regarding bureaucracy

Part of frustration of cold fusion advocates is due to various bureaucracies or rather, the reaction of various bureaucracies to the claims of cold fusion. Therefore, I think it would interesting to note what a bureaucracy is, so that people can understand how bureaucracies work (or don’t work), and thereby how to engage with them more successfully.

A bureaucracy is a means of determining how resources, particularly economic and personnel, are delegated for non-economic values.   This is in contrast to a free market economy, which determines according to the market, how resources are distributed.  Most of what we have is a mixed economy, utilizing to some extent the free market, but also through regulation and other forms of government intervention, introducing non-economic values as well.

Probably the best known example of a bureaucracy that everyone knows a little about is a police department.  A police department is part of bureaucracy that determines justice in a practical manner.  A police department enforces the law (as opposed to the whims of a monarch or tyrant), but it does so with restrictions.  These restrictions not only apply to the manner in which the police department goes about its investigations, both in terms of focus and method, but also they apply to the limits to which the police department is willing (resource-wise) to go in their efforts solving a crime.

Forensic evidence specialists are not employed for simple burgleries.  The department may go into overdrive to catch a child abductor, but not a pick pocket.  We may think of justice as absolute, but in practice, there are relative levels of justice.  Resources are rationed and used according to legal and humanitarian priorities.  Anyone who has faced a simple break-in, is made aware that while there is much the police department could do (forensics), there is little that the police department will do, and given their limitations, that really is how it should be.  The motto is “to serve and protect,” but that is the attitude towards society as a whole, not necessarily toward the individual.

The police department is restricted in its focus to enforcement of the law as written up in statutes and through precedent, it also is restricted in the manner it does so through Miranda laws, search and seizure laws and other codes of police conduct, and on a more abstract level it is restricted by codes of ethics and a long tradition.  Most bureaucracies have that layering of rules that deal with others (external), with themselves (internal) and have a implicit or explicit code of ethics and a tradition.  The proper leader for a bureaucracy is not someone who is brilliant and innovative (although they may be brilliant in a fashion), but is someone who is steeped in that long tradition and therefore, can make incremental changes in it, changing it, but keeping the organization in line with tradition.  For a bureaucracy, change in itself is not a virtue, but rather is a normal process which is is only adopted when necessity calls for it.  Necessity is dictated by the internal rules of the organization, not by public need, although that in time can come to influence the organization as well.

The proper role of the police department, and indeed, in any bureaucracy,  is not in promoting innovation, but rather in providing a stable steady state coherent with the values in which people can get on with their lives.  The burden of proof for new ideas is on whether the bureaucracy’s criteria for introduction into its system, has been met.  For familiar situations, the rank and file can make a decision, for unfamiliar situations, if a decision is problematic, then it needs to go up the ladder, perhaps all the way to the top of the bureaucracy, or to an oversight commission.

The head of bureaucracy is naturally a very conservative individual.  By that I do not mean politically conservative, but rather they are an individual who has grown up through that bureaucracy, been steeped in its values, and shaped by its evolution.  A union representative is an example of someone who is probably more politically on the left, but quite conservative by virtue of the tradition and values of their organization.  The goal of a bureaucratic leader is to make changes where change is necessary, keeping in mind the philosophy of ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,’ and ‘if you do not understand why something is there, then leave it alone,’ as opposed to the radical reformer who believes that ‘if you do not understand why something is there, then get rid of it, trim it away.’  This conservative attitude of leaving it alone avoids cutting away at the structure of the bureaucracy too freely and having unintended consequences come up and bite one on the back side.

All throughout bureaucracies, there is a cost/benefit analysis that occurs.  In a specific case, whether an expenditure is warranted as a means to achieve organizational goals depends on a cost/benefit analysis.  Again, this analysis is not so much in terms of what society wants, needs or deserves, but in terms of the societal values made concrete in the organization.  This is necessary in order inhibit undue influence on the process.  The criminal should not determine the law, even though he does have the most active interest in it.  Nor does the student determine the educational system, nor for their respective fields the employer, nor miner, nor the welfare recipient.  The scientist may be the greatest scientist alive in his field, but he still has to convince professional organizations, publications and the general public of that fact.  That is how a bureaucratic system works, ideally.

