by Spandrell

Isegoria linked to an interview of Frank Herbert, author of the Dune series. I don’t need to explain how great the books are, and how amazing a writer Frank Herbert is. You could feel that the man is Darkly Enlightened just by reading his fiction, in the same way you can feel that Isaac Asimov is an establishment technocrat when reading Foundation. This interview confirms my feeling.

JMS: In the Dune books, you seem to question a number of other cultural assumptions. One of them is the belief that the establishment of a democracy necessarily addresses all of humankind’s problems and needs.
HERBERT: One of the things I noticed as a reporter — I was a journalist longer than I’ve been on this side of the table — is that in all the marching in the streets in the ’60s, the people who were shouting “Power to -the People” didn’t mean power to the people. They meant “power to me and I’ll tell the people what to do.” When you questioned them it was confirmed at every turn.

This channels Foseti very nicely:

I don’t think there’s a fucking bit of difference between a bureaucracy that is instituted by a democratic regime, a state; socialist regime, a communist regime or a capitalist regime. Take a look at us right now. We have created a bureaucracy in this country which is completely out of the hands of the people. Your votes do not touch it. One day when I was working in Washington, D.C. as a speech-writer for a U.S. senator from Oregon, I was at a meeting of the Department of Commerce and a very, very high department official, a lifetime bureaucrat, was talking about another senator, who was giving them some trouble. And this high bureaucrat called this senator a “transient.” And sure enough, that senator was defeated in the next election. So he was a transient. But the bureaucrat was, still there, and he retired on a separate retirement system for the federal bureaucracy.

There was a time when reporters were smart people like Frank Herbert, who went alone to Washington and very soon noticed how the levels of power actually work. Or maybe everybody knows, and it’s just that he’s the only one who disagrees.

The permanent bureaucracy is a very important issue in neoreaction, ever since Moldbug channeled Foseti and made it a topic of discussion. But I’ve always wondered. Does it really matter? Japan is famous for having a permanent bureaucracy, to the extent that it is common knowledge. Even sub-100 IQ lay people in the street know that it’s the bureaucrats who hold real power. It is often made an issue of, especially in reformist discussion panels, often leftist, which claim that the bureaucrats are the source of all problems in the country, and that decision making should go to the people’s representatives, “like in other developed countries”.

But nothing ever changes, perhaps because becoming like other developed countries means that the bureaucracy rules just the same. That’s the way it works, and I have the impression that’s the way it has always worked. Doesn’t Dostoievsky always describe bureaucrats as having socialist sympathies? Didn’t the Chinese imperial bureaucracy woo the emperors and fooled them as they willed? As European states developed and modernized, the bureaucracy steadily grew in size and power, to the extent that they ended up creating by themselves a whole bureaucratic structure on top of all European nations without even nominal elections.

The realization of the reality of the permanent bureaucracy is usually met with disapproval. It’s a farce, the subversion of the legal constitutions and every narrative on how power is supposed to work. To which Foseti always cautions: it’s better like this. Having Congressmen actually take decisions would be catastrophic.

I don’t think there’s even a question. Modern political parties aren’t structured to take political decisions: they’re a fundraising organization, designed for the task of extracting money and funnel it to their associates, so they can run campaigns, get elected and repeat the process. That’s what they are for, and they do it quite well.

But someone has to actually set rules and enforce them, to run the government. And so behind all these campaigns and dinner parties with lobbyists, lie the bureaucrats. Of course the problem of bureaucracy is that it is necessary, in the same way the putrefaction of organic matter is necessary. Nobody likes how it works, but it has to happen. Bureaucracy seems to spontaneously appear every time an institution is established with the purpose to last. Isegoria also recently quoted the great Cyril Northcote Parkinson:

Factor I. — An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals; andFactor II. — Officials make work for each other.

We must now examine these motive forces in turn.

The Law of Multiplication of Subordinates

To comprehend Factor I, we must picture a civil servant called A who finds himself overworked. Whether this overwork is real or imaginary is immaterial; but we should observe, in passing, that A’s sensation (or illusion) might easily result from his own decreasing energy — a normal symptom of middle-age. For this real or imagined overwork there are, broadly speaking, three possible remedies

(1) He may resign.

(2) He may ask to halve the work with a colleague called B.

(3) He may demand the assistance of two subordinates, to be called C and D.

