“A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!”
President Ronald Reagan
As I sit to write this, the Ides of March have come, but not gone. Not sure what that has to do with anything, and it didn’t occur to me until after the seventh time that I made a final decision as to the title of this post. But, considering all of the knives held by supposed friends of this nation, who knows? On to more substantive matters.
In my Navy days, most of my sea duty time (which was most of my Navy days) was spent serving aboard aircraft carriers. Besides being awesome weapons systems and marvels of engineering, these ships are something else. Monstrous bureaucracies. With the ship’s crew organized into over a dozen departments, most having several divisions consisting of multiple work centers, it’s hard to fathom how this huge machine can function at all. And when you throw in the Air Wing, which, if memory serves, consisted of about eight squadrons, each with their own department and division structures, the whole thing would seem to my simple mind to be quite unmanageable. It’s a tribute to the skill and dedication of our sailors that these ships can get away from the pier, much less make it across thousands of miles of ocean and put a whole lot of bombs on target.
Now, I’m not sure how it is in today’s cyber-world, but in my day, making all this happen required something besides food, fuel, bombs, and, of course, swabs. (That’s mops to you land-lubbers.) It required a humongous mountain of paper. And upon this mountain flourished an activity that evolved to thrive in the swamp of bureaucracy. A phenomenon that came to be known as empire building. Not something that’s unique to government, but that seems to be its most hospitable environment. Here’s how it works:
Our budding young Caesar wants to stand out from the plebeians, so he sets out to funnel as much activity through himself as possible. Not that much of this flurry of activity involves anything that would meet the dictionary definition of work, rather it mostly means getting his grubby fingers on as many pieces of paper as he can. Doesn’t do much with the papers, barely reads what’s on them. Just passes them off to some plebe, or some other wannabe Nero. But in an outfit run by bean-counters and paper-pushers, he quickly becomes the indispensable man, the magnificent emperor of the manila envelope. Hail Caesar!
And now our new hero has all of the benefits due to one in so exalted a position. The life of leisure in his palace of a desk. The fastest chariot on the road to promotion. But also, of course, the scorn and ridicule of those milling around the forum in their tattered togas, waiting for the next round of bread and circuses. But hey, they don’t matter, they have no power. Only the position of his thumb determines who lives and who dies. It’s amazing how much power comes from being the one to decide when that scrap of paper moves the six inches from the “in” box to the “out” box.
Now, while this sort of thing is easiest to spot in government agencies, it’s lurking everywhere. Can you think of a Caesar in the place where you work? You know that you can.
Simple Fact of Life: You can pretty much count on people to do what is in their own personal interest.
I did, somewhat grudgingly, qualify that with a “pretty much.” There are the Mosther Teresas of the world. A few truly selfless, humble people. And among our soldiers, acts of selfless valor are more common than any of us wish that they needed to be. But seriously, how many of us believe that we would want to be the guy that threw himself on that grenade? (I’ve sometimes wondered if that would really work anyway. I would think that lying on that much explosive would tend to blow someone apart. So instead of being hit by flying shrapnel, his comrades would be hit by flying shrapnel, flying bones, and flying guts. Oh well, as anyone who has ever received a Christmas gift from me has heard, “Hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?” But I digress) Me, I guess I might be that guy if the grenade just happened to land at my feet, and I saw myself as dead anyway. But if I knew where and when it was coming, I suspect that my self interest might compel me to be a little, okay, a lot, too far away to be that guy.
And so it is with the Caligulas that “work” in America’s fastest growing industry, the government paper mill. No, the feds aren’t grinding up wood pulp. You know what I mean. From HHS with the “Affordable Care Act” (Can you say that with a straight face? I didn’t think so.), to Department of Education “standards” (another laugher), to the EPA with who knows what, to … how long do you want me to go on?, there are legions or rule-writers toiling to make that paper mountain reach to the sky. And always among them are the would-be emperors who know that their nearness tho the throne is determined by quantity of production, not quality. What gets you the purple toga and laurel headgear is not the ability to come up with good ideas, but the ability to come up with, and sell, lots of ideas. That’s where they find job security and promotion.
Let’s take one recent example of this sort of thing in action. The Department of Agriculture runs the Supplemental Nutrition Program, commonly referred to as “food stamps.” Now there’s a growth industry if ever there was one. But okay, nobody, not even your blogger, “The Incredible Heartless Human,” likes the idea of hungry Americans. People need to eat. But that wasn’t good enough for the feds. So what did they do with your tax dollars? In the Appalachian region, they took out ads, and sent in people to convince the residents, many of whom were low-income, but not really hungry, that they could do better if they would take government handouts. Now these are proud, independent people, that thought that they were doing just fine without governmental interference in their affairs. So the fine folks at Agriculture got training in how to convince those “hillbillies” to get over their “mountain pride” and just put their hand out, palm up. I’ve heard some conservative cynics say that the real reason for this was to get more people under the government’s thumb, and dependent on assistance, so that they would want to vote for the liberal politicians who would promise to give them stuff. Maybe, but here’s my take. More people on assistance means more agents to administer the program, which means more supervisors, which means more opportunities for promotion, which means more chances to become the next Augustus.
Oh well, I guess all those government handouts will at least stimulate the national economy, right? Sure. Regular readers of this blog (both of them) know my thoughts on that subject. If that’s not you, and you’re interested, check out “Aquanomics?” I suppose that an industrious blogger would throw in a link somewhere around here, but that’s just too plebian for a Caesar like me. Particularly since if you scroll down a couple of inches, it’s right there, sitting in my “out” box.
What? Your mouse pointer isn’t rushing down the screen? Your finger isn’t twitching on the left button? Et tu, Brute?