An efficient bureaucracy

What if… the world goes round thanks to an inefficient bureaucracy?

The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is inefficiency. An efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty.
– Eugene McCarthy

Think about it… the nazis were able to corrupt all of Germany thanks to the legendary rigor of its population – a case famously documented by Hannah Arendt in her series Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. (I, II, III, IV, V)

That case is somehow made by John Oliver, where he somehow posits that the United States are protected by institution, that is its organizations and laws, but also by the people who care enough to use these laws and sue the government to restore the rule of law.

While I am somehow dismissive of the litigious spirit in the US, with lawyers being paid more than doctors, I must consider the idea that this high price might be the price of liberty.

Disruption was in the works

Shifting gears, it appears that the  cult for disruption in the Silicon Valley (embodied by former Facebook’s motto “Move Fast and Break Things”, or the common trope “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness”) is just a blatant disregard for the rule of law. This is well analyzed in Bernard Stiegler “Dans la disruption” (translation is mine):

This dominion of fact-driven lead to the watering down of the public power: what the Barbarians are attacking is the legitimacy of the public thing (res publica) – in that it is not appropriable by private initiatives. This attack by the Barbarians is a claim, if not of pure unlawfulness, but at least of the vanity of law, against which disruption allows to “debunk France” by multiplying loopholes – and subsequently chaos.

A friend of mine from the French Corps de Mines (think of it as an hybrid between Rhodes scholarship and HBS) told me six years ago that it is common knowledge in the administration that nowadays things indeed move too fast and that lawmakers have the hardest time trying to keep up with the latest trends (gig economy, cryptocurrencies, etc.) He now works for Facebook.

While many things have been broken in the meantime (Uber killed the taxi industry by stifling worker’s benefits; Airbnb destroyed the hotel industry by evading occupancy taxes), institutions are now fighting back (GDPR in Europe, San Francisco cease-and-desist orders for electric scooters.) Even Musk now has to face boring rules regarding who gets to dig holes underground (and he will lambast the government, while on the other hand reaping billions of dollars from government loans, government incentives and government contracts)

People are now waking up to the fact that government, despite its inefficiency, plays an invaluable role. Michael Lewis latest book, The Fifth Risk, argues just that (sidenote: I become less and less in agreement with Nicholas Nassim Taleb, whose latest book Skin in the game completely miss the point.) As public servants (I’m a researcher in a federal lab), maybe it’s up to us to show all the great things we do for the rest of the population.

But should never grow impatient. Maybe the inefficiency of administration is not a bug, but a feature, and we may need that friction to keep our sanity.

Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.” – John Archibald Wheeler