Cyril Northcote Parkinson opened a Nov. 1955 article in The Economist with a simple formulation. “It is a commonplace observation,” he wrote, “that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” He applied this concept to politics, arguing that the rise in the number of bureaucrats didn’t actually reflect the amount of work being accomplished. Instead, Parkinson held that bureaucracies expand to fill the roles granted to them no matter the amount of useful work accomplished. His observations are known today as Parkinson’s Law, which explains bureaucratic growth as the result of unnecessary processes and policies created to keep everyone busy, such as multiple layers of authorization and editing. According to Parkinson, it can be expected from this cycle that public firms grow between 5-7% annually “irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done.”
Bureaucracies also grow due to their own inertia. Bureaucratic inertia describes the tendency of administrative institutions to complicate their operations at the expense of accomplishing their original goals. The more complicated procedural frameworks become, the more time it will take to negotiate those procedures, which in turn means it will be more difficult for the bureaucracy to achieve the ends it was designed to pursue in the first place. Bureaucratic growth results.
Watch this Video to see the effect that reducing bureaucracy can have by unleashing the entrepreneurial spirits of creative people:
- Airline deregulation was finally achieved in legislation shepherded through Congress by Ted Kennedy and signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. In the 30 years or so since deregulation, the price of airline tickets has fallen by 50%. Why do you think this has happened? Which airlines offer the lowest ticket prices? The best service?
- How has the ability to travel cheaply affected other changes in the country and the world? Do you think we should regulate airlines more or less? What about cell phones? The internet?
This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense Government eBook. Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for use by students and teachers. Click Here to download the Common Sense Government materials.
3, Nov. 2018, Concorde plane [Digital photograph]. Retrieved from <google.com>.