On the Record

Bureaucracy

Paul C. Light

NPR (Neal Conan): Joining us here in Studio 3A is Paul Light, Vice President and Director of Governmental Studies at The Brookings Institution, author of Thickening Government as the title suggests, it looks at bureaucracy. Welcome to the program.

Paul Light: Nice to be here.

NPR: Where do bureaucracies come from?

Paul Light: Well the original idea of bureaucracy was that, to quote Max Weber, it was ‘the most perfect form of organization known to human kind.’ It was once a wonderful term that meant efficient and disciplined and the economies of scale—that people knew their jobs, knew where they worked; specialization and expertise. We created most of the organizations that we deal with today over the last two hundred years one by one. Congress created the customs service as one of it very first acts. So we’ve built them one by one over time. Once you create a government agency it is nearly impossible to kill it.

NPR: That’s probably as true for the ancient Babylonians as it is for us today.

Paul Light: There’s a wonderful example of a Roman administrator in Egypt who wrote a letter home arguing that there had to be a flattening of the hierarchy lest the Roman empire lose money to all the bureaucrats that he had reporting to him. So we’ve had it since the first organization…

Listen to entire interview (RealPlayer) (Other guests include Senator Joseph Lieberman, Ann Laurent, Ed Deseve and David Stark. Mr. Light’s portion of the interview is 15:38 minutes into the interview).

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