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Default Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy is the structure and set of regulations in place to control activity, usually in large organizations and government. As opposed to adhocracy, it is represented by standardized procedure (rule-following) that dictates the execution of most or all processes within the body, formal division of powers, hierarchy, and relationships. In practice the interpretation and execution of policy can lead to informal influence.

Bureaucracy is a concept in sociology and political science referring to the way that the administrative execution and enforcement of legal rules are socially organized. Four structural concepts are central to any definition of bureaucracy:

1.a well-defined division of administrative labor among persons and offices,
2.a personnel system with consistent patterns of recruitment and stable linear careers,
3.a hierarchy among offices, such that the authority and status are differentially distributed among actors, and
4.formal and informal networks that connect organizational actors to one another through flows of information and patterns of cooperation.
Examples of everyday bureaucracies include governments, armed forces, corporations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), hospitals, courts, ministries and schools.

While the concept as such existed at least from the early forms of nationhood in ancient times, the word "bureaucracy" itself stems from the word "bureau", used from the early 18th century in Western Europe not just to refer to a writing desk, but to an office, i.e., a workplace, where officials worked. The original French meaning of the word bureau was the baize used to cover desks. The term bureaucracy came into use shortly before the French Revolution of 1789, and from there rapidly spread to other countries. The Greek suffix - kratia or kratos - means "power" or "rule".

In a letter of July 1, 1790, the German Baron von Grimm declared: "We are obsessed by the idea of regulation, and our Masters of Requests refuse to understand that there is an infinity of things in a great state with which a government should not concern itself." Jean Claude Marie Vincent de Gournay sometimes used to say, "We have an illness in France which bids fair to play havoc with us; this illness is called bureaumania." Sometimes he used to refer to a fourth or fifth form of government under the heading of "bureaucracy".

In another letter of July 15, 1765 Baron Grimm wrote also, "The real spirit of the laws in France is that bureaucracy of which the late Monsieur de Gournay used to complain so greatly; here the offices, clerks, secretaries, inspectors and intendants are not appointed to benefit the public interest, indeed the public interest appears to have been established so that offices might exist."[1]

This quote refers to a traditional controversy about bureaucracy, namely the perversion of means and ends so that means become ends in themselves, and the greater good is lost sight of; as a corollary, the substitution of sectional interests for the general interest. The suggestion here is that, left uncontrolled, the bureaucracy will become increasingly self-serving and corrupt, rather than serving society.

Perhaps the early example of a bureaucrat is the scribe, who first arose as a professional on the early cities of Sumer. The Sumerian script was so complicated that it required specialists who had trained for their entire lives in the discipline of writing to manipulate it. These scribes could wield significant power, as they had a total monopoly on the keeping of records and creation of inscriptions on monuments to kings.

In later, larger empires like Achaemenid Persia, bureaucracies quickly expanded as government expanded and increased its functions. In the Persian Empire, the central government was divided into administrative provinces led by satraps. The satraps were appointed by the Shah to control the provinces. In addition, a general and a royal secretary were stationed in each province to supervise troop recruitment and keep records, respectively. The Achaemenid Great Kings also sent royal inspectors to tour the empire and report on local conditions.

The most modernesque of all ancient bureaucracies, however, was the Chinese bureaucracy. During the chaos of the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States, Confucius recognized the need for a stable system of administrators to lend good governance even when the leaders were inept. Chinese bureaucracy, first implemented during the Qin dynasty but under more Confucian lines under the Han, calls for the appointment of bureaucratic positions based on merit via a system of examinations. Although the power of the Chinese bureaucrats waxed and waned throughout China's long history, the imperial examination system lasted as late as 1905, and modern China still employs a formidable bureaucracy in its daily workings.

Modern bureaucracies arose as the government of states grew larger during the modern period, and especially following the Industrial Revolution. Tax collectors, perhaps the most reviled of all bureaucrats, became increasingly necessary as states began to take in more and more revenue, while the role of administrators increased as the functions of government multiplied. Along with this expansion, though, came the recognition of the corruption and nepotism often inherent within the managerial system, leading to civil service reform on a large scale in many countries towards the end of the 19th century.

In Karl Marx's and Friedrich Engels's theory of historical materialism, the historical origin of bureaucracy is to be found in four sources: religion, the formation of the state, commerce and technology.

