease that is eating at the vitals of those socie­ties in North America and Western Europe which have escaped the ravages of communism. This dis­ease may properly be called bu­reaucratic blight.

Signs of Decay

To listen to the hosannas from "liberal" circles whenever some new government appropriation takes billions of dollars out of the pockets of private taxpayers for some new state project employing thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of govern­ment functionaries, it might be imagined that a welfare state, run by bureaucrats, was the last word in human happiness and well-be­ing. But the lessons of history point clearly in an opposite direc­tion. The proliferation of bureau­crats and its invariable accompani­ment, much heavier tax levies on the productive part of the popu­lation, are the recognizable signs, not of a great, but of a decaying society.

Historians know that both phe­nomena were especially marked in the declining eras of the Roman Empire in the West and of its suc­cessor state, the Eastern or Byzan­tine Empire. Bureaucrats are an expensive breed, in two ways. They are maintained at public expense and they are uncommonly fertile in thinking up schemes to spend more public funds and mul­tiply their number.

Sparsely Staffed

Not the least important factor in the successful growth and de­velopment of the American Repub­lic was its noteworthy sparingness in staffing state agencies and in founding bureaucratic empires for the production of various kinds of red tape. The early spirit of dis­trust of an entrenched bureauc­racy is exemplified by the provi­sion that citizens of the city of Washington — a large proportion of whom, it was foreseen, would be government employees — should not possess the right to vote.

Or consider the contrast in the diplomatic service between the present time and the periods of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, which certainly posed equally serious problems for Amer­ican statecraft. Every embassy in a large capital now numbers its employees in the hundreds, while the builders employed by the State Department in Washington are hard pressed to add new offices for the hordes of officials who write memoranda to each other and to their opposite numbers in other branches of the government and fulfill Parkinson’s Law in many ways.

But when America’s independ­ence hung in the balance and de­pended in considerable degree on the three United States Commis­sioners, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay, stationed in Paris, these men had no huge staffs of supposedly expert ad­visers to call on. For one thing, the young Republic was chronically short of sound money and was sometimes hard put to it to main­tain the Commissioners them­selves, to say nothing of a host of secretaries and attaches. Franklin, Adams, and Jay were obliged to practice "do-it-yourself" diplo­macy. And the results, for ama­teurs, were surprisingly good. The American diplomats chose just the right moment, when England was prepared to make maximum con­cessions, to disengage themselves gently but firmly from the protec­tive embrace of France, which was pursuing some aims not altogether compatible with American inter­ests.

Charles Francis Adams, Ameri­can Minister to Great Britain at the time of the Civil War, faced an equally severe challenge. It was of primary importance to the gov­ernment in Washington to keep Britain, where upper-class senti­ment was generally sympathetic with the South, from intervening in the war by granting recognition to the Confederacy. As helpers in this very difficult assignment —which today would doubtless have engaged the services of a regiment of propagandists, publicity men, and assorted image makers —Adams had his son Henry, who gives a vivid picture of the ex­perience in his Education, and one government clerk. But, measured by success, Adams passed his test admirably.

In fact, it would be difficult to name in this age, when diplomacy at home and abroad can call on the services of a small army of professional agents, any two such victories in foreign affairs as were achieved by Franklin, Adams, and Jay, on their own, in Paris and by Charles Francis Adams, pretty much on his own in Lon­don. This is a striking example of the truth that quantity and quality do not always go together.

The Spending Spree

During the past two years the United States has been spending money for so-called welfare ends like the traditional sailor in port and on a binge. In the first 174 years of its existence the United States Congress voted $5.8 billion in Federal funds for education; the sum appropriated in 1965-66 alone for this purpose was $9.6 billion. There is a similar picture in health. The first 88 Congresses spent $10 billion for health pur­poses; the 89th nearly matched this figure with $8.2 billion in di­rect spending and in Medicare, which reaches into the pockets of the majority of Americans with Social Security cards.

