Monday, 8 July 2013

Quotes of the Day: On Bureaucracy

And thus Bureaucracy, the giant power wielded by pygmies, came into the world.
-- Honoré de Balzac, Les Employés [The Government Clerks]

The public is hedged about by so many goddam bookkeepers that no time is left in which to produce. More time is spent in carrying out garbage than in carrying in food.
-- Martin H. Fischer

If we can ever make red tape nutritional, we can feed the world.
-- Robert Schaeberle

Bureaucracies force us to practice nonsense. And if you rehearse nonsense, you may one day find yourself the victim of it.
― Laurence Gonzales, Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things

Bureaucracy is the epoxy that greases the wheels of progress.
-- James H. Boren, in When in Doubt, Mumble : A Bureaucrat’s Handbook

Bureaucracy gives birth to itself and then expects maternity benefits.
-- Dale Dauten

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

The real danger is the gradual erosion of individual liberties through automation, integration, and interconnection of many small, separate record-keeping systems, each of which alone may seem innocuous, even benevolent, and wholly justifiable.
-- U.S. Privacy Study Commission

Government machinery has been described as a marvellous labour saving device which enables ten men to do the work of one.
-- John Maynard Keynes

The disease which inflicts bureaucracy and what they usually die from is routine.
-- John Stuart Mill

The threat of people acting in their own enlightened and rational self-interest strikes bureaucrats, politicians and social workers as ominous and dangerous.
-- W.G. Hill

Powers once assumed are never relinquished, just as bureaucracies, once created, never die.
-- Charley Reese

It is the invariable habit of bureaucracies, at all times and everywhere, to assume...that every citizen is a criminal. Their one apparent purpose, pursued with a relentless and furious diligence, is to convert the assumption into a fact. They hunt endlessly for proofs, and, when proofs are lacking, for mere suspicions. The moment they become aware of a definite citizen, John Doe, seeking what is his right under the law, they begin searching feverishly for an excuse for withholding it from him.
-- H.L. Mencken

Bureaucracy, the rule of no one, has become the modern form of despotism.
-- Mary McCarthy, "The Vita Activa", The New Yorker

There are more agriculture bureaucrats than there are farmers in this country.
-- John Kerry, Washington Times (16 January 2004)

“In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control, and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.[Pournelle's Law of Bureaucracy]”
― Jerry Pournelle

He who is unfit to serve his fellow citizens wants to rule them.
-- - Ludwig Von Mises, Bureaucracy

Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.
Franz Kafka

“Whether the mask is labeled fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat, our great adversary remains the apparatus—the bureaucracy, the police, the military. Not the one facing us across the frontier of the battle lines, which is not so much our enemy as our brothers' enemy, but the one that calls itself our protector and makes us its slaves. No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this apparatus and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.”
Simone Weil

When they come for you, they won’t come with a gun but with a clipboard.

Government! Three fourths parasitic and the other fourth Stupid fumbling.
― Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

A bureaucracy always tends to become a pedantocracy.
-- John Stuart Mill, On Representative Government

In all countries with a settled bureaucracy people used to say: The cabinets come and go, but the bureaus remain.
-- - Ludwig Von Mises, Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy and social harmony are inversely proportional to each other.
-- Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed

Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.
-- Laurence J. Peter, Peter's Quotations: Ideas for Our Time

Bureaucrats want bigger bureaus. Special interests are interested in whatever's special to them.
-- P. J. O'Rourke, All the Trouble in the World

Representative democracy cannot subsist if a great part of the voters are on the government pay roll. If the members of parliament no longer consider themselves mandatories of the taxpayers but deputies of those receiving salaries, wages, subsidies, doles, and other benefits from the treasury, democracy is done for.
-- - Ludwig Von Mises, Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy destroys initiative. There is little that bureaucrats hate more than innovation, especially innovation that produces better results than the old routines. Improvements always make those at the top of the heap look inept. Who enjoys appearing inept?
― Frank Herbert, Heretics of Dune

Nobody can be at the same time a correct bureaucrat and an innovator.
-- - Ludwig Von Mises, Bureaucracy

The building codes of the democracies embody, of course, only what the previous generation knew, or thought they knew, about building...
-- Frank Lloyd Wright

If you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won't.
-- Hyman Rickover

Confidential matters are not dealt with over the telephone, you'd better come here in person. I cannot leave the house, Do you mean you're ill, Yes, I'm ill, the blind man said after a pause. In that case you ought to call a doctor, a real doctor, quipped the functionary, and, delighted with his own wit, he rang off.
The man's insolence was like a slap in the face. Only after some minutes had passed, had he regained enough composure to tell his wife how rudely he had been treated. Then, as if he had discovered something that he should have known a long time ago, he murmured sadly, This is the stuff we're made of, half indifference and half malice.
José Saramago, Blindness

Some third person decides your fate: this is the whole essence of bureaucracy.
― Kollontai Alexandra, La Oposición Obrera

Bureaucracy is not an obstacle to democracy but an inevitable complement to it.
-- Joseph A. Schumpeter

The true nature of bureaucracy may be nowhere more obvious to the observer than in a developing country, for only there will it still be made manifest by the full complement of documents, files, veneered desks and cabinets - which convey the strict and inverse relationship between productivity and paperwork.
― Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

A bureaucrat is the most despicable of men, though he is needed as vultures are needed, but one hardly admires vultures whom bureaucrats so strangely resemble. I have yet to meet a bureaucrat who was not petty, dull, almost witless, crafty or stupid, an oppressor or a thief, a holder of little authority in which he delights, as a boy delights in possessing a vicious dog. Who can trust such creatures?
-- Marcus Tullius Cicero

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of "Admin." The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state…
--― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

The atmosphere of officialdom would kill anything that breathes the air of human endeavour, would extinguish hope and fear alike in the supremacy of paper and ink.
― Joseph Conrad, The Shadow-Line

Ultimately, however … a powerful bureaucratic class is in the same relation to commerce as was the scorpion in Aesop to the dog on whose back he crossed the river. They will destroy commerce and establish socialism, even if it kills them, because that is their nature.
-- John Derbyshire

A committee can make a decision that is dumber than any of its members.
-- David B. Coblitz

It is the subordination of every individuals whole life, work, and leisure, to the orders of those in power and office. It is the reduction of man to a cog in an all-embracing machine of compulsion and coercion. It forces the individual to renounce any activity of which the government does not approve. It tolerates no expression of dissent. It is the transformation of society into a strictly disciplined labour-army.
-- - Ludwig Von Mises, Bureaucracy

Plato argued that good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will always find a way around law. By pretending that procedure will get rid of corruption, we have succeeded only in humiliating honest people and provided a cover of darkness and complexity for the bad people. There is a scandal here, but it's not the result of venal bureaucrats.
― Philip K. Howard, Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America

The greatest power of bureaucracies is to make the smart act stupid and the good to act evil.
― Raul Ramos y Sanchez, Pancho Land

In our time... a man whose enemies are faceless bureaucrats almost never wins. It is our equivalent to the anger of the gods in ancient times. But those gods you must understand were far more imaginative than our tiny bureaucrats. They spoke from mountaintops not from tiny airless offices. They rode clouds. They were possessed of passion. They had voices and names. Six thousand years of civilization have brought us to this.
― Chaim Potok, Davita's Harp

Any sufficiently advanced bureaucracy is indistinguishable from molasses.
-- unknown


  1. A delightful compilation. I plan to use quite a bit of it. Thank you!

    Wim de Vriend

  2. A delightful compilation. I plan to use quite a bit of it. Thank you! Wim de Vriend


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