Thus, the earliest bureaucracies consisted of castes of religious clergy, officials and scribes operating various rituals, and armed functionaries specifically delegated to keep order. In the historical transition from primitive egalitarian communities to a civil society divided into social classes and estates, beginning from about 10,000 years ago, authority is increasingly centralized in, and enforced by a state apparatus existing separately from society. This state formulates, imposes and enforces laws, and levies taxes, giving rise to an officialdom enacting these functions. Thus, the state mediates in conflicts among the people and keeps those conflicts within acceptable bounds; it also organizes the defense of territory. Most importantly, the right of ordinary people to carry and use weapons of force becomes increasingly restricted; in civil society, forcing other people to do things becomes increasingly the legal right of the state authorities only.[2]

But the growth of trade and commerce adds a new, distinctive dimension to bureaucracy, insofar as it requires the keeping of accounts and the processing/recording of transactions, as well as the enforcement of legal rules governing trade. If resources are increasingly distributed by prices in markets, this requires extensive and complex systems of record-keeping, management and calculation, conforming to legal standards. Eventually, this means that the total amount of work involved in commercial administration outgrows the total amount of work involved in government administration. In modern capitalist society, private sector bureaucracy is larger than government bureaucracy, if measured by the number of administrative workers in the division of labor as a whole. Some corporations nowadays have a turnover larger than the national income of whole countries, with large administrations supervising operations.

A fourth source of bureaucracy Marxists have commented on inheres in the technologies of mass production, which require many standardized routines and procedures to be performed. Even if mechanization replaces people with machinery, people are still necessary to design, control, supervise and operate the machinery. The technologies chosen may not be the ones that are best for everybody, but which create incomes for a particular class of people or maintain their power. This type of bureaucracy is nowadays often called a technocracy, which owes its power to control over specialized technical knowledge or control over critical information.

In Marx's theory, bureaucracy rarely creates new wealth by itself, but rather controls, co-ordinates and governs the production, distribution and consumption of wealth. The bureaucracy as a social stratum derives its income from the appropriation of part of the social surplus product of human labor. Wealth is appropriated by the bureaucracy by law through fees, taxes, levies, tributes, licensing etc.

Bureaucracy is therefore always a cost to society, but this cost may be accepted insofar as it makes social order possible, and maintains it by enforcing the rule of law. Nevertheless there are constant conflicts about this cost, because it has the big effect on the distribution of incomes; all producers will try to get the maximum return from what they produce, and minimize administrative costs. Typically, in epochs of strong economic growth, bureaucracies proliferate; when economic growth declines, a fight breaks out to cut back bureaucratic costs.[citation needed]

Whether or not a bureaucracy as a social stratum can become a genuine ruling class depends greatly on the prevailing property relations and the mode of production of wealth. In capitalist society, the state typically lacks an independent economic base, finances many activities on credit, and is heavily dependent on levying taxes as a source of income. Therefore, its power is limited by the costs which private owners of the productive assets will tolerate.[citation needed] If, however, the state owns the means of production itself, defended by military power, the state bureaucracy can become much more powerful, and act as a ruling class or power elite. Because in that case, it directly controls the sources of new wealth, and manages or distributes the social product. This is the subject of Marxist theories of bureaucratic collectivism.

Marx himself however never theorized this possibility in detail, and it has been the subject of much controversy among Marxists. The core organizational issue in these disputes concerns the degree to which the administrative allocation of resources by government authorities and the market allocation of resources can achieve the social goal of creating a more free, just and prosperous society. Which decisions should be made by whom, at what level, so that an optimal allocation of resources results? This is just as much a moral-political issue as an economic issue.

Central to the Marxian concept of socialism is the idea of workers' self-management, which assumes the internalization of a morality and self-discipline among people that would make bureaucratic supervision and control redundant, together with a drastic reorganization of the division of labor in society. Bureaucracies emerge to mediate conflicts of interest on the basis of laws, but if those conflicts of interest disappear (because resources are allocated directly in a fair way), bureaucracies would also be redundant.

Marx's critics are however skeptical of the feasibility of this kind of socialism, given the continuing need for administration and the rule of law, as well as the propensity of people to put their own self-interest before the communal interest. That is, the argument is that self-interest and the communal interest might never coincide, or, at any rate, can always diverge significantly.

Max Weber
Max Weber has probably been one of the most influential users of the word in its social science sense. He is well-known for his study of bureaucratization of society; many aspects of modern public administration go back to him; a classic, hierarchically organized civil service of the continental type is if perhaps mistakenly called Weberian civil service several different years between 1818 and 1860, prior to Weber's birth in 1864.

