besides wood-chippers…

I was reading about the current US President’s success in getting hospitals to actually declare up front what procedures will cost. I think if that was translated into books I might well have taken up something cheaper and less potentially destructive, like smoking. Or maybe even heroin…  

Books, when they’re done well, are the cheapest form of entertainment, of travel, or indeed of a euphoric drug that keeps us addicts coming back. That doesn’t mean it works out ‘cheap’ over the long term, or necessarily good for us. It’s a solitary and sedentary pastime.  Okay, probably still better than smoking or heroin. Better than cycling or a Vegan diet, because readers seldom become interminable and sanctimonious bores about books. They’d rather read more, than tell you about it. And the only people they do tell about books tend to be their fellow addicts.

Books – well done ones at least – have a subtle way of entertaining and at the same time getting inside your head and potentially influencing the way people think (ergo the big drive to ‘capture’ publishing by the modern Left. Someone needs to explain the bit about ‘well done’ and ‘entertaining’ and that you catch more flies with honey than bile.). I must admit I love straight escapism, but also enjoy some of the books that make me think. And as often as not – as long as they entertain as well, I get a fair amount of pleasure disagreeing with the author as I do being influenced (Some of Mack Reynolds’s book spring to mind. His ideas on what sport fishermen want out of sport fishing are a hilarious misunderstanding of them).  In some, indeed, the point the author is making is how badly that would work (L Sprague de Camp – Novarian Cycle). 

I’m having the delights of pure rent-seeking rubbed into me (pure: as in no benefit accruing to the target of rent-seeking – as in farmers using a river to transport their goods to market. The local baron puts a chain across the river and charges toll. He didn’t build the river, or improve anything for the farmers. All he does is obstruct, and take a profit.) This is fairly typical of government regulation, and inevitably you will be told they are ‘helping’ you. Various imaginary or very low risk reasons will be concocted to justify this. One of my current one is where the local council with the power vested in them by the state, are protecting my neighbor from our (two people’s worth) sewage treatment wastewater. I live on a farm, a long, long way from a neighbor and we are both well above the wastewater outlet.  The chance of my wastewater getting to a neighbor… would take a Biblical flood. And beside the fact that the poor fellow would be far too busy building an ark to care – the dilution would be hundreds of billions to one. But that doesn’t stop the council extracting hundreds of dollars for doing nothing of any value, and forcing me to spend thousands of dollars to achieve absolutely nothing that I couldn’t for five hundred, and harassing the hell out of me. The designer, plumber, the seller of the specialized bits the designer mandated did give some degree of ‘value’ for their rent (back of an envelope – about the same as trad publishing – where the writer earns around 6-8% on that paperback, and 93-94% go to these other fellows). Of course I don’t actually need any of those, and could achieve the same without them, but their services and goods are worth something, just nothing like what I have to pay — because the government mandates I use them, and pure rent-seekers make sure I do.

It’s something that has bothered me for most of my adult life. I suspect that pure anarchy would be also be very unpleasant. Aside from sewage running into your neighbor’s porch, it’d last about as long as it took one guy to set himself in power and… seek rent. For anarchy to stand a chance you need huge amounts of space (possible in space, perhaps?) and eventually people do need to interact, if only to breed.  But as with all things there has to be something between the extremes.

I’m still battering my way through two books at the moment – and they’re moving along, albeit not as fast as I would like: stress doesn’t help. But my head was toying with writing something relating to my current predicament with rent-seeking and petty bureaucrats, and society.  I was thinking about this when I wrote STARDOGS (what 25 years back) which was before (but not long before) I wrote the first part of SPACE GYPSIES –which had a corrupt President Harris doing dirty deals with the Chinese, and an FBI who might be role models of the current lot.  Bearing in mind I hadn’t yet had my run-in with the rent-seekers here yet, that was pretty prescient. I hope GYPSIES isn’t!

