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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.

Notable Topics

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


The Affordable Care Act Doesn't Go That Way, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 1 Nov 2013
Examines the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act from the perspective of basic economics and its unintended consequences
One cannot merely decree that there be good and affordable medical care for all. Setting up a byzantine bureaucracy won't do the trick either ... If the young and healthy were going to subsidize the already sick, they would have to be forced to buy coverage at inflated prices ... And bureaucrats would have to set minimum standards, or else the mandate would be a mere formality ... [B]ureaucratic rules thus take precedence over personal preferences. It doesn't matter what you want. Personnel at the Department of Health and Human Services and its myriad boards (advised by whom?) know better.
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 ..."
Bad Medicine, by Sheldon Richman, 21 Mar 2003
Discusses the differences between Democrat and Republican policies for government schooling and proposals to add prescription-drug coverage to Medicare
In both cases, the money would come from the taxpayers and be controlled by the bureaucrats. The Democrats would deal with the drug companies, the Republicans with the HMOs ... The Democrats are honest. They say they want a monster government bureaucracy controlling drug prices and giving orders to the pharmaceutical industry ... The Bush plan, like the Democrats' alternative, still has government in the middle of the medical system. A bureaucracy will control the money. A bureaucracy will set the standards. A bureaucracy will enforce its expectations.
The Bill of Rights: Trial by Jury, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Freedom Daily, Jan 2005
Explains why a trial by a jury of ordinary people was considered an essential constitutional guarantee and discusses jury nullification in real and hypothetical cases
[O]ftentimes judges are ... [biased] toward prosecutors. This is especially true with respect to judges who have assumed the bench after long careers as prosecutors ... Another problem with judges is that over time they become like other government bureaucrats—so encrusted with a mindset of laws, rules, and regulations that they are unable to distinguish law from justice. Steeping themselves every day in the law books, regulatory manuals, briefs, memoranda, oral arguments, and court opinions, what becomes foremost in the mind of most judges is simply, Did the accused break the law?
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 "The Real Cause of Blackouts" (27 July 2006) about California and New York blackouts and his 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 N. Rothbard, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1995
Historical examination of the evolution of the United States Civil Service and attempts to reform it, from its beginnings through the early 20th century
Bureaucracy is necessarily hierarchical, first because of the Iron Law of Oligarchy, and secondly because bureaucracy grows by adding more subordinate layers ... in a rule-bound bureaucracy seniority is often blithely adopted as a proxy for merit. Increasing seniority, then, leads to promotion to higher ranks ... 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 Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., 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 ... 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
[A] certain instinct of orderliness and of self-preservation ... enables multitudes ... to get along after a fashion ... 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 is as impossible to move freely in one's daily life as it is to saunter or hasten while keeping step in a procession.
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
16. About how many laws do U.S. legislative bodies, from city councils to Congress, enact each year ...? ... 19. About how much do government regulations cost Americans each year ...? ... 16. According to the late Henry Hazlitt, U.S. legislative bodies enact some 150,000 new laws a year. Estimate is from the 1970s. There's no reason to suppose this number would be lower. Indeed, ... the number seems likely to be higher ... 19. 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! ... Unfortunately, however, government bureaucracies inherently refuse to retreat from any extension of power they have assumed and are exercising.
In Defense of Bank Deposits: An Open Letter to Professor Omarova, by George Selgin, 12 Oct 2021
Criticizes The People's Ledger: How to Democratize Money and Finance the Economy (2020) by Saule T. Omarova
For although commercial bankers often err in deciding who to lend to, I believe they are far less likely to do so than a body of government-appointed bureaucrats ... Government bureaucrats ... can usually make bad loans with impunity, or at least without facing any pecuniary losses ...central bankers' lending and investment decisions ... are likely to be heavily influenced by political considerations ... that could prevent even the most savvy and well-intentioned bureaucrats from investing people's savings in ways far removed from those in accord with their long-run best interests.
Ludwig von Mises, socialism's greatest enemy, by Jim Powell, 2000
Lengthy biographical essay on Mises, including details on Menger and Böhm-Bawerk; alternate version of "Planned Chaos" chapter of The Triumph of Liberty (2000)
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."
Medicare Rx Reform: The Road to Medical Serfdom, by Sheldon Richman, Health Freedom Watch, 23 Jun 2003
Criticizes the proposed (and later passed) addition of prescription drug coverage to Medicare and predicts the eventual nationalization of health care
This story is disturbing—and ominous ... Are similar restrictions in store for [seniors]? Will bureaucrats be making rules about what drugs can be taken, for what ailments, in what manner, and administered by whom? There is every reason to think so. When government pays, government controls. And controls tend to expand ... Regardless of how the government provides the coverage, a bureaucracy will gain the power to set the terms for the sale of medicine. When insurance companies and managed-care organizations are dependent on government checks, government officials can call the tune.
Related Topics: Health Care, Prices
The Pretense of Regulatory Knowledge, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 3 Oct 2008
Written shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, amidst calls for "re-regulation" of financial markets, contrasts regulation and central planning vs. the market discipline
Does this mean no one should be permitted to ... trade ... before the regulators understand it? ... Everyone would be held down to the level of bureaucrats who have no incentive, much less ability, to spot promising innovations ... Calling regulators bureaucrats is not just an insult; it's also a description. Bureaucrats are not in the profit-and-loss game ... They don't gain financially from producing value, and they have no capital at risk. As we've learned from the [FDA], 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 to the welfare bureaucracy
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 ... [T]he 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
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 a "complete separation of health and state"
[T]he delusional left ... imagine that if most health care were ... administered by the state, [all] people ... would have equal access. 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 ... [I]n these times, the case for bureaucracy is even more obviously incorrect.
Sophie Scholl: A Life of Courage, by Wendy McElroy, Freedom Daily, 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.
Speaking to Nonlibertarians, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 11 Jul 2014
Suggests an approach by which libertarians can try to persuade others of the undesirability of government-provided services and the benefits of free markets
Bureaucrats face perverse incentives compared with those faced by participants in freed markets. The officials who run government agencies have no money at risk, and the people (as taxpayers) have no choice but to put up with them ... Moreover, government agencies are easily subject to regulatory capture, by which the well-connected among the regulated influence or control the regulators ... Real protection would be found in truly worker-based organizations whose rules were not written by a Washington bureaucracy to accommodate the insiders.
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.