The Purpose of Bureaucracy

Last week, the House Republicans helpfully pointed out that the Pelosi/ObamaCare bill would create "111 new bureaucracies." No fair, said a Democrat spokesman. Most of the new bureaucracies would only be "demonstration programs."

All those bureaucracies recall the old Anglo-Saxon drinking song:
There were 111 bureaus sitting on the wall
111 bureaus sitting on the wall
But if one red bureau should accidentally fall
There'd be 112 bureaus sitting on the wall
That's the thing about government  bureaucracies. They don't smash up like bottles.  When they fall, or rather fail, according to the implacable Law of Unintended Consequences, politicians and activists just demand another bureaucracy to supervise the first one.

But why does anyone think that a vast bureaucratic health system is going to deliver good health care? Bureaucracies are not instituted among men to provide service. They are immovable intermediaries between a powerful sovereign and a powerless people. They are created to control people. This is obvious if you study the origins of the modern bureaucracy. 

Government bureaucracy really got its start in western culture when the monarchs of Europe wanted to extract more taxes from their peoples. They needed the money to finance their armies and to copy the extravagant lifestyle of Louis XIV in France. Thus 18th century Prussian kings like Frederick the Great worked overtime to smash the traditional social structures and local power elites so they could extract more taxes.

In those days, society was organized locally. People in the cities belonged to guilds and other corporate groups. They owed their loyalty and paid their taxes to their local leaders rather than to kings. To get around the local power centers, the kings created tax-collection bureaucracies to identify potential sources of revenue and extract directly from the people the taxes needed for the army and the royal palace.

In the 19th century, the Prussians, trying to build up the state in every way they could, naturally turned to national bureaucratic structures for education and social welfare. Other national elites noticed what was going on and decided to copy the Prussian model for their own armies, education, and social welfare.

Our liberal friends have done an astonishing job of persuading people that this Prussian-inspired bureaucratic rule is the very essence of modernity and progressive government. It's so much better for everyone than the evil profit-mongering of Wal-Mart, Big Oil, and nasty insurance companies.

It was in this light that the president addressed the House Democrats before he left Washington, D.C. for the weekend on November 7. (This was hours before the House voted 220-215 to pass PelosiCare.) He reminded the House Democrats what they stood for, according to Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ).
The president said Democrats have a 70-year history of creating and defending programs like Social Security and Medicare, Andrews said afterward, adding Obama had said the day's vote "is going to define the difference between the Republican and Democratic parties for decades."
It's a wonderful thing to imagine a world free from fear and want. What the president fails to admit, and what Democrats seem unable to understand, is that their vision is built on force and compulsion. Social Security is a bureaucratic program based on a tax on labor. Medicare is a bureaucratic program also based on a tax on labor. Both programs are going broke because politicians promised more than these taxes could deliver.

And so their vision is no better than the dynastic oppression and domination of the absolute monarchs. Louis XIV and the Prussians built bureaucracies so they could winkle individuals out from the protective shells of their traditional communities and then tax them and draft them.

Democrats do the same thing.  Their social programs make government large and people small, and that's the way that they like it. When the government forces you to pay taxes for grandpa's pension and grandma's medical care, then the ties that bind parents and children are frayed. The idea is not too different from the Prussian monarchy: "From the benefits and privileges heaped upon them, from the opportunities they received in the government and the army ... the Prussian nobility developed a loyalty to the king and to the state he embodied."

In what way do our liberal friends, secure in their government sinecures and heaped with privileges, differ from the Prussian nobility? It is true that they do not sport monocles, but they certainly have stiff necks.

The purpose of bureaucracy is to demolish face-to-face social groups, to break instinctive and emotional social ties and obligations, and to subordinate people to the power of the state. It is cruel, it is wasteful, and it is unjust.

Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his and usgovernmentspending.comHis Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.