It struck me – back then — that we motivate bureaucracies wrongly (whether you talk about those who run large Corporations or small town councils).  All bureaucracies come into being with the excuse of running things better than anarchy – no sewage in your neighbor’s porch. They move with the speed of chain lightning to serving themselves, and entrenching their power. The benefits or protections they provide are almost a trivial side-effect. And in time (not even necessarily a long time) they become parasites that, if they don’t kill the host, sure as hell cripple it, for very small benefits. In a biologically engineered system of governance as I was writing about, the ‘bureaucrats’ running the system are built to only benefit when the host (their society) does well –and the less there are, the greater their reward-share.

Ah, yes. It’s nice when you write fiction and can make things up.  But maybe I need to write a society where the rent seekers have to declare the costs, and benefits and the probability of the risk they ‘protect’ their host from. An extension of the concept of declaring procedure prices in a way.

Or how else do think we could deal with bureaucrats – besides wood-chippers?

Image by 🎄Merry Christmas 🎄 from Pixabay

49 comments

  1. — For anarchy to stand a chance you need huge amounts of space (possible in space, perhaps?) —

    The minimum is an open, easily accessible frontier, beyond which lie copious habitable lands to which one could flee at will. Compare this to Robert Nozick’s “Framework for Utopia” in his masterpiece Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

    — They move with the speed of chain lightning to serving themselves, and entrenching their power. —

    Their top echelons tend to be the ones concerned with power as such; the levels beneath them tend to be more oriented toward security, both while employed and afterward.

    — Or how else do think we could deal with bureaucrats – besides wood-chippers? —

    There are some intriguing ideas in the Christopher Anvil story “Mission of Ignorance” in this collection: https://hell.pl//szymon/Baen/The%20Baltic%20War/The%20Trouble%20With%20Aliens/1416520775_toc.htm
    However, I must declare a personal preference for the wood-chippers.

  2. Dave my friend, wood chipper?
    Waste of energy and think of the poor sod who must then clean the mess and gore.
    Being a fisherman and farmer surely you can appreciate the intrinsic value of a coil of good honest half inch (12.5mm) rope. Certainly your fine island must have its share of trees with spreading limbs at a convenient height?

    1. I’m pretty sure it was here – but possibly at ATH – that the solution to the cleanup problem was presented: Freeze the body first.

    2. Tch. They’re biodegradable, but the chipping is necessary for effeceint composting.
      While they seem as numerous as the passenger pigeon, there is a finite limit to their numbers, and it behooves us to make the most responsible use of the resource.
      .
      Now, I’m open to the thought that certain individuals might best be dipped in tar and used as scarecrows to ward off other parasites. So long as they’re mounted on the pole with the point properly made.

  3. One of my current one is where the local council with the power vested in them by the state, are protecting my neighbor from our (two people’s worth) sewage treatment wastewater. I live on a farm, a long, long way from a neighbor and we are both well above the wastewater outlet.

    How many people live on the island? How many of them think that the local council’s policies make sense? If somebody ran on a platform of doing the bare minimum, how many would support that?

    Or is it that the “local” council is a bigger area, with Flinders Island just part of its domain?

    1. Generally, they’re using standards from a higher-order rule maker that is designed for inside cities.

      Run into that before, too; major thing in Washington State, one of the ways to drive farmers out while poopooing about how wonderful you are.

      1. Are they legally required to do so by a higher level of the government? If so, then there’s little that can be done. Democracy doesn’t scale very well. But if not, Flinders Island is small enough that it might work.

        1. The problem comes in the gray area.

          Basically, they’re legally required if the situation is A, but not if it is B; the definition for both A and B– especially once you get into waivers, local considerations, shifting meanings of words used– is not clear.

          See also, the “remodelings” where someone buys a shack that’s on land it’s now illegal to build new structures on, they tear down all but one wall, rebuild aroudn it, and then tear down the old wall and build that.

          It’s two remodels, not a new structure.

          1. And they have a lot of discretion – which can be good, Or bad, depending on the bureaucrat. Mostly it’s bad, because there is no proximal incentive to favor common sense or the situation.

              1. She’s basically friendless, but no-one wants to take it further because she can – and does – make life difficult for people. Too much power.

                1. Angry American blowhard, frustrated by a personal sense of helplessness, is inclined castigate Australians for doing their own business wrong, and not taking more direct measures.

