A hierarchy of government officials, mostly unelected, that set policies, prescribe regulations and administer them

Bureaucracy refers to both a body of non-elective government officials and an administrative policy-making group. Historically, a bureaucracy was a government administration managed by departments staffed with non-elected officials. Today, bureaucracy is the administrative system governing any large institution, whether publicly owned or privately owned. The public administration in many countries is an example of a bureaucracy, but so is the centralized hierarchical structure of a business firm.

  • Parkinson's Law - C. Northcote Parkinson's rule that in a bureaucracy work expands to fill the available time


Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Who First Put Laissez-Faire Principles into Action, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Aug 1997
Biographical essay, covering his life, works and involvement with the Physiocrats, as well as his accomplishments as an administrator
"Turgot worked to curtail the rapaciousness of bureaucrats. 'People complain also,' he wrote, 'of the embarrassments they are thrown into by the extreme severity of the penalties, often for the slightest faults. It is indispensable to remedy this, as well as the inconveniences manufacturers suffer from the contradictions in the regulations, and to shield them from the abuse of the authority by the Bureaux of Inspection.' Then issuing orders: 'You are not to seize anything belonging to them [workers and small manufacturers], any stuff or merchandise, on the pretext of its faultiness. ...'"
Blessings of Discrimination, by F. A. Harper, In Brief, 1951
Discusses the human ability to discriminate, e.g., to feel the heat of a stove, which Buddha considered an "essential" virtue, contrasting it with the policy of nondiscrimination on employment, association and other areas
"Under socialism in any of its forms and by any of its names, arbitration becomes the business of government, since government is supposed to be the unquestioned reservoir of justice. But the government has no basis for selecting the man who shall have that job, except as some one bureaucrat renders the decision arbitrarily and exercises his own personal choice or preference. Discrimination has not been eliminated; it cannot be eliminated, by the very nature of things. All that has happened has been the transfer of the rights of discrimination to a bureaucrat who has no basic concern—and no fundamental right of choice—in the matter."
Block Attacks Rockwell for 'Extremism', by Walter Block, 28 Jul 2006
A tongue-in-cheek commentary by Block on Rockwell's article about blackouts and demand for privatizing utilities
"Imagine the disruption if Rockwell's cockamamie schemes were put into effect. Why, there would be thousands, no, tens of thousands, no, hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats, time servers, nincompoops, wastrels, no wait, I mean great contributors to the economy, tossed out on their ears onto the unemployment lines. This would radically reduce their income. As a result, they would purchase less than before; things like luxury cars, luxury food, luxury bicycles, foreign vacations, jewels, Rolexes, yachts, etc."
Bureaucracy and the Civil Service in the United States, by Murray Rothbard, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1995
Historical account of the evolution of the United States Civil Service and attempts to reform it, from its beginnings through the early 20th century
"Those bureaucrats who are shrewd analysts of human nature, then, and who understand the way rulers operate, will, if they see that the cherished policy of their President is in grave error, tend to keep their mouths shut, and let some other sucker be the messenger of bad news and get shot down."
Do Greedy Spinach Merchants Want To Kill You?, by Lew Rockwell, Mises Daily, 6 Oct 2006
Comments on the September 2006 North American E. coli outbreak in spinach, the reaction by merchants and intervention by government agencies
"To place this in the category of criminal law means that ... the people being investigated are implicitly threatened with jail and other forms of violence. Doesn't it seem that the bureaucratic class is drawn to the latter forms of enforcement? ... The truth is that the people who buy and sell are far more interested in the wellbeing of the public than lifetime bureaucrats who have no professional stake in the outcome of the enterprising process than the man in the moon. Their one and only interest is protecting their power and position. Increasingly, they seize on any and every headline to whip up public frenzy."
Give Me Liberty [PDF], by Rose Wilder Lane, 1936
Originally published as an article titled "Credo" in the Saturday Evening Post; describes her experiences in and history of Soviet Russia and Europe, contrasting them with the history of the United States, emphasizing the individualist themes
"The serious loss in a social order is in time and energy. Sitting around in waiting rooms until one can stand in line before a bureaucrat's desk seems to any American a dead loss, and living in a social order thus shortens every person's life. Outside the bureaucrat's office, too, these regulations for the public good constantly hamper every action. ... It was an intelligent decree, too, when Napoleon issued it. ... The decree was entangled with a hundred years of bureaucratic complications ..."
How Much Do You Know About Liberty? (a quiz), The Freeman, Jun 1996
A 20-question quiz (with answers) on various topics related to liberty in the history of the United States
"About how much do government regulations cost Americans each year: $100 billion, $200 billion, $400 billion, $600 billion? ... Government regulations cost Americans about $600 billion a year. (See Market Liberalism, a Paradigm for the 21st Century [Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 1993], p. 6.)"
In Defense of a Free Market in Health Care, by Robert D. Helmholdt, 16 Apr 2004
Explains why government health care reforms will not improve the status quo, recommending instead complete deregulation of the industry and reliance on the free market
"When a health service is transformed into a government service, add the cost of all the bureaucratic machinery required to run it — all the bureaucrats with their salaries, pensions, annual leaves, sick leaves, and Civil Service–protection making it impossible to fire incompetents — and it gets to be a very high–cost operation. Not surprisingly, it all ends up with lower-quality care at a much higher cost!"
