Mises’ Bureaucracy, in One-Syllable Words

Bureaucracy, by Ludwig von Mises, summarized in one-syllable words:

Folks on both the left and the right claim to hate the thing this book is named for. The word has rude tinge to it. The gripes are that they’re slow, with lots of fault in how they’re run, and who they’re run by: lots old guys — way more than there ought to be.

Yet they keep on their path of growth. Strange, right? Do they even know what it is that they’re mad at? I don’t think they know. But I know what’s got their goat. Read on to find out.

More than one way to run a firm

Say you want to make a group that does good things. How can you judge their work? Two ways: 1. How much cash they make. Or 2. How well they stick to some rules you made up.

All told, cash is the best tool to judge a group has done well — most of the time. Like, you don’t want cops to choose which case to solve based on how much cash they can earn from it. Or think of a firm whose whole point is to feed the poor. Some firms must be judged on rules, and that’s fine.

States and Big Firms: Are They the Same?

A firm that works with cash makes all its choices based on how much cash it thinks it can make. Who it hires, who it fires, who it takes pay from, and so on. If the boss needs to hire a guy or gal to watch and own a part of his firm, he knows that that guy or gal will know that the more cash they make for the firm, the more cash the firm will have to grow and pay them out.

Not so with kings. A king rules with an steel fist, and if he gives some part of his realm to a prince, that prince will rule in the same way. Once the prince gets some force, he has no need for the king — and the king must watch out for any hints of a coup.

The new state, with its deign for kings, claims to reign through the yea or nay of folks who live close by. This, they love to say, leads to less cruel rules. “The rules are strict but fair,” they say. “If you don’t like them, just vote to change them.”

We know this is not how it works: the people who run these state rule firms got their jobs not through their smarts and wits, so much as their skill to brown their nose. These guys, in turn, choose to hire those who they think are most like them, in that they will not rock the boat. To earn and keep such jobs, it is what you say, who you’re seen with, and how you act in front of the press that seals your luck.

As a rule, it’s not a fluke that they are run by old guys who are not, shall we say, known to be brave or wild (though some of whom are quite smart): they’ve had to bide their time, wait their turn, live their lives with the zeal and flair of a man stuck in line to post his mail.

At least the rules are the same for all, right?

All rules can be read and thought of and put in to force in lots of ways. In fact, each guy has his own way to think and put a rule to force. This can’t be helped.

These days, the state has come to own more and more of what used to be owned by firms. Thus, more of our lives is based on this or that state rule. We’re stuck with firms that have to spend more and more of their time (and cash) to keep up with all the new rules set out for them by the dudes who work for the state (each one of whom, as you know, can and will have their own view of how to do their job).

State rules hurt firm both big and small, but small guys are hurt the most. Big firms can spare the costs to track all the rules, and as such they have to write their own rules for their own staff. That’s why some think all big firms must be based on rules, but this is wrong.

A World Based on Strict Rules Hurts the Youth

To work in one of these state firms is the dream of lots of folks. But in a place where state rules have, in a big way, seized free choice, the youth more than the rest will want these jobs. They pay well, and the jobs are for life. In a place that’s been gripped by such firms, the teens have no hopes than to work for the state. They march and shout for their turn at the helm, for new rules, and for the olds to step aside.

This is what makes life there so sad: the youth can’t find work, nor can they save, nor can they take on risks to serve their kin and folk — lest they can earn a grant from an old man of the state. It should not be a shock that at some point, youths will choose to shun all rules — be they to do with laws, sex, or just how to be nice. It’s the one way they can feel in charge of their own fate.

What Can We Do?

How we view the world is not set in stone. Our thoughts can change, and there are lots of folks who try to get us to think one way. The state knows this, and spends large sums to get you to see things its way, and to cede what you own to it. So long as this keeps on, we will inch more and more a world where we all must fall in with the strict rules of the state.

But it need not be so. Change the minds of our friends, and their friends. Put up a fight when the state wants to own some new thing or firm. You can choose your own fate.


A one paragraph summary

Firms can be set up in one of two ways: live or die by the cash they earn when they sell their wares at a price; or how good they stick to some made up rules when there is no price they can charge. Both kinds of firms have a place: most things should have a price, but it won’t make sense for soup halls to charge. As the state starts to own more and more of the goods and firms in the world, we will all have to live our lives with strict rules in place. This trend will hurt firms and teens the most, plus the way all of us think, talk, and choose.


See also:

Human Action in One-Syllable Words and Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth in One-Syllable Words