Bureaucracies: Why We Really Do Need Them

Modern societies operate through their formal institutions.  These institutions are run by bureaucracies that carry out the tasks necessary for the functioning of that society. As with aging human bodies that increasingly fail to function, bureaucracies also go into decline. A sure indicator of a society’s impending demise is the breakdown of its bureaucracies.

Like me, you are likely feeling a distinct sense of unease these days as important positions are going unfulfilled in many areas of society. Their absence is beginning to affect our lives. I live on an island north of Seattle and our main mode of transport to the mainland is by ferry. Several times a week, many islanders travel there for important appointments, shopping, and connection to family and friends. In the past, especially in the summer, we might be delayed an hour or two because of rush hour, or because our island is a tourist destination. We accept this because our only other option is to spend a couple of hours driving north to cross a bridge.  Recently, COVID, breakdowns, understaffing and delays have rendered our ferry system unreliable. Often we have to wait several hours, sometimes both coming and going.  The snarls have caused a couple-hour trip to become a day-long event; and for some, the trip has become impossible.

We’ve also noticed that our postal service has become unreliable. Our postman works on average 12 to 13 hours a day to deliver the mail. One driver left recently and no one wants the job, so his route is divided among the remaining carriers.  Recently I read that in Seattle, the highest paid employee in the state is a fireman because he had accumulated so much overtime due to a lack of replacements. Similar situations are occurring for medical staff, particularly nurses, but also doctors and police.  Police departments have their own particular problems.  Not only are they understaffed but they’re attracting racist individuals who enjoy power, particularly over those they consider inferior.

My point here is that when billionaires hoard money, their greed is felt first and foremost by those in essential, altruistic professions. Corporate capitalism doesn’t have a labor shortage; it has a shortage of people who are willing to go along with the fleecing of the lower and middle classes for the benefit of the 1%. The COVID pandemic that drove people out of the workforce opened up the horizon for them to see the treadmill they’ve been on, its costs to their physical and mental health, their family life, and the quality of their lives in general.

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