Notes from the Department of Chaos

A modern Theory of Bureaucracy, expanding upon the seminal work by C. Northcote Parkinson:

Why do things have to be changed? So much change lately has been for the worse. If something’s working okay, trying to “fix” it just makes it broken… [T]hat is how bureaucracies work: they justify their existence by changing things and by claiming to “fix” things that weren’t broken in the first place, and they often wind up breaking stuff in the process. Or someone implies that Something Must Be Done, and it is, without carefully contemplating whether the Thing that Something is being done about is a problem in the first place. Or that the beatings are not causing sufficient rise in morale. Or something.

This is why the technocrats’ vision of More Efficient Government is so disturbing: the areas in which government legitimately operates are never the areas that are designated for “improvement.”


  1. Francis W. Porretto »

    17 February 2013 · 4:12 am

    The writer is behind the curve. This has been the case in government for as long as there have been “alphabet agencies.”

    It works to particularly ill effect in defense procurement. Decisions about weapons systems are usually made by non-shooters: civilian employees of the DoD. Public Choice Theory maintains that the longer such employees remain at their desks, the better they will become at making allocation decisions that serve their personal interests first, regardless of the effects upon the efficacy and well being of the men at the sharp end.

    This has been amply confirmed by experience. In particular, military procurement bureaucrats routinely favor more expensive, less well developed, and more fragile systems over their cheaper, better proven and more robust competitors. Not only is the amount of expenditure he supervises a mark of his significance in the bureaucracy; the favored systems afford the bureaucrat more opportunities to “be a hero” — and expand his staff in the process — by prosecuting the repair of the faults of the chosen weapon.

    It’s classic “civil servant” (“neither civil nor servile” — John Galt, Dreams Come Due) behavior. Parkinson and Friedman have also commented on it, of course, as has your humble Curmudgeon.

  2. Nicole »

    17 February 2013 · 11:06 am

    Every organization at some point exists only to further its own existence. Thus the “do something do anything” response from so many alphabet agencies. If they make something worse or don’t solve the original problem, there’s still a reason for them to continue getting a budget and getting paid.

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