There is probably no instance in civil service history of A choosing any but the third alternative. By resignation he would lose his pension rights. By having B appointed, on his own level in the hierarchy, he would merely bring in a rival for promotion to W’s vacancy when W (at long last) retires. So A would rather have C and D, junior men, below him. They will add to his consequence; and, by dividing the work into two categories, as between C and D, he will have the merit of being the only man who comprehends them both.

It is essential to realise, at this point, that C and D are, as it were, inseparable. To appoint C alone would have been impossible. Why? Because C, if by himself, would divide the work with A and so assume almost the equal status which has been refused in the first instance to B; a status the more emphasised if C is A’s only possible successor. Subordinates must thus number two or more, each being kept in order by fear of the other’s promotion. When C complains in turn of being overworked (as he certainly will) A will, with the concurrence of C, advise the appointment of two assistants to help C. But he can then avert internal friction only by advising the appointment of two more assistants to help D, whose position is much the same. With this recruitment of E, F, G and H, the promotion of A is now practically certain.

The Law of Multiplication of Work

Seven officials are now doing what one did before. This is where Factor II comes into operation. For these seven make so much work for each other that all are fully occupied and A is actually working harder than ever. An incoming document may well come before each of them in turn. Official E decides that it falls within the province of F, who places a draft reply before C, who amends it drastically before consulting D, who asks G to deal with it. But G goes on leave at this point, handing the file over to H, who drafts a minute, which is signed by D and returned to C, who revises his draft accordingly and lays the new version before A.

What does A do? He would have every excuse for signing the thing unread, for he has many other matters on his mind. Knowing now that he is to succeed W next year, he has to decide whether C or D should succeed to his own office. He had to agree to G going on leave, although not yet strictly entitled to it. He is worried whether H should not have gone instead, for reasons of health. He has looked pale recently — partly but not solely because of his domestic troubles. Then there is the business of F’s special increment of salary for the period of the conference, and E’s application for transfer to the Ministry of Pensions. A has heard that D is in love with a married typist and that G and F are no longer on speaking terms — no one seems to know why. So A might be tempted to sign C’s draft and have done with it.

But A is a conscientious man. Beset as he is with problems created by his colleagues for themselves and for him — created by the mere fact of these officials’ existence — he is not the man to shirk his duty. He reads through the draft with care, deletes the fussy paragraphs added by C and H and restores the thing back to the form preferred in the first instance by the able (if quarrelsome) F. He corrects the English — none of these young men can write grammatically — and finally produces the same reply he would have written if officials C to H had never been born. Far more people have taken far longer to produce the same result. No one has been idle. All have done their best. And it is late in the evening before A finally quits his office and begins the return journey to Ealing. The last of the office lights are being turned off in the gathering dusk which marks the end of another day’s administrative toil. Among the last to leave, A reflects, with bowed shoulders and a wry smile, that late hours, like grey hairs, are among the penalties of success.

This seem humorous, or perhaps the result of the dysfunctional mores of government, which being the highest power of society has nobody to rule over them. But it’s not only government where dysfunctional bureaucracy operates. Look at this fascinating article on the Decline of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is not government, nor even a for profit company. It’s run mostly by volunteer editors who through their sheer volume of work created a reputation, which led them to be regarded as authorities, and ended up being given power to set the rules of the website. Rules which of course do nothing but grow and grow, making the operation so annoying that newcomers are discouraged from joining.

There’s a small caveat, in that the lack of new editors can’t be only caused by the increasing bureaucracy, but simply because of the law of diminishing returns. Wikipedia is big as it is, most low-hanging fruit in the form of articles that white American nerd with free time are motivated to write about are already there. And “editor diversity” just won’t happen for obvious reasons unrelated to the red tape those evil white males are imposing on the rest.

Still it is a fact that the red tape is increasing, in a way not dissimilar from what Parkinson describes. Of course the obvious reason is self-preservation, which the Japanese, as experts in bureaucracy analysis, call 保身. Any member of an organization wants to preserve its status, and the best way of doing that is making it hard for newcomers to replace him. The amount of red-tape cancer growth depends only on strength of the self-preservation impulse (i.e. the importance the bureaucrat gives to his status in that organization), and the authority on top to prevent it. A powerful and involved ruler can fire any self-preservating red-tape creator. A headless and moneyless cooperative such as Wikipedia will produces go on producing more and more rules until the editor status becomes a hereditary title.

