Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bureaucracy Corrupts as Well

I've written recently about how the welfare state encourages corruption. It turns out that other manifestations of the bureaucratic state also manifest corruption. Recent disturbing stories about government school faculty and administration in Atlanta cheating in an effort to reach minimal standardized performance thresholds. At least 178 teachers, principles, and administrators in four schools my be guilty of "both helping students on the state's standardized test, the Criterion-Reference Competency Test, and correcting incorrect answers after students had turned the tests in."

Many blame evaluation criteria established by "No Child Left Behind." A recent report cites cheating that has taken place in New York City, Boston, Worcester, Massachusetts, Florida, and Pennsylvania. It turns out that corporate CEOs are not the only class of people in which deceit may be found. It is not only Wall Street fat cats who seek to take advantage of their position of state privilege to better their economic status. 

There have been an abundance of ideas suggested for how to improve "No Child Left Behind." The one never mentioned, however is to get rid of it along with government education. In terms of management, government enterprises must be ran bureaucratically. Such management is necessarily management by rule and policy. It asks for assessment tools such as those embodied by "No Child Left Behind." As Mises pointed out in his seminal work Bureaucracy:
Bureaucratic management is management bound to comply with detailed rules and regulations fixed by the authority of a superior body. The task of the bureaucrat is to perform what these rules and regulations order him to do. His discretion to act according to his own best conviction is seriously restricted by them.

Without profit and loss to act as an organizational guide, there is a reduced incentive for efficiency. Speaking of state bureaucratic management, Mises writes:
Public administration, the handling of the government apparatus of coercion and compulsion, must necessarily be formalistic and bureaucratic. No reform can remove the bureaucratic features of the government’s bureaus. It is useless to blame them for their slowness and slackness. It is vain to lament over the fact that the assiduity, carefulness, and painstaking work of the average bureau clerk are, as a rule, below those of the average worker in private business. (There are, after all, many civil servants whose enthusiastic fervor amounts to unselfish sacrifice.) In the absence of an unquestionable yardstick of success and failure it is almost impossible for the vast majority of men to find that incentive to utmost exertion that the money calculus of profit-seeking business easily provides. It is of no use to criticize the bureaucrat’s pedantic observance of rigid rules and regulations. Such rules are indispensable if public administration is not to slip out of the hands of the top executives and degenerate into the supremacy of subordinate clerks. These rules are, moreover, the only means of making the law supreme in the conduct of public affairs and of protecting the citizen against despotic arbitrariness.

In an environment in which monitoring shirking is difficult and costly, there a tremendous incentive for cheating found in the schools discussed above.

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