The problem of self-perpetuating bureacracy

In the movie Wall-E, the little robot had a task, and it did the task, long after the task’s necessity had passed.  Like a funded bureaucrat, Wall-E just kept going and going and going.

In California, the Department of Transportation was given a mandate and a task, and now, long after the money has gone and the efforts proven fruitless, it’s still going and going and going, sucking up nonexistent funds and making expensive and pointless changes (emphasis mine):

In hopes of luring the endangered steelhead trout into the Santa Monica Mountains, California’s transportation agency is planning to spend $935,000 to pave over part of a popular beach with cement and boulders to build a freeway of sorts for fish.

The project is the latest, yet far from the most unusual, steelhead recovery attempt by government agencies that have spent millions of dollars on concrete fish ladders, cameras, fishways and other contraptions to allow seagoing trout to spawn in Southern California streams.

The problem, even some conservationists say, is that there is little evidence construction efforts since the 1980s have done anything except absorb taxpayer dollars. The work to save the species has led to about a dozen concrete fishways at a cost of more than $16.7 million.

A $1 million fish ladder — a structure designed to allow fish to migrate upstream over a barrier — may cost $7.5 million in stimulus funds to rebuild. Another fish ladder would require fish to leap 8 feet to reach it. Studies alone for replacing a third ladder have cost an estimated $3 million.

Read the rest here. Taxpayers and steelheads alike are weeping.

The above is a perfect example of the problems inherent in vesting too much power in government.  I’m perfectly sure that the various individuals involved in the project are good people.  Nevertheless, the bureaucracy for which they work has taken on a life of its own.  For these people to secure their jobs, they have to just keep working.  As long as they “look busy,”* they’ll keep getting funding, regardless of the fact that their task is pointless and costly.  Government never shrinks; it just grows.

How much better it would have been to have created a goal, and then tasked the marketplace with achieving that goal.


*In my family, the phrase “looka busy” ties in to a very bad old joke my Dad used to tell, which is why I put “look busy” in quotation marks.  Here’s the joke, and please pardon the pathetic 1960s Italian-style accent that’s a part of the joke:

On a hot summer’s day, two Italian monks are working in desultory fashion along the roadside, pulling weeks.  Suddenly, the first monk gets a look of wonderment on his face.  “Hey!  Looka there.  Itsa Jesus Christ himself, a-walking to us.”  The second monk grabs his hoe and replies.  “Don’t just standa there.  Looka busy.”

See, I told you it was bad.  I was a little girl when I first remember Daddy telling it, and he spent an inordinate amount of time explaining to me the whole principle of looking busy around the boss.  I think that’s why the joke stuck in my brain.

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    Hook, line and sink the economy.  Guests and fish stink after 3 days, but after almost 30 years, it’s a definite stench.

  • suek

    I’m currently reading “48 Liberal Lies About American History” by Larry Schweikart.  Lie # 33 is titled “Native Americans Were Great Environmentalists While White Settlers Destroyed the Buffalo”, and among other private preservation efforts, mentions the YO Game Ranch in Texas which presently has some 50 exotic game animals available, and “has more blackbuck antelope than exist in all their native lands in India and Pakistan”  It pretty soundly condemns governmental efforts to preserve the buffalo.   Lie #35 is titled ” ‘Robber Barons’  Pillaged the Land and Destroyed the Environment”.  Very interesting facts about Weyerhauser, and Rockefeller and their influence on our economy.  Weyerhauser produced more trees than he cut (in fact, I think that even today, Weyerhauser Industries logs entirely off their own properties – no publicly owned land – due to the fact that they plant and harvest in an environmentally sustainable fashion – in spite of the bad name that environmentalists try to give them).   Rockefeller  probably did more to “Save the Whales” than all the Eco-terrorists out there today.  His goal was to produce an energy source that would be affordable for the poor man… and he did.  And as a result, he produced kerosene that could be sold at 1/6 the price of whale oil which resulted in the end of the whale hunting which was the source of the whale oil that was the prime source of energy at that time.
    Interesting book.   You should read what he has to say about the FDA…!
    In any case…it pretty much condemns virtually all the environmental efforts by the government as being expensive and ineffective – and total failures when compared to private enterprise to achieve the same end.  And that in about 6-10 pages!

  • jj

    Taxpayers and steelheads alike are weeping.
    The problem is, you California designated victims (i.e., taxpayers) aren’t weeping at all.  You bend over and take it – and take it, and take it, and take it… ad nauseaum. I have encountered passive populations before, but Californians defy belief.  Howard Jarvis is gone, somebody else is going to have to put down their cell phone, latte,  and ipod, get up on their hind legs and get pissed! Forget “weeping” – though that at least would be a start – and begin to put and end to some of this BS.
    I don’t mean to be mean, California – but you’re tiring the rest of us out.  It looks like every state in the union has a real shot at making some actual changes this November – but California will be same old excrement, apparently forever.

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