        2. Ori, they’re allowed a lot of discretion. what you have is the law (as by elected politicians)- which allows… and then the permanent administrator class – who ‘interpret’ the law to disallow. And then the local petty bureaucrat who enjoys the power it gives her.

          1. So it is not the local council but one of their employees? Hopefully that will make the problem easier to solve.

            Or is she an employee of the Tasmanian govt who just happens to be responsible for Flinders?

    1. It’s not on Amazon because it doesn’t exist yet. It was a proposal I wrote (40 page detailed outline + 30K of first chapters) which I tried to sell on proposal. It’s a goal to finish this year – but that includes finishing HOW MUCH FOR JUST THE CRAZY UNCLE and CLOUDCASTLES (I’m busy with both 29K and 44K) and a sequel to DRAGON’S RING and DOG AND DRAGON (as I have the rights back and will re-issue the first two, and hopefully sell more of all three). With the wisdom of more more experience, SPACE GYPSIES needs a prequel, so I have to write that first. My to do list is pretty full… without petty bureaucrats

  4. Back in the day, when I worked in bicycle shops, most of us held those you describe in very low regard, and those that didn’t were the ones being held as such. We had one Vegan Cyclist. Add him to the list under said wood chippers, though likely he is already not of this plane.

      1. Yeah. WE laughed when he got “doored” (riding at speed and not watching ahead, someone opened a car door into his path). As it came not long after he made fun of a co-worker who was deaf, and got doored often and had been hospitalized for that last one, we gave him much harassing. Deaf Jorge (we had 3 Jorges and they all went by George in pronunciation was always riding at high speed and being deaf, could not hear the click of an opening door, so drivers looked in the mirror, just a kid a block away . . . ca-qa-click thump! kid was doing 25-30mph/40-50kph . . . oops

  5. “. . . a society where the rent seekers have to declare the costs, and benefits and the probability of the risk they ‘protect’ their host from . . . ”

    Oh, now _there’s_ something to dream about! And they also need to declare the amount your taxes are going to go up, once the fee changed the immediate victim pays is gone, to maintain a staff and equipment , ready to leap in and “assist” the next poor fool . . .

  6. There’s also that when you want to try to rope in over-reach, the guys on your side are going to include the ones that want to put sewage on the neighbor’s door-step. The guys who don’t want a chain across the river will include anybody who wants to invade, for example….

  7. Laws that move at the speed of government always want to chisel in stone things that by their nature change. Some of that is understandable–it’s hard to enforce vague generalities. But maybe this could be fixed by requiring a Meta-law, stating the desired OUTCOME (no sewage in yards) and then specific sub-cases with mandatory review dates. If not reviewed, the law is automatically rescinded. The sub cases would be for things like a) dense urban environment, b) suburb, c) rural and d) everything else. Case d) would be allowable individual cases, presenting evidence to show that the Meta-law is fulfilled, then the permit SHALL be issued. So in the case that Dave owns the entire island, rendering moot the concern of migratory unsupervised sewage, the meta-law is already satisfied and the Nosy Parkers have no leverage.

    I generally think there ought to be more mandatory review or automatic cancellation codicils in law, but that’s just me…

    1. We have a ‘yes minister’ situation here in Tasmania. Elected pols (conservative) are TRYING to make less red tape. So ‘SHALL issue’ and ‘not required’ have come back into existence. BUT the permanent administrative class and their minions at councils add as much or twice as much in petty regulation and slow walk everything. Government – in a sensible seeming move gave local discretion over many matters: which translates as both ‘no’ and ‘corruption’. Automatic ‘yes’ unless you can substantiate ‘no’ with a full site specific and statistically backed reason (onus on them) and a return of all fees might work.

      1. Dave, be the better man, reach out to these fine bureaucrats and make the effort to befriend them. Offer to take each one out individually for a relaxing fishing trip for them to shed the cares of all those days of picking nits for the great unwashed. Looking at maps of your area you aren’t exactly adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, but surely your waters get the occasional visit from a Great White.
        I would suggest keeping your efforts on the down low as your version of PETA might take exception to your feeding poor innocent sharks tainted meat.

