Wednesday, September 12, 2012

This bickering is(n't) pointless.

A long, long, time ago, in a fishing village at the southern coast of The Netherlands, I sat, mesmerized, watching the events on the screen unfold. There, in a conference room, a collection of serious looking gentlemen were having a discussion that was quickly heating up. Just when the debate seemed to really start to throw sparks, an elderly-looking gentleman came in and confidently declared...

"The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I've just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away."
Gasp! OMG! The Senate has been dissolved! The Old Republic is dead...

It is funny, really, how the movie could convey so overwhelmingly a sense that this, what had just happened, was "A Bad Thing"(tm). How the imagery of the room so conveyed the message that these were "The Bad Guys".

But it is the thing that was said next that I have never before been able to judge on its real value...
"That's impossible! How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?"
Think about this for a moment... How often do we not wish we would have less bureaucracy? How liberating wouldn't it be to totally do without it... Was it a sign of their being ultimate evil that they actually wished for it to exist? To wonder how the Emperor could hold his Power without bureaucracy seemed to somehow suggest that there was a link between bureaucracy and the ability of evil dictators to gain, and hold, their position. Down with the bureaucracy I say! Out with the breeding ground for evil dictators!

Like we didn't have enough reasons to want to get rid of bureaucracy yet, there is more, as Jerry Pournelle has described it in his (admittedly apocryphal) Iron Law of Bureaucracy [1];
"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."
This touches on the tendency of (large) organizations to become self-perpetuating; to promote their continued existence as a purpose of its own, rather than for the benefit of the initial stated goal.

But here we seem to have hit a paradox. If the Imperial Senate were evil and corrupted to the benefit of the Emperor's position, would it not have been working solely for its own continued existence? Would it not have resisted being disbanded? And, if it were beneficial to the Emperor's position, why disband it in the first place? The only possible conclusion here is that there must have been something about this Senate, this Bureaucracy, that was impeding the further gain of power by the Emperor (and his cronies).

To gain insight into this, we may find some enlightenment in the very definition of a Bureaucracy [2].
"bureaucracy is a group of non-elected officials of a government or organization that implements the rules, laws, ideas, and functions of their institution."
And furthermore in the description of a "Representative Democracy"[3]:
"The power of representatives is usually curtailed by a constitution (as in a constitutional democracy or a constitutional monarchy) or other measures to balance representative power"
The Senate, defining new Law and, being a part of the "other measures", scrutinizing it against existing Law, thus apparently acted as a voice of reason (or at least delay) and a roadblock for the Emperor implementing his every whim. Its disbanding leaves the Emperor as both Dictator and the Ultimate MicroManager, which is indeed confirmed by those present in the room.

While this movie I enjoyed so much as a kid is a piece of fiction, also in our real world we should not underestimate the importance of the "established" Institutions of State, which essentially make up the Bureaucracy.

In the not-so-fictional case of, say, Egypt, the country has recently chosen a new President. But the previous rulers had, mere weeks before the elections, disbanded the (newly elected) Parliament. And to add insult to injury, the only thing resembling a Constitution in effect was the permanent State of Emergency that the previous President had imposed for over 20 years.While there still is plenty of bureaucracy, it's mostly the kind you do want to cut out; corruption and the kind that is the result of "Pournelle's Law".

But at least in part, and an important one, it is the lack of a decent established framework of bureaucracy that is keeping Egypt from moving forward at speed.

Well, today, on September 12th, we're electing a new parliament, and, in theory, by relative fractional representation, also a new government. And, technically, we should be fine. With a decent Constitution, the proper measures in place to avoid democratic mob-rule, and (maybe just a bit too much) Bureaucracy to implement the laws, we should be set for the next four years. And yet...  
"I find my lack of faith... disturbing..."

[1] "Jerry Pournelle"

[2] "Bureaucracy"

[3] "Representative Democracy"