Countless billions are going down the drain of the futile anti­poverty campaign, a swampland of bureaucracy, waste, and favors to deserving politicians. The futility of all this well-advertised motion is rooted in the fact that the only reasonable prospect of eliminating or alleviating poverty (a highly relative and debatable term) is to make people willing and eager to work. This is not likely to happen under a policy of extravagant wel­fare payments (a positive incen­tive to the lazy and incompetent not to take jobs), ever rising minimum wage laws (the surest possible means of creating more unemployment, especially among younger people whose employers are required to pay more than they are economically worth), and a vast multiplication of paper projects by the enormous self-pro­liferating bureaucracy in Wash­ington.

The same Chief Executive who makes a show of economy by care­fully snapping off light bulbs in the White House urges a reluctant Congress to spend another $1.2 billion for a highly expendable "cities demonstration bill," inspired apparently by the exploded fallacy that slums make people, in­stead of people making slums.

At Our Own Expense

Now all these multiple billion dollars of appropriations are not and cannot be manufactured by the government out of thin air or picked off some magic tree. They are your dollars, and mine, and the fellow’s who lives next door. No fallacy is older, more harmful, and more stubbornly held than the belief that a government can give its citizens something for nothing.

The squandering spree of the past two years, which has gone far to turn the United States into a bureaucrat’s paradise (what the bureaucrat loves, next to delaying, frustrating, tormenting, and ha­rassing the unfortunate citizen who must deal with him, is spend­ing money he never earned him­self) must be paid for in one of two ways. Either there must be higher levies on individual income, or this income will be steadily diminished by the inflation that is the inevitable result of a govern­ment policy of living beyond its means.

A person who is even slightly known is likely to receive an aver­age of at least one appeal a day for funds for more or less worthy causes. Most of these go into con­venient wastebaskets; for only an individual with the legendary wealth of Croesus could keep up with the unending flow of appeals for sharecroppers, competing "civil rights" organizations, Spanish and other refugees, delinquent youth camps, birds, dogs, cats, and heaven knows what else besides. But the individual cannot, without disastrous consequences, tear up the orders to pay up taxes from Federal, state, and local authori­ties; nor is there any means by which he can prevent the dollar he may have saved from growing smaller and smaller, in terms of purchasing power.

There would be a tremendous gain for realism and fiscal sanity if every individual citizen could understand that every additional billion dollars of Federal expendi­ture comes out of his personal pocketbook. If this simple truth were understood, prodigal Admin­istrations and prodigal congress­men would encounter a suitable re­action at the polls.

And Loss of Liberty

It is not only the pocketbook of the ordinary working citizen that is injured by spendthrift welfare programs; it is something more important: his liberty. The follow­ing equation invariably works out: huge Federal spending, now taking at least one-fifth of the Gross National Product, equals more centralization of power in Washington equals less oppor­tunity for solving local problems at the grassroots level.

Think of the possibilities for Harold Howe II, Federal Commis­sioner of Education, who during the last two years has had almost ten billion dollars to play around with. This is an enormous means of leverage and pressure on local school boards and Mr. Howe has not been sparing in the use of it, especially in forcing certain so-called guidelines for integration on Southern school boards. Of these guidelines a representative Southern newspaper, the Charles­ton News and Courier, writes edi­torially as follows:

"From trustworthy sources we learn they go far beyond statutory law and decisions of the courts in robbing local school boards of their authority. Unless somebody puts a stop to this usurpation of authority, harm to the public school system may be irreparable. One of the sinister aspects of the guidelines, we have been told, is that the hardest pressure comes verbally — either in visits from government agents or in hard-nosed orders over the telephone —rather than in written directives."

Judging from the bitter com­plaints of some Southern con­gressmen, Mr. Howe has been in­clined to act not as a Commis­sioner of Education but as a Com­missar for Integration. There is a world of difference between ruling out segregation of school pupils by race or color and trying to set artificial quotas, with busing of children, as a means of "correct­ing racial imbalance." The first is just, reasonable, and the law of the land; the second does not fall into any of these categories.

