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ARTICLES, COLUMNS, ESSAYS & STUFF LIKE THAT
Here is a taste of Hutch’s columns. If you want more, you can always buy his books.
1. I’d Diet for my Country
2. Creativity and Open-Heart Surgery
3. Immutable Laws of Holidays
4. Futile Bureaucracy
5. P-E-T-E-R
6. From Cradle to Criminal
7. Pestilence and Doom
8. Christmas Cards

A mate of mine reckons...

A mate of mine reckons the most galling thing about bureaucrats is their smug self-righteousness in promulgating rules and regulations that purport to save us from the folly of being ourselves.

In recent weeks, over-protective busybodies in the bowels of a government department proposed strict regulations in order to save us from falling into open graves at cemeteries.

On the basis that, although no one has ever actually fallen in, one day someone might. In another department different busybodies proposed revamping the law in order to decriminalise sex with 12 year olds on the basis that it sometimes happens - even though it shouldn’t.

When questioned on TV, the bureaucrat-in-charge-of-preventing-people-falling-into-graves replied in a very reasonable tone, and with a straight face, words to the effect; “Don’t you think we should prevent such a thing happening if we can?” A classic example of setting up a false dilemma - as if there were only two choices. Either set up a strict control regime or we will have people falling into graves. Does he mean the only way to prevent tomb tumbling is to pass a law? How about a sign saying "Watch Your Step." Or is that too simple.

Although it seems heartless to be indifferent to the plight of elderly widows tumbling into open pits while visiting the plots of their dear departed husbands, my mate is strongly of the view that it’s not an issue requiring regulation. It will inevitably mean employing more bureaucrats to become inspectors of open graves.

The answer should be an emphatic “GET REAL!“

Especially as such trivial regulation means the imposition of compliance cost against the infinitesimally remote possibility of an unlikely accident occurring due to someone failing to use common sense and walking around with eyes shut.

The problem, as with so many bureaucratic rules, is that we end up using very big paintbrushes on some very small buildings.

My mate reckons bureaucracies grow by feeding on themselves - in both the political and corporate arenas. The more rules and regulations we have, the more paper sliders we have to administer them.

It’s no surprise that our cities’ skylines are dominated by buildings occupied by service organisations, both private and public, that neither make nor do things, but who record, hoard and administer. My mate is no economist but he reckons such non-productive activities, now dominating commerce, are inherently inflationary.

But I digress.

In bureaucratic structures work is organised in such a way that people are regarded as interchangeable units. Bureaucracies are inevitably hierarchical, fostering rules, rigid operating procedures, and impersonal relationships, with initiatives and policy directions coming from on high.

In the government sector there are few profit-and-loss assessments, only budget allocations. In many cases the budgets are determined by arbitrary bureaucratic logic and by political expediency.

Inputs and outputs are measured rather than insights and outcomes.

Because scant economic evaluation takes place, politics invades to fill the vacuum. And gallingly, in politics, failure is often an indicator of success. Failure identifies where heroic intervention can be focused for political gain. The worse a government bureaucracy performs, the more money it tends to receive.

For instance, the more we spend on health the fewer surgical operations get done; the more we spend on social welfare the worse our welfare problems become. More and more beneficiaries are caught in the poverty trap.

This tells us that money isn’t a cure for poverty; a conclusion that is of course politically unacceptable. It implies that more complex remedial measures are required. Measures that will not be seen to be accomplished within the parliamentary electoral span and therefore not worth pursuing by any politician seeking re-election.

Curiously it’s governments who stand in the way of international airline safety by forbidding pilots, most of whom have had military experience, from arming themselves for protection.

Rather than say “shoot the bastards” they have devised a bloated catalogue of sometimes ridiculous air-safety measures, such as banning nail scissors and knitting needles, that do nothing to improve flight safety.

Terrorists will probably never again use knives in a hijacking. Box-cutters were successful on 9/11 because terrified passengers undoubtedly thought that if they stayed quiet the hijackers would take them to some tropical island for a few days while screaming anti-American invective. On the first three planes passengers and crew didn’t rush the terrorists because they didn’t want to get cut up, it never occurred to them that they might be killed en masse. Now that a few suicidal Arab zealots have given hijacking a really bad name, hijackee reaction will be totally different and may well frustrate the purpose of the mission. (As with collective action by passengers on the White House bound plane.) An eventuality future hijackers are unlikely to risk.

Nevertheless an entirely new global industry has sprung up, in the form of airport security, with placebo effects at best, a classic example of cosmetic stable-dooring. A conspiracy theorist would be justified in suspecting Al Qaeda had shares in the security firms and the 9/11 attacks were part of a carefully planned growth strategy.

Sadly it doesn’t take much digging around to find why societies throughout history end up with burgeoning bureaucracies. The world seems to have had a perpetual over-supply of bossy busy-bodies who want to make sure everything is proscribed by systematic regulation, securing jobs for themselves in doing so.

Most large organisations, including government departments, corporations, political parties, armies, churches and trade unions, are essentially bureaucratic. And probably have been since the time of Ancient Egypt, when eunuchs surrounding a Pharoah would have extolled his divinity as they managed the royal granaries, exhorting the populace to build pyramids in return for getting a regular food supply. In the process carving a large slice of the pie for themselves and their cohorts. This symbiosis, stemming from what the masses thought was divine authority, ensured stable dynasties that existed for thousands of years. A little simplistic you say, but how else is the stability of a political system maintained except by handouts promised in return for allegiance, albeit secular rather than religious?

Fortunately, as none of our politicians have yet been proven divine, we are saved from a theocratic regime. But there are a number of societies that would like to embrace the notion. In fact many people long for the certainty of absolute authority in their lives, and would trade their freedom for it, particularly if they feel unable to gain from paddling their own economic or intellectual canoes.

There are still plenty of staunch communists in Russia pining for the good old days of Stalin, and more than a few blue-rinses in this country, who liked that tough Mr Muldoon so much, they secretly wish he would return to straighten things out in a world out of control.

I’m rather fond of the 100 year-old sayings of Josh Billings, the American armchair philosopher. Amongst many other pearls, he opined, “It ain’t so much that folks is ignorant, it’s just that they know so many things that ain’t so.”

Sadly, for my mate, ignorance has become contagious, It’s not just government departments who do strange things. On the internet he has found a whole raft of absurdities and cop-outs that litigation-shy businesses have placed on their products

On a hairdryer:
Do not use while sleeping.

On a screwdriver:
Do not insert this in your ear.

On a bag of potato chips:
You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.

On a bar of soap:
Directions: Use like other soap.

On some frozen dinners:
Serving suggestion: Defrost.

On a hotel shower cap box:
Fits one head.

On a packaged Tiramisu dessert:
(Printed on the bottom of the box) Do not turn upside down.

On a branded bread pudding:
Product will be hot after heating.

On packaging for a clothes iron:
Do not iron clothes on body.

On a bottle of children's cough medicine:
Do not drive a car or operate machinery.

On a bottle of sleeping pills:
Warning: May cause drowsiness.

On a kitchen knife:
Warning: Keep out of children.

On a string of Christmas lights:
For indoor or outdoor use only.

On jar of peanuts:
Warning: Contains nuts.

On an packet of airline nuts:
Instructions: Open packet, eat nuts.

On a chainsaw:
Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals.

On a child's Superman costume:
Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.

If business succumbs to placing such stupid and patronising warnings on goods, asks my mate, “How can we expect bureaucrats to stop their “we know what’s best” interference in our lives.”


The Magazine Awards

Business Columnist of the Year 2012

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