  8. It is easy to argue that, in the U.S.A., the “Interstate Commerce Clause” is a source of endless mischief from those whose motivation is insuring their access to lobbyist perqs, and Friday Surf and Turf in the Congressional dining halls. Take liberties, a la Orwell, with the language, and “impede commerce” becomes “affect ‘downstreams’.” Then smaller and smaller polities get the idea for measures that boost their egos, fill their purses, and entrench their effect if not their tenure.

    1. I tend to think the commerce clause gets a bad rep. Yeah, it’s the excuse that the government uses for every random law it wants to shove down our throats, but it’s just that: an excuse. If they didn’t have the commerce clause, they’d use the one about establishing the post office or something. What’s needed is not the removal of the commerce clause but people willing to say, “No, a farmer feeding his own cows his own grain is not a matter of interstate commerce. What the @$@! are you smoking?”

      1. People *have* been willing to say that, loudly, since before that particular abomination of a court decision.
        .
        We’ve even successfully elected majority governments of all three branches to fix the overreach.
        .
        But the problem remains stubbornly unfixed.
        The Supreme Court has their own papal bull of infallibility known as stare decisis, which they’re not about to give up. Most executives enjoy the power. And it has been all too easy to peel off members of the legislature by means of corrupt self-enrichment.

  9. Attend your municipality meetings. They’re open to the public (at least they are in Hershey) and I would assume so in the rest of the U.S. Don’t know about other countries. Being known to your board of supervisors on a first name basis reminds them that real people are affected on a daily basis. Zoom doesn’t work nearly as well as in-person but it’s better than nothing.

    Sign up for your municipality newsletters and read them. If you have a ‘good’ local newspaper that covers local news (I *adore* the Sun), subscribe and read it. This gives you a heads-up when your township decides they really need to build a 35 million dollar Taj Mahal of swimming pools. I admit everything in Hershey is gold-plated but this was over the top. Most of the citizens don’t need a 50 meter Olympic class swimming pool in the community center. The aquatics team thinks they do and I could see their point and I could even see additional business brought to the area from every swim team on the east coast.

    But we’re still on the hook for 35 million dollars. The citizenry revolted, the new board was weighted against the Taj Mahal of swimming pools, and now we’re still spending buckets of money but on a much smaller community center.

    Attending municipal, design board, zoning, and storm water management meetings can be like watching paint dry. It’s also time-consuming. But if you don’t pay attention, things happen and you’ve zero control.

    What should you do when homeowner A builds a palace on the top of the hill and logs the slope off to enhance the view when the result is everyone downhill gets a basement full of water during every hard rain? When this did not use to happen? That’s what we’re dealing with now.

    The other benefit of being plugged in to local governance is learning who *really* owns most of your township. For us, it’s the entities. Yes, that’s what they’re called and yes, between them, they own at least 1/3 of the entire township.

    1. I already get the minutes of all their meetings. Much less is open to the public here. I suspect I’m going to run for council under the specific banner of winding this down to tolerable levels, where it can’t be got rid of. Most of the island has a population of around 0.2 people per square kilometer. Very little you do affects neighbors.

      1. Since your population is small, you have a fighting chance of being elected.

        The key is (and my God but this will take time) is to knock on every door in the district. This can work. In a recent local primary, Jill Linta, radical lefty, was running against Rob Teplitz, the establishment choice of the Democratic party. She knocked on every door in the district, including mine, and stayed to chat to explain what she was doing. At the same time, Rob was hosting wine and cheese soirees (I was invited but did not attend). She cleaned his clock in the primary. Afterwards, Ms. Linta attended local municipal meetings to introduce herself to local boards. I know, because I was at a township meeting and saw her in action.

        In the general election, she made the incumbent, Tom Mehaffie work for it. It was a close election. She lost but she put herself on the map.

        If you win, expect every decision made to take ten times longer than expected. This is normal. You’ve got to deal with unfunded mandates from higher up. You also get to manage expectations whereby constituents want every possible service right now without paying for it. A lot of the electorate believes compromise is a dirty word as everyone should do exactly what they want while they give nothing up.

