Ever since the 18th century, many democrats or progressives have thought that the public-realm aspects of the problems of man and society can be solved by providing good government. Numerous theories and not a few experiments - some of these soared while others crashed- have attempted to find practical responses to the dilemmas posed by their thesis.
In our time, albeit under different labels, two basic approaches that reach back to that tradition contend to provide the maximal happiness achievable in a secular context. One of these is what can loosely be called “Socialism”. Here man is primarily defined as a member of a community that is either national-ethnic, ideology, or social class based. Accordingly, social and political rights are defined and guaranteed by the community that allots these to its members. A consequence of the concept is a communalism. The group’s outstanding members distribute its fruits through the good offices of the government they control.
The arrangement’s upshot is what some of us call “big government”. Government function that extends into the fabric of society and areas, which could be “private”, demands a bureaucracy. This is a special category of persons that are, through the function with which they are entrusted, unlike the rank of file that they steer. Corresponding to the growth of the tasks assigned to it, bureaucracy is endowed with state power without, however, being subject to the controls the people exercises over its elected politicians. The negative results can consist of two components. One is the influence of uncontrolled power over the intended beneficiaries of applied might. The other is in the economic realm. The apparatus created for the furthering of welfare, being run by economic dilettantes, create restraining parameters for productive activity. In this case, one might say that the virus threatens to destroy its carrying organism. Once accomplished, this ultimately annihilates the virus, too. The other outcome has to do with costs. Admittedly, some administration is essential, as it is a tool of any well functioning system. Even in this case, directive supervision does not produce anything while applying it creates costs. In some countries, these costs are -besides the consequences of what they pay for- ultimately a major financial burden. In these cases, cutting bureaucracy presupposes cutting taxes. Added up, the two constitute a precondition of economic restoration.
At the same time, the pruning of the weed-like spread of bureaucracy is more than an economically justified measure. An added dividend of the action is that it secures democracy through enlarged zones of self-determination and liberties.
The other approach to the pursuit of maximal happiness, thus to its concept of good government, is the classical laissez faire one. Unlike the anarchists, the advocates of laissez faire do not combat government as the source of all imaginable evils. Unlike the collectivists, however, they see in government a potential danger -knives can be used to heal by operating but also to slit throats. Therefore limiting government is not a solution but only a pre-condition to good governance and to the institutional protection of individual autonomy, which is personal freedom.
The problem with reducing bureaucracy is that is has, where it poses a problem, grown into a political powerhouse of its own right which tends to isolation from the influence of politics. That includes the ability to dodge the will of the voting majority. For this reason, an impediment to the perceived need to restructure public life can emerge. After all, the regulating role and the pressure-group function of the regulators can be in conflict with society’s interests and thus block reforms. Not infrequently, the struggle against systemic backwardness and corruption involves facing and tearing down bureaucratically erected structures. Therefore, it is not surprising that in a province of Romania one third of the public employees were marked for dismissal. Inadvertently, a measure facilitated the process. Many are quitting because their newly set salary will compete with what politically untouchable welfare pays its clients. Cuba, politically committed to controls, is reckoning that its system needs to be saved by making it more efficient. Half a million of state employees are therefore about to be released into the faltering economy. The moves against bureaucratic hindrances and the paralysis these cause, is producing notable innovations. Hungary’s internationally cursed center-right government that dared to not only to interrupt Socialist rule but in doing so reduced the comrades to a negligible force, has interesting ideas. Publicizing them might encourage imitators. For the same reason, the official “international community”, through its media-access, will find reasons to condemn the tampering with the comfy status quo of soul mates.
From January 1st, the territorial extensions of government directorates supersede the confusing interlocking institutions of public administration. With the intended simplified system, in 29 locations so called “Government Windows” are opened. Actually, “opened” is an operative word here. The service will be accessible during a “customer” friendly twelve hours a day. By phone, the bureaus can be reached 24/7. These “windows”, that is access points, have the task of helping clients in matters that involve offices and regulations. The institution is to provide citizens with wide ranging information as to which organ is designated to handle their problem and how the case is to be presented. Instruction is provided about forms to be submitted, and the institution helps in filling out forms. Furthermore, help is extended to prepare the documentation needed to support claims.
The announced intention of these agencies of facilitation is to nudge to a higher speed the hitherto notoriously slow grind of the mills of bureaucratic action. This is assured by setting limits within which administrative actions must be taken. According to Mr. Navracsics who, besides being vice-Premier and also the Minister in charge of Justice and Public Administration, soon the new system of short-cuts leading through the regulatory jungle will be extended to the lowest tiers of administration. This intends to make government administration more rational, comprehensible, efficient, responsive and cheaper. In his own words: the goal of creating an “easily manageable state” implies that in the future “case management shall go to the citizens”. If the good intentions can be implemented, a revered cultural tradition will be weakened. According to it, those having business with the “state” were uppity petitioners whose presence and demands insolently disturbed the daily routine of structured Office-life.
In general, the system of intertwined institutions is to undergo simplification and “liposuction”. Here an example. Until now, the inefficient state program of economic development had been handled by a Byzantine system. In charge were fifteen supposedly cooperating organizations with three thousand persons running fifteen programs. Newly monitoring will also be strengthened to reduce the extent and the frequency of abuses and the costs of built-in inertia. Hopefully the result of simplification will be better cooperation, the impartial application of regulations, accelerated decisions and the speedier allocation of funding. Last but not least, until now only about 70% of the funding got to its destination. Even by itself, overcoming that one should produce major benefits. These goals tell a lot of what is wrong with comparable systems.
Plans such as described above have consequences. One of them is that they cause resistance and that programmed defiance should not be under estimated. The attempt to reduce bureaucratic hurdles comes on the heels of a system that exploited the possibilities of bureaucratization. Distrusting “spontaneity”, it believed, reflecting its Leninist origins, in control. Furthermore, “public service” gave the managers of the political system an area in which jobs could be given to clients, friends and family. As a rule, frequently the regulating is more lucrative than the action that is being regulated. The planned reforms will help people to tread a shortened and straighter path through the zigzags between redundant offices whose main use had been to keep their staff employed. Such measures will inevitably lead to reductions. Necessarily, the dismissed personnel will consist of Socialism’s creations.
In lieu of a footnote: You might have heard of the “right-wing extremist” government’s attempt to get rid of Mr. Simor, the head of Hungary’s National Bank. The unsuccessful attempt is listed as one of Mr. Prime Minister Orbán’s attempted “power grabs.” The crime is made worse by the cutting of Mr. Simor’s salary. The reader’s judgment of the affair might be sharpened by a bit picked up from the press. Mr. Simor’s salary before the cut is said to have been what Washington allotted to Mr. Bernanke.
After the headlines that bemoan the “theft” of retirement funds -actually the case is about the rescue of the savers from thieving managers- the alleged imposition of censorship has also treated us with sensations. More is to come. The to-be-expected initiation of legal action against the major perpetrators of corruption is likely to lead to an outcry. Prosecution will mainly affect the members of that party that was kicked out of power. One can already hear the echoed claims of political persecution. The same charge of a vendetta will be leveled once the tailors that have been designing, cutting and sewing the naked Emperor’s clothing will begin to lose their bureaucratic jobs.