Medicare in Britain

Wherever the palsied hand of bureaucratic blight extends, free­dom withers. Take a recent illus­tration from Great Britain. The system of socialized medicine which has prevailed in that coun­try for two decades has been so disadvantageous, from the stand­point of the doctors, that large numbers of the more gifted younger practitioners are emi­grating to the United States, Can­ada, Australia, wherever the pas­tures seem greener. The Minister of Health in the present Labor Government, Mr. Kenneth Robin­son, sounded off with a bitter re­proach that conveyed at least the hint of a threat to the doctors’ freedom of movement. It was very ungrateful and downright cyni­cal, he declared, for a young doc­tor on whose training some $20,­000 had been spent to take off for foreign parts in search of better living conditions for himself and his family. This is precisely the line of argument used by the com­munist East German authorities in defense of the erection of the Berlin Wall and its shoot-to-kill guards. Too many educated and technically trained young people had been fleeing to the West.

A Case History

There is nothing like a personal experience, a case history, to show how ugly bureaucratic blight is in operation, how it can harass and torment the individual who falls within its range. I have a friend who, with his wife, is eligible by some years margin for Medicare. Although he disapproved of the principle, he and his wife applied for its benefits in March, 1966. In his innocence he imagined that, under the provisions of the law, he and his wife would merely establish their ages and receive the necessary certificates.

But he soon learned that this is not in line with the first law of bureaucracy: never to make easy and simple what can, with per­verted ingenuity, be made hard and complicated. His enlighten­ment began when an enormous bulging envelope with the dire initials HEW ( Health, Education and Welfare) arrived with huge questionnaires, filled with imper­tinent and irrelevant questions, for instance, about income and earn­ings, although these have no bear­ing on the legal qualifications for Medicare. The questionnaires were duly filled out and dispatched to the designated address. The response was silence.

A personal visit to HEW about the end of July brought a con­frontation with a female bureau­crat. With ill-concealed joy she re­jected the passports which were presented as sworn evidence of the dates of birth of my friend and his wife on the ground that they were not old enough. Her advice was to ask the Board of Elections for proof that they voted in the town, although, from the standpoint of establishing age this seemed about as sensible as requiring them to whistle like canary birds. This formality was also complied with and the couple left for a trip in Europe.

On returning about the middle of September they found not the Medicare documents but three more bulging envelopes with re­peat performances of the original questionnaire. At this point pa­tience began to wear a little thin and the couple decided to wait for something more positive to hap­pen. It didn’t. About the end of September a telephone call was made to HEW and a female voice replied that two weeks would be needed for "investigation" — of an application that had been filed more than six months earlier. Two weeks later another bulging en­velope turned up, with the typed answers to some of the questions in the original questionnaire, but no certificates.

Another personal call at the of­fice of HEW was as futile and frustrating as the first. This time it was a male bureaucrat who pointed out that whatever his pre­decessor, the female bureaucrat, had demanded was wrong and laid down a new set of requirements. My friend experienced a fairly serious illness during the time when male and female bureaucrats were shuffling around and taking no action on his application, and paid out of his own pocket hun­dreds of dollars for which Medi­care was supposedly responsible. To the faceless bureaucrats, male and female, whose object evidently was to obstruct and delay, not to help, this was a matter of no con­cern. They couldn’t care less. It was as useless to appeal to their sense of reason and compassion as to argue with a computer or an adding machine.

So, seven months, six bulky questionnaires, and two madden­ingly futile visits to the HEW of­fice after the application was filed, my friend is without the Medicare to which he is entitled according to the law. Maybe it stamps him as a dreadfully reactionary old fogy. But there could be some un­derstanding for his weary ex­clamation:

"Oh, for the bad old days, when this kind of bureaucratic inquisi­tion was unknown and the com­bined snatches at your pocketbook by Federal, state, city, and other assorted tax vultures left you enough money to pay your own medical bills."

There was a time when Ameri­cans did not put up so sheepishly with inbred official bureaucratic arrogance, obstructionism, and deliberately planned delay. There is a most relevant passage in the Declaration of Independence:

"He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their sub­stance."

The time for a Declaration of Independence from bureaucratic blight and its legion of accom­panying evils is long overdue.

 

***

Property Precedes Charity

But if nothing is mine, then is there not only no justice, but no possibility of benevolence.

P. E. DOVE, The Theory of Human Progression

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