We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Assume all public bodies have the same goal – and it isn’t what it says on the tin. You might think the Committee for the Promotion of Postage Stamp Collections is obsessed with postage stamps, or the Sewage Treatment Works Agency is fascinated by sewage. Actually they both do the same thing: they grow their budgets. They do this by talking about the vital importance of postage stamps and sewage, yes, but building their empire, creeping their mission and employing more people is the main thing they strive to do every day. Evidence for this comes from their public pronouncements which are dominated by demands for greater budgets, and their private conversations, ditto. In all of recorded history, there is probably no instance of a quango requesting a smaller budget.

Matt Ridley

22 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • William H. Stoddard

    In many years as a copy editor specializing in scientific publications, I have read innumerable article conclusions that say that more research is needed and suggest directions for it. I can’t recall that I have ever seen a conclusion that says, “These findings resolve all questions on this topic. Future research efforts should be directed to other topics.”

  • Jacob

    I liked also this passage from the excellent Matt Ridley article.
    ” ‘By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the internet’s impact on the economy will have been no greater than the fax machine’s,’ said Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman in 1998. ‘There’s no chance the iPhone is going to get significant market share. No chance,’ said Steve Ballmer, the chief executive of Microsoft, in 2007.

  • Peter MacFarlane

    It is many years since the great Parkinson made exactly this point.

    From Wikipedia: (1) “An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals,” and (2) “Officials make work for each other.” He noted that the number employed in a bureaucracy rose by 5–7 per cent per year “irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done.”

    The equally great (and sadly missed) Jerry Pournelle said something almost the same: “In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals that the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.”

    Privatisation – with its concomitant risk of failure and elimination – is the only solution.

  • Roué le Jour

    I assume government agencies priorities are exactly like those of living organisms:
    1. Survive
    2. Grow (reproduce)
    3. Whatever it says on the tin

  • Paul Marks

    The head of the Civil Aviation Board in the 1970s (under President Carter – I think) came to the conclusion that his agency was harmful and should be abolished. But I can not think of another example.

    However, there is a more important consideration now – more important than growing budgets. The DIE Agenda – Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. Officials fall over themselves demanding that other people (or even themselves) be dismissed – often for totally imaginary cases of “racism”, “sexism”, “transphobia” and so on. “Witch! Burn the witch!” – or even “I am a witch, burn me!”

    It is becoming a fanatical cult – partly based on fear, partly out of sincere faith in the cult.

    However, it is still far from sincere in some cases.

    For example, Calvin Robinson logically pointed out that if the Church of England really is “institutional racist”, as the Bishops constantly claim, the Bishops (the people responsible for what they claim is a racist Church) should all resign and refuse pensions.

    There was not one volunteer.

  • Alan Peakall

    As is often the case, Sir Humphrey Appleby said it best: If nobody cared about the budget we might end up with a department so small that even a minister could run it.

  • JohnK

    Paul:

    As you say, the Church of England is so “racist” that the Bishop of London refused to ordain Calvin Robinson, a black man. Of course, Mr Robinson’s real sin was to be a conservative, which is an anathema to the modern day C of E.

  • Much science (much ‘science’) has been taken over by this bureaucratic effect. Sixty-two years ago, in his “military-industrial complex” speech, Eisenhower also warned the US:

    “Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. … The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present … public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

    In recent decades, I have heard family, friends and acquaintance complain of their experience of this at the bottom level – seen once-keen workers resigning or retiring early with an eagerness that (in the cases when I’ve known them for years) very strikingly contrasts with their attitudes decades ago. The complaints vary in detail but at bottom all stem from science departments and medical research units degenerating into grant-farms, under the leadership of bureaucrats who understand their paymasters are paying for results, not for research that might have a surprising result.

    The last two years revealed how much Eisenhower’s warning has become our reality. There’s a lot of politics in this, but at the lower levels the bureaucrats’ politics are a superficial justifying gloss on their will to act as the OP quote describes.

  • JohnK (August 4, 2022 at 10:51 am), IIUC the coloured man you describe managed to get trained as a priest in the Church of England, but when it came time to give him a parish, his Bishop was appalled to discover that he had doubts – he doubted whether the UK was in fact institutionally racist. It became clear he would never get a church (thus proving the bishop’s point to a degree, albeit not quite in the sense meant) and he had to go to Gafcon to continue his vocation.

    That said, I’m not at all sure the point is precisely on topic for this post. That bishop was not acting in the best way to maintain the size of church congregations in his diocese, and even if flattering headlines and approving quotes from the woke were the desired value, then the bishop was rather avoiding the opposite than maximising that. But I too have a doubt – I doubt the mere desire to maximise diocesan revenue is the major player here. Such bishops have not so much discarded as redefined the purpose of their office, and for that new purpose they will act in ways that do not grow it.

