Governance Gets Too Much

Whenever I see broadcasts on the news of an inter-governmental conference; whenever I see images of enormous government buildings; whenever I see reports of committee meetings or public enquiries I cringe and wince.

Looking beyond the headline, I see an army of politicians, officials and bureaucrats busying themselves and yet, I wonder, what are they all doing. They’re not actually making any tangible contribution to our country’s economic output. These people may be in employment but they’re not employed; they’re working but they’re not doing anything. As overseers and administrators of our society, they have no real productive capacity.

The writing of reports, attending meetings, or processing information is not necessarily of any value in itself. At the end of the day, what do they have to show for their activity? There is nothing physically produced, nothing of any saleable value, nothing of any quantifiable worth.

That means they have to be considered as a burden on society; a drain on our resources. Surely, if they’re not producing something, not adding value, then they need to justify what they are doing. They must prove their worth.

Given the time, effort and resources expended, there’s such a lot of waste. Not only the loss of output from what they could be doing if they were in a productive role, but also the cost of paying them through our taxes for having them do what they are doing.

I’m the sort of person who resents paying a delivery charge on my purchases so to have to pay for all this administration and such like hurts massively.

And there are so many of them. Are they all really necessary? Do they all represent good value for money?

The problem is that there is an innate tendency for this body of officialdom to grow. It feeds off society’s natural inclination to get bigger, to get more involved, to make more rules. As society encroaches more on our lives, it demands more and more people to manage it.

Ideas have to be generated; considerations have to be looked into; debates have to be held; decisions have to be made; outcomes have to be reviewed.

It can become an unstoppable force that, all too often, supports and perpetuates its own existence, with seemingly very little resistance. That’s because:

  • It leads to the creation of “nice” jobs. These tend to be middle-class, educated, agreeable jobs. They’re the sort of jobs that people want – non-manual and indoor with sensible hours, pleasant working conditions and working alongside like-minded people.
  • It creates its own expanding off-shoots – quangos and other organisations and bodies to influence and sustain it – a gravy train of inter-connectedness. They feed off each other, full of their own self-importance. We’re doing a valuable job; if there were more of us we could do an even better job.

Surely there has to be a limit to the potential size of this non-producing sector. How can the ever declining number of producers continue to sustain these non-producers? How can an economy survive if it produces nothing, if it exists on the back of service provision and administrative governance? At some point the country will be unable to satisfy its needs. There will be too many people in non-productive roles.

No doubt, these non-productive, establishment figures would argue that they add value to society as a whole, enabling it to function better. They might suggest that one of the features of our human development is that progress does not necessarily mean having economic production as central to our existence. We are much more than this. We are also trying to make this a better world to live in.

That requires people with a specific remit to examine the way we live our lives together and to set rules and standards by which we should live by.

That’s fine. That’s understandable, even acceptable. They are a necessary requirement if we want to progress our society. The issue is more one of size. Do we need so many of them?

Every so often a re-evaluation needs to be made of the resources we are allocating to the management of society; every so often we need to cull the waste and excess. Now might just be the right time to do that.