Saturday Quotation-Jerry Pournelle

As previously and consistently posted-Thanks to a reader. Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

‘Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:

 First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.’

I’d add this:  Bureaucratic elements exist within companies, of course, but, sooner or later, such elements are subject to market forces (if there ain’t too much collusion with lawmakers).

Decisions made within companies often receive more direct feedback (monthly and quarterly reports), customer feedback (client management is key) and competitive threats (Company B across town risked some money/time and invested in data analytics which now sets the industry standard) etc.

The disruptive forces within bureaucracies often tend to be internal (opposing blocs at odds with the bureaucratic elements), or enough free people who won’t subject themselves to the bureaucracy and/or or whose self-interest works against those in current control of the bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, many bureaucracies end with a political defeat and/or the entire collapse of the political economy.

-Bureaucrats and idealists, as well-meaning and hard-working as some may be, often find themselves unable to escape the inertia of the systems they’ve helped to create, incentivized to spend other people’s money on other people.

-Via friesian.com, a cold but humorous eye: The Practical Rules Of Bureaucracy.

One problem here lies in getting how people actually behave wrong, or overlooking the self-interested nature of so much human motivation and action, while still recognizing one’s moral obligations to other people and the intractability of so much human suffering and so many human problems.

Naturally, I think pretty highly of myself, and aim to operate under the ideas that none of us is selfless, none of us has special possession of universal truths (some are wiser than others), and none can design systems from the top down that work for everyone.

This world being what it is, I have resigned myself to the idea of there being some bureaucracy, but constant vigilance and vigorous freedom is required to even sustain some of it.

A Henry Kissinger quote found here.

“The purpose of bureaucracy is to devise a standard operating procedure which can cope effectively with most problems.  A bureaucracy is efficient if the matters which it handles routinely are, in fact, the most frequent and if its procedures are relevant to their solution.  If those criteria are met, the energies of the top leadership are freed to deal creatively with the unexpected occurrence or with the need for innovation.  Bureaucracy becomes an obstacle when what it defines as routine does not address the most significant range of issues or when its prescribed mode of action proves irrelevant to the problem.”

and:

“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at.  Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”

Kissinger, Henry. American Foreign Policy:  Three Essays.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.  1969.

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