Weber described the ideal type bureaucracy in positive terms, considering it to be a more rational and efficient form of organization than the alternatives that preceded it, which he characterized as charismatic domination and traditional domination. According to his terminology, bureaucracy is part of legal domination. However, he also emphasized that bureaucracy becomes inefficient when a decision must be adopted to an individual case.

According to Weber, the attributes of modern bureaucracy include its impersonality, concentration of the means of administration, a leveling effect on social and economic differences and implementation of a system of authority that is practically indestructible.

Weber's analysis of bureaucracy concerns:

the historical and administrative reasons for the process of bureaucratization (especially in the Western civilisation)
the impact of the rule of law upon the functioning of bureaucratic organisations
the typical personal orientation and occupational position of a bureaucratic officials as a status group
the most important attributes and consequences of bureaucracy in the modern world
A bureaucratic organization is governed by the following seven principles:

1.official business is conducted on a continuous basis
2.official business is conducted with strict accordance to the following rules:
1.the duty of each official to do certain types of work is delimited in terms of impersonal criteria
2.the official is given the authority necessary to carry out his assigned functions
3.the means of coercion at his disposal are strictly limited and conditions of their use strictly defined
3.every official's responsibilities and authority are part of a vertical hierarchy of authority, with respective rights of supervision and appeal
4.officials do not own the resources necessary for the performance of their assigned functions but are accountable for their use of these resources
5.official and private business and income are strictly separated
6.offices cannot be appropriated by their incumbents (inherited, sold, etc.)
7.official business is conducted on the basis of written documents
A bureaucratic official:

is personally free and appointed to his position on the basis of conduct
exercises the authority delegated to him in accordance with impersonal rules, and his or her loyalty is enlisted on behalf of the faithful execution of his official duties
appointment and job placement are dependent upon his or her technical qualifications
administrative work is a full-time occupation
work is rewarded by a regular salary and prospects of advancement in a lifetime career
An official must exercise his or her judgment and his or her skills, but his or her duty is to place these at the service of a higher authority; ultimately he/she is responsible only for the impartial execution of assigned tasks and must sacrifice his or her personal judgment if it runs counter to his or her official duties.

Weber's work has been continued by many, like Robert Michels with his Iron Law of Oligarchy.

As Max Weber himself noted, real bureaucracy will be less optimal and effective than his ideal type model. Each of Weber's seven principles can degenerate:[citation needed]

Competences can be unclear and used contrary to the spirit of the law; sometimes a decision itself may be considered more important than its effect;
Nepotism, corruption, political infighting and other degenerations can counter the rule of impersonality and can create a recruitment and promotion system not based on meritocracy but rather on oligarchy;
Even a non-degenerated bureaucracy can be affected by common problems:

Overspecialization, making individual officials not aware of larger consequences of their actions
Rigidity and inertia of procedures, making decision-making slow or even impossible when facing some unusual case, and similarly delaying change, evolution and adaptation of old procedures to new circumstances;
A phenomenon of group thinking - zealotry, loyalty and lack of critical thinking regarding the organisation which is perfect and always correct by definition, making the organisation unable to change and realise its own mistakes and limitations;
Disregard for dissenting opinions, even when such views suit the available data better than the opinion of the majority;
A phenomenon of Catch-22 (named after a famous book by Joseph Heller) - as bureaucracy creates more and more rules and procedures, their complexity rises and coordination diminishes, facilitating creation of contradictory and recursive rules
Not allowing people to use common sense, as everything must be as is written by the law.
In the most common examples bureaucracy can lead to the treatment of individual human beings as impersonal objects. This process has been criticised by many philosophers and writers (Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Hannah Arendt) and satirized in the comic strip Dilbert,TV show The Office, Franz Kafka's novels The Trial and The Castle , Douglas Adams' story The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and the films Brazil and Office Space.

Michel Crozier
Michel Crozier wrote The Bureaucratic Phenomenon[3] (1964) as a re-examination of Weber's (1922) concept of the efficient ideal bureaucracy in the light of the way that bureaucratic organizations had actually developed. Where as for Weber, bureaucracy was the ultimate expression of a trend toward the efficient, rational organization, Crozier examined bureaucracy as a form of organization that evokes:

"... the slowness, the ponderousness, the routine, the complication of procedures and the maladapted responses of the bureaucratic organization to the needs which they should satisfy" (Crozier, 1964, p 3)

He examined a number of culturally specific examples of bureaucratic organizations in an attempt to understand why bureaucracies so often became dysfunctional.