Ludwig von Mises, socialism's greatest enemy, by Jim Powell
Lengthy biographical essay on Mises, including details on Menger and Böhm-Bawerk
"Bureaucracy mounted a new attack against socialism. Mises explained that private entrepreneurs can delegate considerable responsibility to their managers, because performance is easily measured by profit and loss. But bureaucratic management, which socialists want to run the world, can't be measured by profit and loss. Consequently, rulers limit the discretion of administrators with regulations, and obeying the regulations becomes the supreme standard of conduct. ... '... The first virtue of an administrator is to abide by the codes and decrees. He becomes a bureaucrat.'"
Socialized Medicine in a Wealthy Country, by Lew Rockwell, Mises Daily, 2 Dec 2006
Discusses the view of socialized medicine held by left-socialists, examining the problems that existed in Soviet-controlled countries as well as current U.S. problems, and urges for a "complete separation of health and state"
"The first image is that held by the delusional left. They imagine that if most health care were publicly provided and administered by the state ... Enlightened public bureaucrats would make the essential decisions about health priorities. ... Because bureaucrats have no strong incentive to see to the wellbeing of people, they make decisions based on politics. ... We end up with a bureaucratically controlled nightmare in which no class in society receives the level of medical attention it would receive in a marketplace. ... in these times, the case for bureaucracy is even more obviously incorrect."
Sophie Scholl: A Life of Courage, by Wendy McElroy, Future of Freedom, May 2007
Review of the 2005 German film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (Die letzten Tage), also contrasting this film with typical Hollywood depictions of Nazis
"Any widespread government program rests on ordinary civil servants who staff the halls of bureaucracy and prisons, who type and file the paperwork. These are the people "doing their jobs"; they obey orders and follow the letter of the law without questioning ... the law assumes the role that conscience often plays ... her court-appointed defense attorney ... Klein ... asks no questions and provides no defense at her trial ... At [a] slight stab at the legitimacy of his position, Klein explodes ... consciously [choosing] to hide behind amoral bureaucracy and will not countenance a moral mirror held to his face."
The Pretense of Regulatory Knowledge, by Sheldon Richman, 3 Oct 2008
Contrasts the free market vs. regulation and central planning
"Calling regulators bureaucrats is not just an insult; it's also a description. Bureaucrats are not in the profit-and-loss game, as entrepreneurs in a (truly) free market are. They don't gain financially from producing value, and they have no capital at risk. As we've learned from the Food and Drug Administration, they tend to be overcautious because if they might err, it's better to err on the side of not letting something happen."
The Six Faces of the Terrorist; The One Face of Bureaucracy, by Lew Rockwell, Mises Daily, 18 Aug 2006
Wonders how much more will Americans tolerate the searches and commands of the Transportation Security Administration agents, contrastring "public sector" security to private security and comparing the TSA and the welfare bureaucracies
"Is TSA really trying to protect us? Surely that defines part of its mission. But every bureaucracy is self-interested in a way that receives no discouragement within the public sector. ... the welfare bureaucracy benefits most by increasing the number of the poor and keeping them that way for as long as possible. Only by maximizing the number of poor people who need assistance can a welfare bureaucracy thrive. ... In some way, too ... the security state actually benefits from disastrous mistakes that result in loss of life. These allow the bureaucracy to say: we told you so; we should have had more money and power."
Related Topics: Business, Government, The State
The Snare of Government Subsidies, by Gary North, Mises Daily, 31 Aug 2006
Explains how government starts by granting a benefit to some group (purportedly for the public interest), someone takes advantage of the system, the group is asked to police itself, cheating grows, a crisis is perceived, leading to increased interventions
"By a comprehensive program of direct political intervention into the market, government officials can steadily reduce the opposition of businessmen to the transformation of the market into a bureaucratic, regulated, and even centrally-directed organization. Bureaucracy replaces entrepreneurship as the principal form of economic planning. Bureaucrats can use the time-honored pair of motivational approaches: the carrot and the stick."
The Tragedy of the Commons, by David J. Theroux, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 12 Jun 1994
Argues for privatization of lands owned by the United States federal government, citing the benefits of private management, the disadvantages of bureaucratic control and providing examples of enviromental groups managing private reserves
"Those close to the land—whether in a commercial sense or even in terms of a cause—are far better stewards than bureaucrats, whose management of the 'commons' ensures abuse since they possess few incentives to protect the land. Since their revenues are extracted from the citizenry by the force of taxation, bureaucratic managers have no way of telling whether they administrate resources in ways beneficial to the public or not. ... Guaranteed revenues almost regardless of how they perform, bureaucrats actually have every incentive to mismanage resources in order to justify their jobs and their agency's ever expanded existence."
Related Topic: Private Property


    by Ludwig von Mises, 1944
Partial contents: Profit Management - Bureaucratic Management - Bureaucratic Management of Public Enterprises - Bureaucratic Management of Private Enterprises - The Social and Political Implications of Bureaucratization

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Bureaucracy" as of 8 Oct 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.