Double Burdens, Social Inefficiency, and …
The obvious benefit a man gets from his “job”, is money. Many men would work if not paid, but few of us would work in the “job pattern”, if not paid. It turns out, what’s worse, that money brings some “adverse consequences” with it. This “blog” is about a consequence few men would voluntarily accept by itself—and i suspect, few men recognize as “brought on by being paid in money.”
Money invites bureaucratic impositions: If i give my neighbour Olav one or two wheelbarrow loads of red pine branches for Christmas decorations, and six months later he gives me one or two pickup truck box loads of horse manure from behind his stables, for my garden, each of us is getting rid of something he has in surplus. All those branches are worth to me is a very small amount of soil improvement under the pines, if i don’t give them to someone; so i give them to Olav to whom they’re worth much more. It’s an ordinary Christian or charitable thing to do—they are worth much more to him than to me, so i give them to him. Similarly, all that horse manure is worth to Olav, once he has fertilized his own garden, is a bit of a stench in his back yard. It is worth much more to me than to him, so he gives it to me—and-or to some other gardener[s] who also value it.
But if we sold those surplus products of Nature to one another—ah! then! we could be taxed. We could be compelled to keep elaborate records of our dealings. We would lose not only some of the money—the taxes plus perhaps fees paid to accountants and book-keepers to help comply with the bureaucracy—we would also lose some precious time. In fact, i don’t believe either of us would be willing to sell to the other, given the bureaucratic costs of doing so—we give, or “forget it!” I’d rather leave the branches under the trees they grew on, than do all that paperwork.
Government bureaucracies impose—force workers to carry—a double burden: We must pay taxes to support the bureaucrats, and then in addition, we must spend time and money doing the “paperwork” they command us to do. That’s right—a bureaucracy is something that forces the rest of us to pay them to force us to do “paperwork” to their specifications*. It seems hard to believe, that people would freely and democratically choose to have that—to have offices that boss us around at further, high cost to us—doesn’t it?
Yet that’s just what “income tax time” is all about. It’s what the police and much of the school systems are all about, for that matter; and there are others [mostly smaller]. How did we wind up in this predicament?
There’s an old folk saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” To a considerable degree, good intentions were involved when men consented to be administered by a complicated income tax bureaucracy, to send their children to schools run by another bureaucracy, to support a “health care” bureaucracy, a “social assistance” bureaucracy, et cetera ad nausaeum. Also involved were governments whose usual way of solving problems was passing more laws, government bureaucracies which, being staffed by people who like bureaucracies more than the average, recommended forming more bureaucracies when there might have been other, better ways to do the job, and the English-colonial history of Canada, which unlike the United States and France, never rejected the notion of a ruling class. Much has been said in Canada in support of human equality rather than a ruling class—but it has never quite become Public Policy—or why would our Head of State also be Queen of England?
Job-dependence as a mentality contributed to the immensity of bureaucracies today; and most present-day job employees are subject to an employer’s bureaucracy as well as those which we all suffer. During the “glory days of the job”, the third quarter of the 20th Century, jobs provided men who had come home from war, been let go as war industries closed down, and graduated from school during or at the end of war, with a quick way to make a good income and begin adult life as a marriageable employed man. That possibility was much more appealing to most of them, than being a schoolboy, a soldier, or a laid-off war worker. The bureaucracies those jobs “came with” were generally less pervasive than employers’ bureaucracies are today; and thus, something those men were quite willing to put up with for the sake of respectable work at respectable rates of pay.
Today, employers and even labour unions are more bureaucratic than around 1950, and jobs are less appealing… but the habit of submission to bureaucracies has had some 60-65 years of establishment that it didn’t have then. Without the “force of habit”, i doubt the burdensome bureaucracies we suffer today could persist—and very plausibly, they cannot persist very much longer even with it.
An important theme of this “Men Working” series is Social Efficiency. I have argued that full-time employment, with unemployment as the dichotomous “other alternative”, is less efficient than for instance, co-operatives, Hutterites, monasteries, and old-fashioned farm families, and in particular wastes the productivity of children and the old; that commuting to jobs lowers the worker’s overall time efficiency (and has other serious adverse effects); [¿was household size published before this or will it come after?]. Bureaucracies can at times facilitate social efficiency, but more often, they do the opposite.
It’s worth keeping in mind (to go back to the example of “me and Olav”), that while growing pine timber is “producing [or at the least, stewarding] real wealth”, and the branches pruned off those timber pines are a by-product; and while horse manure has real value in raising garden productivity; bureaucracies do not produce subsistence. They confiscate means of subsistence directly or “via money taxation”. The subsistence on which the bureaucrats depend must be produced by the rest of us. If there were no bureaucracies, there would be more people, more main-d’-oeuvre, available to do Real Work. In terms of human subsistence, bureaucracies are inherently inefficient—or worse, they are often counter-efficient.
Brothers, the bureaucracies should have the burden of proof: They should be deemed harmful until their beneficial ‘effects’ are proven to be for real, and significantly greater than their costs.
Meanwhile, if in doubt, work outside rather than inside the “job economy.” Bureaucracy is one more reason to work co-operatively, or even on-your-own, rather than “get a job”… or in other words, “get a job” can be read to demand, “become a cash cow for bureaucracies that don’t themselves produce subsistence.”
* The word is French+Greek [pronounced “Freek”?]: Bureau is French for office [not the place so much as the function], and kratos is Greek for rule [in the sense of command].)
Djilas, Milovan 1957, The New Class. NY: Praeger.
Schumacher, Ernest Fritz 1973. Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. London: Blond and Briggs. (1974, New York: Harper and Row. Cited in a 1974 Abacus edition, London; several other editions exist.)