Realistically, the bureaucratic system not only says who is in, it also says who is out.  Bureaucrats are gatekeepers as well, they have opinions about the worthiness or the worthlessness of people at their gate.  It should be that they view anyone who has not gained entry in a neutral fashion.  Those inside are, by virtue of having gotten inside, a “plus,” and those outside should be a “zero,” neither plus nor minus.

Truth be told though, some people are able to get in through the backdoor, a student of an esteemed professor (especially one reviewing for a publication) is able to get in more easily.   Some individuals are favored because they have good credentials in something entirely unrelated.  The Sokal affair illustrates this nicely, where a physicist got something accepted in a postmodern journal, and then after it was published, denounced his own work as physics/postmodern technobabble crap.  He showed by his actions that he should not have been let in (and that was his goal achieved by showing that his former submission was crap).

On the flip side, there are some people that just don’t look right.  They don’t met pre-conceived notions about what science or a scientist is, they don’t know or care to play the bureaucrat’s game, and frankly, the bureaucrat is not interested in playing their game either.  The bureaucrat knows that if he gives someone the benefit of the doubt, it can come back and bite him when things go wrong.  On the other hand, if he excludes a good idea or article, or whatnot, it won’t cost him and it will come back eventually in some other form.  After isn’t that what progress says?  For a commercial entity, there is a profit motive to spur them on.  On the other hand, it is in the bureaucrat’s best interests to be a stern gate keeper.  At worst maintaining the status quo becomes its own reward.  The bureaucrat becomes set in maintaining his own niche which if we look at the thing from an “environmental” perspective, maintaining one’s niche is not necessarily all that bad.

Much of this essay is influenced by the thought of Ludwig Von Mises, ‘On Bureaucracy’  Von Mises was an Austrian economist who (unlike Keynes) foresaw the great depression.

9 Replies to “regarding bureaucracy”

  1. Thank you John Francisco.
    This reminds me of the adage
    “A bureaucrat does not get rewarded for making good decisions. He gets punished for making bad decisions. Therefore a successful bureaucrat makes no decisions.”

  2. As always the question after establishing a problem becomes what can be done by scientists to improve the situation.
    The longer a situation continues the more distress and delay is endured.
    Removing barriers to progress is surly as important as the research itself.

  3. The disadvantages of a bureaucracy include:

    Multiplication of administrative functions
    Vertical structure
    Many levels of management
    Much paperwork, routine and “red tape”
    Impersonal officials working to a fixed routine without necessarily exercising intelligent judgement

    As a bureaucracy ages its primary functional objective becomes its own survival, long after the original objective for its creation has been fulfilled, or is effectively being provided by cheaper, faster, more efficient private organizations.

    Bureaucratic structures can discourage creativity and innovation throughout the organization. Organizations bound by rigid controls can also find themselves less able to adapt to changing conditions in the marketplace, industry or legal environment.

    In my opinion, LENR has shown clearly the weakness of bureaucracy. Faulty group think combined with turf protection leads to ossification and disfunction. Bureacracy is more interested in self-protection than function. Lack of adaptation to changing conditions is condoned by an impersonal hierachy which avoids personal responsibility.

    1. I have followed a course on innovation.
      in fact Innovation is only one goal of business, and it is competing with safety.

      If you don’t set rules, there is big risk to break the company.
      However if you set too much rules, you cannot innovate and you die in a safe way.

      what you call bureaucracy is a population in a company who are following well establish rules, are motivated to, and have the culture to fear breaking the rules.

      like life, the balance between those two goals is the secret of good managers, and sometime is just a luck question with a drawinian result, and no justice…

      in this course we learn what are the characteristics of innovators :
      – they are foreigner (in their origin, nationality, industry, education…) so they think differently, and know that in the world there are different way to think about the problem.
      – they have a network of similar people (so they can keep their way to think, and exchange)
      – they are resilient, keep their ideas without submitting to the group, not afraid of being fired.

      there are good quote from S Krivit slides, about science sociology in that post:

      anyway bureaucrat people are useful too, but it should be balanced.
      It remind me a 3 horse bet (French Tiercé) advice :
      play a challenger horse, but for the two other, play the expected winers…

      another business man said me:
      the company is a balance between 3 powers: finance, technical, and sales… each one can kill the company I a know delay (from 2 to 20 years) if they capture the total power.

      put some LENR scientist, one megalomaniac boss, with few conservative engineers and you have… an Hyperion.