        It’s a challenge but you can affect your local area — where you live! — and make it better.

        1. As a lot of the voters have been or had family transported/helped by me or my wife, (she’s the local Doctor’s receptionist, also provides their x-ray services free delivers meals on wheels to the elderly) and is much loved, and we’re both a substantive part of the local volunteer ambulance service and the local church, I’m quite well known :-). Seriously over-regulation to big city standards has killed several businesses, and made far too many local either give up on owning a home (holiday makers buy properties and push prices) or actually leave because there is nowhere to live, because of it. Australia, sadly, has pendulum swung from no regulations to over regulation as the population has become more urban.

          1. You might want to take a quick look at Heinlein’s Take Back Your Government for a bit of inspiration and perhaps a tip or two.
            May be out of print. If so ping me and I’ll shoot you a copy. Or I’m sure Sarah has one as well.

    2. In my city, we’ve had a bit of a revolt – enough people got p***sed about the current school board that two incumbents were defeated. Unfortunately, the state still imposes a whole ton of bad stuff, but at least a good school board can mitigate the damage from the top.

      1. We have a new GM who is trying… but the civil service makes this difficult, and frankly it’s not a job (planning) that anyone who does not enjoy power and saying ‘no’ wants. Sometimes there IS a need to say ‘no’. But mostly this is choking the life out of business, making locals lives more difficult and expensive for no gain, and stripping money out of the community to be spent elsewhere.

  10. I have thought of the River Baron as a metaphor for education, especially higher education: At some point in the distant past, the Baron actually did improve the river and make it passable, and put up the chains and started charging tolls in order to cover his costs. His descendants, though, have paid little attention to the state of the river, while continually raising the level of the tolls. Now the river is so silted up that it’s hard to get past the part adjoining the castle, but the tolls are out of sight.

  11. “Or how else do think we could deal with bureaucrats – besides wood-chippers?”

    The only real solution I’ve been able to come up with is to starve them. Tax cuts. Big, deep and wide.

    The ting that kills bureaucracy in the private sector is bankruptcy. When companies become top-heavy with management, they lose market share and go out of business. On the government side there’s no natural mechanism that does that other than war, really.

    The only legitimate activities of government are 1) defending the nation from invasion 2) keeping the public peace and 3) enforcing contracts through the courts. Pretty much anything/everything else is Socialism.

    How to keep bureaucrats scarce and cautious? Keep taxes low. The less money there is to feed them, the fewer there will be.

      1. Roads are part of defense, IMHO. See the US Interstate highways. Built for troop movement. Or see Rome, for that matter.

        Tolls are RENT by another name. If the toll goes to maintain the road, fine and dandy. But as we all know, the tolls -never- go to maintenance. Ever.

          1. That is the one thing of any worth in the whole scam, the users pay the money. But unfortunately they just jack the tolls and fleece the users.

            We have a toll road here in Ontario, the 407. It goes all the way around Toronto, from one side to the other. They charge $50 for a full-length trip. Money all goes to the corporation. Profit? Oh yeah.

            And it’s funny, all the other roads across T.O. are generally stop-and-go traffic all day long, but the 407 never is. That’s because on the 407 if there’s an accident the cops clean it up toute suite, whereas on the 401 they take their sweet time.

            Built with -public- money on land expropriated by the Crown. It’s good to have friends, right?

            1. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the road that costs serious money to drive on almost never has serious traffic problems.

              You aren’t paying for the road; you’re paying for everyone else NOT to use the road.

              1. That is also true. Heavy traffic on the 407 is limited to long weekends heading up north to Muskoka, or peak rush-hour times. Because ten bucks is a hefty commute bill every day.

                But I have noticed over the years that accident cleanup and road construction take five times as long on the 401, the QEW and the Gardiner as they do on the 407. You just don’t get lane closures that last 6 months on the 407 like you do everywhere else.

    1. “It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged. ”
      ― G.K. Chesterton (Cleveland Press 1921)

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