Friday, February 23, 2007 02/21/07-Bureaucrats

In today's excerpt, on the heels of the Industrial Revolution comes the proliferation of bureaucrats:

"In 1891 total government personnel amounted to less than 2 percent of the total labor force in Britain. ... By the 1920s public employment exceeded 5 per cent of the workforce in Italy, 6 per cent in Britain and 8 per cent in Germany:

"In his monumental Economy and Society Max Weber portrayed the modern bureaucracy as admirably rational: 'rules, means, ends, and matter-of-factness dominate its bearing.' Yet even as he wrote, disillusionment with bureaucracy was growing, not least in the wake of the enormous expansion of the public sector during the years of war and inflation, a phenomenon more closely associated with proliferating red-tape and corruption than with rationality. The reality of modern bureaucracy turned out to be closer to Kafka's Castle, in which enigmatic files are trundled up and down grey corridors, being allocated apparently at random to faceless pen-pushers behind identical doors. ... During a violent political riot in Vienna in 1927, Elias Canetti vividly recollected seeing a distraught official outside the burning Palace of Justice, 'flailing his arms and moaning over and over again':

" 'The files are burning! All the files.'

" 'Better files than people!' I told him, but that did not interest him; all he could think of was the files. ... He was inconsolable. I found him comical, even in this situation. But I was also annoyed. 'They've been shooting down people!' I said angrily, 'and you're carrying on about the files!' He looked at me as if I weren't there and wailed repeatedly: 'The files are burning! All the files!'

"The files had become an end in themselves."

Niall Ferguson, Cash Nexus, Basic, 2001, pp. 90-91.


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