Any competent student of history can tell you that all civilizations fall into this same trap, to a depressing extent. There’s no evolving out of it. I’m sure that students of corporate structure feel the same way. But the very nature of corporations (less Voice, more Exit) means that more experimentation can go on. Valve is a famous example, and they gave an extensive interview to WP this week.

Valve famously has no managers, no HR, no reports, everything works by setting groups ad-hoc whenever there’s a project. There are fascinating insights in how they manage their people.

It’s sort of a good news/bad news situation that our industry is changing so quickly. If you look at the requirements for just one piece, like art, from one generation of games to the next, it will change radically. You need people who are adaptable because the thing that makes you the best in the world in one generation of games is going to be totally useless in the next. So specialization in gaming is sort of the enemy of the future. We had to think about if we’re going to be in a business that’s changing that quickly, how do we avoid institutionalizing one set of production methods in such a way that we can’t adapt to what’s going to be coming next.(…)

It seems like a lot of this involves a lot individual experience for employees and you’ve figured out a way to make that really work with the current size of your organization. Are you at all worried about scaling that if you continue to grow?

No. One of the nice things about having pretty distributed decision-making in the company is that it tends to scale really well. You can trust that lots of good decisions are being made all the time. That’s one of the things that we try to explain when we’re bring somebody in — you guys know there are no monthly reports here? There’s no “all of the information has to flow to Gabe.” It’s like, if I need to know something I’ll figure out who is involved with it and find it because I’m just like somebody else. Nobody’s going to put together a report for me so I can have a giant file of reports laying around that I never get around to reading. What that means is that a lot of bandwidth internally in the company frees up because you’re not just constantly tracking a whole bunch of stuff so decision making is really distributed.

Of course part of how well a systems “scales”, is how homogeneous the culture is kept. Valve is quite selective about which employees they let in. They also have a very wise priest-king, Gabe Newell who understands the psychology of his target workers, i.e. polymath nerds who want to take their parents to the yearly company trip. They’re not making the best out of people, they’re picking self-driven geniuses and setting an environment where they can cooperate peacefully. And with all that, as the first comment on the article says, Valve games actually aren’t that special.

As I suspected, Gabe Newell just doesn’t believe in hierarchy period:

He has a lot of other opinions about the business world, like a belief that mass manufacturing will lose out to highly customized creations. But he said the most “outlandish” idea he has is that the Internet will replace many of the things corporations do. “It’ll be better at those old Coasian concepts of organizing labor and allocating capital,” he mused, adding that the ”egalitarian and democratic view of how we produce stuff as an economy is the one that I see increasingly winning out.”

Again, it’s easy to be egalitarian when you get a pick of you gets in the group. It seems pretty obvious that the optimal organizational structure depends in the ability of the members, with well-mannered intelligent people functioning better with a more egalitarian structure, and, as Jim likes to say, blacks more productive being enslaved.

It follows that the most important factor in a government bureaucracy is who gets to become a civil servant, and how much power they’re given. The Chinese have a long tradition of caring about this, which I’ll show on the next post. For those interested, I will translate from this source:

One response to “Bureaucracy

  1. Mr Herbert was certainly correct about the 1960s “New Left” (the mobs on the streets and so on). Their real complaint was that America was not collectivist enough – they wanted more collectivism (with themselves in charge of it) not less. The modern “Occupy” people are the same – with the Castro loving Mayor of New York City being a typical example.

    On bureaucracy – well Mises wrote a book on it and I broadly agree with what he says.

    The historical angle is also interesting – after all bureaucracy in the English speaking world is not ancient, indeed the formal structure was imposed in the mid 19th century (in imitation of Prussia – famous for its “good state” since the time of the “Great Elector” back in the late 1600s, and very famous for it from the time of Frederick the Great in the mid 1700s).

    It is nonsense to claim that Britain and the United States (and so on) could not carry on without this formal Civil Service structure – indeed they would carry on much better without it.

    “But the modern size and scope of government needs this formal structure” – then reduce the size and scope of government then.

    The same could (and should) be said of “delegated legislation” (“Statutory Instruments”, “Executive Orders” and all the rest of the vile stuff).