  • In this old comment, I suggest that the very real effect described in the OP quote contributed to a “sea change in government itself” in the US, making it now just a bit-player at the highest levels. I recycle my comment in this thread for whatever interest or relevance other commenters may find in it.

  • JohnK

    Niall:

    I think the actions of the current bishops of the C of E do demonstrate the truth of how bureaucracies work.

    The foundation of the C of E is the parish, and it always has been. The parishes collect money, some of which is kicked back to the bishops. It is the principle by which the mafia operates. But now, the mob bosses, or bishops if you prefer, are squeezing the parishes mercilessly for money to fund their own particular empires, usually entailing something woke, such as castigating the church for institutional racism.

    The parishes are being deprived of their vicars, and are being amalgamated, such that one poor vicar might have six or seven parishes to attend to. But even as they are squeezed, the bishops can always find money for another diversity adviser or enquiry into inclusion. That’s what bishops like to do, running a church is rather beneath them.

    So I do feel that the behaviour of the bishops does prove that in all bureaucracies, they eventually end up being run for the good of the people who control them, with no regard to the original purpose of the organisation. The C of E has lasted 1500 years, but I wonder how long it will last into the future?

  • John

    The actions of senior and not so senior clergy abandoning their ecumenical duty in favour of invoking the name of God in support of their increasingly temporal messaging seems rather blasphemous to me.

    But what do I know? I’m not a Bishop.

  • Charles

    The goal of every public servant should be to work himself out of a job.

  • JohnK

    John:

    I think that for most bishops these days belief in God is rather passe.

  • Fraser Orr

    @JohnK
    The C of E has lasted 1500 years

    The CofE has actually only lasted 500 years. Which I mention not to be nitpicky, but to introduce my favorite comment on it, from the much missed Christopher Hitchens: “What do you expect from an institution based on the family values of Henry VIII?”

  • Fraser Orr

    On the subject of the OP, it is something I have probably said here a hundred times. People who think that government is extremely ineffective are demonstrably wrong. They are extremely effective at growing their budget and intruding more and more into our lives. Our mistake is believing the gaslighted nonsense they put out about being there to serve the public’s good.

    Is there any more vile, oxymoronic description than “public servant”?

  • jon eds

    My mother was a senior civil servant and I vividly recall her telling me how angry she was with some of her staff for not spending their allotted budgets, as it meant that the higher ups might decide that the institute she was in charge of maybe didn’t need as much money next year.

  • Y. Knott

    Here in the Great White North (which sorta’ kinda’ follows English parliamentary procedures), the FY (fiscal year) ends at the end of March, with the new year’s budget coming down in April. I have to confess it’s a more restrained exercise than in the U.S. where Congress votes itself further earmarks and largess out of the public purse whenever the fit strikes them, with as little concern for the quantity of largess actually in the public purse as any parliamentarian shows. But two resulting phenomena are very apparent:

    1) last two weeks of March are a bacchanalian spend-fest as every Ministry runs-down its budget, under the direct threat of having their next-year’s budget docked by the amount remaining – which happens here – and

    2) after the first week of the new budget being in-place, don’t ask for ANYTHING – there’s no money. This extends far down into trivia; a work order to place a coat-hook on a washroom door as an example, which was entered in May and refused as the desired coat-hook would cost too much.

    Make me king of the world; I’d implement a system whereby unspent monies would be invested (in one’s own country, never somebody else’s) without prejudice to next year’s budget. This flies in the face of English parliamentary tradition, wherein any leftover money is deemed to have been collected in error and is to be returned to the taxpayer ( – shyeah, right!). But after a hundred years or so, the first government ministry would become self-supporting on its investments, and then gradually we could stop charging tax. A beautiful dream, and so preferable to our current state of everybody’s government being trillion$ in debt and endlessly printing more.

  • Mike Gilding

    c.f. IPCC, WWF,FOE,Greenpeace, …. If these are not public bodies, they certainly act like them.

  • William Dooley

    Jerry Pournelle called it the “Iron Law of Bureaucracy.”

  • Paul Marks

    Niall – what you say about what has happened to the study of science fits with what I have been told by others.

    Real science replaced by “research” that has preordained results, paid for by government and other interests.

    Without belief in Objective Truth, and without Personal Honour (the practice of telling the truth – even if it leads to one’s own death), there is no Western Civilisation.

    Outwardly the West appears to still exist – but it is dead (or at least dying) husk.

  • Jacob

    “The actions of senior and not so senior clergy abandoning their ecumenical duty in favour of invoking the name of God in support of their increasingly temporal messaging seems rather blasphemous to me.”
    Isn’t that exactly what Martin Luther had to say about the Catholic church? (About half a millennium ago)

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