Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

The Bureaucrat's Demand for Networking Time

Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

The Bureaucrat's Demand for Networking Time

Article excerpt


"Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it." If one takes that famous Mark Twain quote and substitutes the word "bureaucracy" for "weather" the quote loses little of its irony or accuracy. Like the weather, bureaucracies impact us all. And also like the weather, bureaucracies seem beyond the capability of humans to control. To argue that no one does anything about bureaucracy is not to argue that no one attempts to do anything about it. Indeed, the numbers and methods of attempted "fixes" of specific bureaus as well as bureaucracies in general are legend: organizational redesigns, leadership changes, investigations, downsizings, privatizations, recruiting mechanisms, etc. Politicians and academicians have analyzed, spoken and written volumes on the topic. However, the fundamental nature of, and challenges presented by, bureaucracy has changed little over time.

Bureaucracy is the ubiquitous organizational structure for large-scale enterprises and undertakings, both public sector and private. Whether dealing with the IRS over a tax dispute, with a university HR-Equal Opportunity-Diversity Office when trying to hire new faculty, a credit card company over a billing error, a large insurance company (of any kind on any issue), or virtually any aspect of the health care system, one invariably finds oneself mired in the rules and red tape of a bureaucratic maze. The word "bureaucrat" rarely is preceded by a descriptor such as "fair-minded," "efficient," "versatile" or "helpful." Politicians rarely campaign for office promising to add more bureaucrats to the public payroll, or to add more "bureaucratic red tape" to public sector activities. Corporate executives rarely think of adding to the bureaucracy as a strategy for streamlining operations or "turning around" their organization.

That presents an interesting dichotomy. Why is bureaucracy such a widely used organizational structure if it is so widely described and regarded in negative tones? If bureaucrats are so widely criticized and the concept of bureaucracy so widely reviled, why do we continue to create new ones and enlarge existing ones? Those questions bring to mind a second famous quote-famous, at least, among economists: "... things are the way they are for some powerful reason or reasons, which have to be understood if effective social solutions are to be devised...." (Johnson, 1975, p. 18). Applying the obvious implications of this observation by Harry G. Johnson to the topic at hand, one could surmise that there must be strong reasons why the bureaucratic structure has become so pervasive among large organizations, but also there must be some strong reasons why bureaucracies seem so often not to perform as efficiently and effectively as we would desire.


As the general public knows and views bureaucracy and bureaucrats, the concepts apply to any group of non-elective government officials and/or some administrative policy-making group. Even more generally, the term "bureaucracy" is used to refer to the administrative system governing any large institution. From the viewpoints of management and organizational structure, the consideration of bureaucracy traces back to the work of German sociologist-philosopher-political economist Max Weber. In the spirit of Weber and managerial behavior, and in perhaps the most positive light, bureaucracy is described as an organizational model rationally designed to perform complex tasks efficiently. Most economists, on the other hand, generally tend to view bureaucracies and bureaucrats in a less favorable light. That's another aspect of the dichotomy referenced above. Bureaucracies, especially public sector bureaucracies, almost always are created with the best of intentions, but the results-often in the form of unintended consequences-almost always are disappointing. Relative to that observation, it is important to note what is (and is not) at the heart of the problem. …

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