    2. I don’t think that anyone is fond of bureaucracy. But my point is that one should try to understand bureaucracy (a constructive, not a confrontational understanding), so that one can develop strategy and tactics in dealing with various bureaucracies that one has to face. There are reasons behind any human behavior, and if one can anticipate those reasons for
      a particular bureaucracy, then it becomes easier for them to give an applicant what he wants.
      Or she, as the case may be.

  4. I predict a Presidential State of the Union Address by the end of September announcing new safe LENR (low energy nuclear reaction) devices now entering the marketplace.

    Brillouin and Ecat – U.S. Defkalion – Europe

    He will also announce LENR as a plank in his platform and that when elected his administration will do everything possible to usher in the Transmutation Era (clean fusion); an end to coal, oil, dirty nuclear, fracking, tar sands, deep sea oil wells, pipelines, deforestation for charcoal production, acid rains, mercury poisoning, global warming, and all the power struggles and wars that such entails.

    Mark my words… the President has little choice… these devices are emerging in the marketplace now… he does know about them… the choice is to grab this opportunity… or let it wash over and past him leaving Obama floundering in the wake of this “game changing” news… not likely; hence my prediction.

    Study these and smile and share the good news.
    Especially with the politicos and acivists you know.
    Or with anyone who feels a bit down on energy.
    End of the Fire Era – We enter the Transmutation Era (LENR, etc.) popularly known as Cold Fusion

    …love Love LOVE Love love…
    Gregory Byron Sprout Amir Goble


    The above was posted to a few facebook sights earlier today.
    Then I sent it to the President in reply to a contribution request… along w/ $5.
    Thanks! Let me know what you think about or do with this.


    1. okay, you have made your campaign spiel (which has nothing to do with the topic of bureaucracy), now you should test it. Sit back and see if your prediction becomes true or false. But in at least your responses to my blogs, _please_ do not bring up Obama (or any other candidate) again, until he actually has something to do with cold fusion or some topic related to cold fusion.

      If I was a betting man, I would put money on Romney saying something positive about cold fusion before Obama does in the coming campaign. Romney has _already_ said something positive about cold fusion, and therefore he might do so again. But I am not a betting man, and I believe in most instances it is morally corrupting. so I am afraid I can’t take your money from you. But I do think that you should create a cost for yourself, which you will have to pay if your prediction does not come true. Consider negative reinforcement.

      The cold fusion site should not, in my opinion, get into the habit of choosing candidates, we should want to work with anyone and everyone who wishes to explore cold fusion. I don’t know if coldfusionnow has non-profit status, but like non-profits, I think that we should stay non-partisan.

      John Francisco

  5. I think the time that slow moving bureaucracies were useful and necessary is over and that everyone would be better off if more incentives for risk taking, balanced with safety of course, were implemented. In the past the time frame between major breakthroughs was decades and before that centuries and in that environment restraint makes perfect sense but now the time frame for relatively similar breakthroughs is years and steadily decreasing. Due to that and the ossification created by rigid bureaucracies they are becoming more and more detrimental as time goes on. Personally I believe this is a self correcting problem and that contemporary bureaucracies will slowly become obsoleted anywhere that is a possibility. One example of a bureaucracy that is slowly being obsoleted and circumvented already is scientific journals with more open source ventures popping up every year, slowly winding their way around the self proclaimed gatekeepers. The last bureaucracies to be bypassed will very likely be Governmental and I would suspect that will sadly not happen for a long time which is really unfortunate because they are probably the bureaucracy least able to deal with the rapidly changing societal and technological landscape that will occur in the next couple of decades.

    1. Interesting, I see us getting into more bureaucracy, not less. As far as incentives for risk taking balanced with safety, I see the two as opposites. Safety should be thought in terms of not just physical safety, but psychological, etc, etc. “Things” are definitely “getting faster.” But as things get faster, people will try to manage that change more, control that change more. Hence, more bureaucracy, not less. Bureaucracy is old as civilization and I doubt that it will be easy to get rid of it. Nor perhaps should we worry about getting rid of it that much. I worry about people getting thrown under the wheels of progress. When one reassembles a clock and finds a few extra parts, should one throw those parts away and hope for the best? I suspect that bureaucracy is an integral part of society. Of course, another side of me says that you may be right, and good riddance to the whole mess.

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