You might find this hard to believe. As one who has worked with – indeed, alongside – far too many government functionaries, I don’t:
It’s often been a theme here that the State is evil...and it is. (Whether it’s a “necessary evil” is still up for discussion.) But wait: There’s more!
And I will tell you why.
“Senescence begins when growth ends.” – “Lansing’s Law”
“Institutions have their own dynamic, and the dynamic of governments is to grow.” – David Friedman
Government Systems, acting in accordance with the laws of growth, Tend to Expand and Encroach. In encroaching upon their own citizens, they produce Tyranny, and encroaching upon other Government Systems, they engage in Warfare. -- John Gall, Systemantics
A blade which is designed both to shave and to carve, will certainly not shave so well as a razor or carve so well as a carving-knife. An academy of painting, which should also be a bank, would in all probability exhibit very bad pictures and discount very bad bills. A gas company, which should also be an infant-school society, would, we apprehend, light the streets ill and teach the children ill. -- Herbert Spencer, "Over-Legislation"
Apologies for the barrage of quotations, Gentle Reader, but this is a subject upon which much has already been said, and not just by your humble commentator. The problem is putting it together properly, a trial with which anyone who has ever coped with that Satanic torment called customer-assembled furniture will already be familiar.
Any human institution will strive to grow. Indeed, any living thing, whether it’s an individual or a colony organism, will strive to grow, for growth is the sole alternative to death. But growth always comes at a price. The price of growth isn’t always paid by the thing that’s growing.
An institution grows by expanding its sphere of activity, which inevitably involves acquiring personnel and assets. In a competitive ecology, that implies the consumption of other organisms. However, it also implies at least a partial diversion of the personnel and efforts dedicated to the institution’s previous sphere of action.
Every institution has an optimum size. That size is determined by its goals and the context within which it pursues them. But an institution that pursues goals that are unrelated to one another, or worse, which interfere with one another in some way, will carry overheads of personnel and internal protocols that engender costs and inefficiencies that two institutions pursuing those goals separately would not experience. Thus, when an institution reaches its optimum size, it faces a choice:
- Grow beyond that optimum size, whether by acquiring new goals or by expanding beyond its original context, and thus become inefficient;
- Begin to die.
There are no other possibilities.
All other things being equal, over time an inefficient institution will be required to face more efficient competitors. This will compel one of the following responses:
The first of these is obviously undesirable. The second is plausible only for institutions that are capable of surviving the process. The third, while it might not involve flying lead and spurting blood, necessitates further loss of efficiency and must eventuate in recourse to one of the other two.
This is as true for governments as for private companies and associations.
A government, of course, is an institution which has arrogated the privilege of coercing individuals and institutions that lie within its “jurisdiction.” Therefore, it’s capable of suppressing competition. (Indeed, competition between governments is normally called warfare; competition between governments within a “jurisdiction” claimed by more than one of them is civil warfare.) Thus, a government need not be balked by any limit upon its growth other than the purely physical.
But as stated above, and has been confirmed by innumerable historical examples, growth beyond an institution’s optimum size inevitably engenders inefficiency...and the further from its optimum size a government grows, the more inefficient it becomes.
The problem is compounded by the sort of person who works in government, whether as an elected official, an appointee, or a hireling. As I’ve written on several previous occasions, such persons are not primarily interested in providing anything you or I would deem a “public service.” Some service-minded sorts will aspire to such positions, but the institutional dynamic of government makes it improbable that they will remain in them for long, nor will they rise in authority. Note how quasi-authoritarian institutions such as unions exert a “slow down, you’re working too fast” efficiency-damping influence upon their members. The State, a fully authoritarian institution, takes that to its logical conclusion: persons who challenge the anti-service ethics and behavior of their co-workers are forced out, if not subjected to punishment for “whistleblowing.” I submit that we’ve seen quite enough demonstrations of that phenomenon within the tenure of the current administration.
Thus, with no counterbalances and no viable competition that cannot be suppressed by the force at the behest of the State, the State grows without limit: first beyond whatever might be its proper sphere; then through ever increasing levels of inefficiency; finally to complete incompetence. Any task it nominally undertakes is virtually guaranteed never to be accomplished. Indeed, in many cases its “progress” is retrograde: conditions move in the direction opposite to the one it purports to seek.
Robert Conquest’s Third Law is thus established as the supreme operating rule of the State.
Given all the above, which is easily within the mental scope of anyone capable of reading this essay, we should not expect competence from government at any level. Indeed, we must not. Nor is the problem specifically characterological. The laws and dynamics that militate toward this outcome are only intensified by the accession to power of persons of bad character. At this stage in our devolution, you could populate the 88,000 governments of these United States entirely with living saints, and it would make virtually no difference. Hence the title of this piece.
There is no cure but the hoof-and-mouth disease cure. There is no palliative but effective separation of oneself from the State. The Katherine Archuletas of Washington are the dominant lifeforms therein. It could be no other way, for the State is their ecological niche, wherein they are optimally positioned to survive and flourish. We cannot eliminate them without eliminating their habitat.
Think it over.