Why bureaucracy is fundamentally wrong.

May 23, 2022 · 2 mins · 524 words

All models are wrong, but some are useful. The same applies to bureaucracy. It tries to model society through a set of norms. It assumes each problem a person have can be classified and accordingly tackled and solved. But this is a huge lie since all models are wrong. Here I’m not complaining about bureaucracy inefficiency, I’m saying it’s inherently wrong. Also, the more complex the system you’re trying to model, the more complex the model becames. Mix all these ingredients together you end up with a bureaucracy that’s absurdly complex but still wrong.

The problem with being wrong when you’re the government is that you can harm a lot of people, and when I say a lot it’s a lot 1. To make things worse we’re living in the era of information and computerization of everything, and since bureaucracy is just a set of norms it can be easily computerized - in order to solve its problem of inefficiency. The result then is an automated bureaucracy, without a human with whom to interact, creating a dissociation between the rulers and the society.

I’m young and computer-savvy, and even though I feel pissed by what’s happening, at least I know to navigate this scenario. Imagine how an 80 years old guy feels when needs to use a user-hostile website to get unemployment help. But what can you do? Are you going to complain to the government using the same tools that have failed you in the first place?

Let’s explore now some solutions to this problem. One option, if one doesn’t want to start from scratch, is giving more freedom to bureaucrats to interpret the law and have leeway to determine appropriate solutions for different problems, but of course, this solution also poses a lot of problems - for example, it incentivizes corruption.

The only solution I see to the problem comes from a radical change of the structure of our society. Bureaucracy exists because it’s impossible for the government to talk and understand the problems of each individual, so instead of treating each problem as an individual problem, we aggregate them in generic rules and assume that these rules are enough. My proposed solution then is to reduce the needed number of interactions, and this can be done by reducing the size of communities. This would allow to study each problem one by one, from a human perspective and without generic solutions. Smaller communities, with real ownership over their processes and problems, probably wouldn’t have bureaucracy problems. So f**k our industrialized society and let’s get back to rural life.

PS. I wrote these lines during a rage, so some of the opinions described here may be a bit exaggerated ;)

  1. The number of people receiving unemployment benefits plummeted by 40% in the 3 weeks after ID.me (a facial identification service for unemployment benefits) was introduced. Some of these were presumed to be fraudsters, but it is unclear how many genuine people in need of benefits were wrongly harmed by this. [source