After reviewing the different ways in which the term is used, Crozier describes the sense in which he uses the term bureaucracy thus:

"A bureaucratic organization is an organization that can not correct its behaviour by learning from its errors" (Crozier, 1964, p 187)


"... not only a system that does not correct its behaviour in view of its errors; it is also too rigid to adjust, without crises, to the transformations that the accelerated evolution of the industrial society makes more and more imperative" (Crozier, 1964, p 198)

In essence, Crozier presents an argument against the Tayloristic notion of 'the one best way' to organize an activity and Weber's view of bureaucracy as the ultimate expression of rationality and efficiency. He notes that in 1964 'advanced organizations' had already:

"... been obliged to discard completely the notion of the one best way [and] are beginning to understand that the illusion of perfect rationality has to long persisted, weakening the possibilities of action by insisting on rigorous logic and immediate coherence" (Crozier, 1964, p 159)

From his analysis of his case studies, he develops a theory of bureaucratic dysfunction based on his observations. Although he later extends his ideas to cover other settings, the two main cases on which he bases his theory are both located in France: "The Clerical Agency" and "The Industrial Monopoly". Crozier chose these examples not only because he was French, but also because he claims that socially and culturally France has developed in such a way that it created organizations that closely resembled the Weberian notion of an ideal bureaucracy.

His theory is based on the observation that in situations where almost every outcome has been decided in advance according to a set of impersonal and predefined rules and regulations, the only way in which people are able to gain some control over their lives is to exploit 'zones of uncertainty' where the outcomes are not already known.

"[an] unintended consequence of rationalisation [is] the predictability of ones behaviour is the sure test of ones own inferiority" (Crozier, 1964, p158)

For Crozier, organizations are not autonomous entities but social constructs that are:

"... man made and socially created [and] the indirect result of the power struggles within the organization" (Crozier, 1964, p 162)

Attacking both the rationalists and the human relations school for ignoring the role that such power struggles play in the shaping of an organization he argues that organizational relations are in fact a series of strategic games where the protagonists attempt either to exploit any areas of discretion for their own ends, or to prevent others from gaining an advantage:

"Each group fights to preserve and enlarge the area upon which it has some discretion, attempts to limit its dependence upon other groups and accept such dependence only insofar as it is a safeguard ... [preferring] retreatisim if there is no other choice but submission" (Crozier, 1964, p 156)

The result of this is that goals are subverted and the organization becomes locked into a series of inward looking power struggles. Thus, paradoxically, the result of attempting to design an efficient organization that runs on rational and impersonal lines is to create a situation where the opposite to is true.

Theory of bureaucratic dysfunction
Crozier argues that:

"... the bureaucratic system of organization is primarily characterized by the existence of a series of relatively stable vicious circles that stem from centralisation and impersonality" (Crozier, 1964, p 193)

He outlines four such 'vicious circles' that he observed in the organizations he studied.

The development of impersonal rules
In an attempt to be rational and egalitarian, bureaucracies attempt to come up with a set of abstract impersonal rules to cover all possible events. Crozier gives the example of the concours (competitive examinations) which mean that, one the exams are passed, promotion become simply a matter of seniority and avoiding damaging conflicts. The result, he argues, is that hierarchical relationships decline in importance or disappear completely which means that higher level in the bureaucracy have effectively lost the power to govern the lower levels.

The centralization of decisions
If one wishes to maintain the impersonal nature of decision making, it is necessary to ensure that decision are made at a level where those who make them are protected from the influence of those who are affected by them. The effect of this is that problems are resolved by people who have no direct knowledge of the problems they are called upon to solve, and so, priority is given to the resolution of internal political problems instead. In this case, the power to influence events over which one has direct experience is lost and it is passed to some impartial central body.

The isolation of strata and group pressure within strata
The suppression of the possibility of exercising discretion among superiors and the removal of opportunities for bargaining from subordinates results in an organization that consists of a series of isolated strata. The notional equality within the strata becomes the only defence for the individual against demands form other parts of the organization and allows groups some degree of control over their own domain. The result is very strong per group pressure to conform to the norms of the strata regardless of individual beliefs or the wider goals of the organization.

The development of parallel power relationships
It is impossible to account for every eventuality, even by the constant addition of impersonal rules and the progressive centralisation of decision making; consequently, individuals or groups that control the remaining zones of uncertainty, wield a considerable amount of power. This can lead to the creation of parallel power structures that give certain groups or individuals in certain situations, disproportionate power in an otherwise regulated and egalitarian organization. Once again, this can lead to decisions being made based on factors separate from the overall goals of the organization.
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