Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Republic of Paperwork

Mark Steyn, while writing on other matters, came up with this gem:
40 percent of Americans perform minimal-skilled service jobs about to be rendered obsolete by technology, and almost as many pass their productive years shuffling paperwork from one corner of the land to another in various “professional services” jobs that exist to in order to facilitate compliance with the unceasing demands of the microregulatory state. The daily Obamacare fixes — which are nothing to do with “health” “care” but only with navigating an impenetrable bureaucracy — are the perfect embodiment of the Republic of Paperwork.


  1. I find you are very insightful and clear when talking about economic theory. Your views on government as this large monstrosity of idiots are a joke though, you sound like my 14 year old neighbor. Just think about what you're saying: almost 40% (!) of jobs exist for the "microregulatory" state. I would love to see the definitions to back up this calculation, for lack of a better term. Ridiculous.

  2. Anonymous:

    Try building a house or other building sometime, and add up how much time and money you spend satisfying the ridiculous demands of the building department, not to mention every busybody within 10 miles of your project. You'll probably get a figure close to 40%.

  3. I work at a national distributor of animal health products. An inordinate amount of our time (and personnel) is spent dealing with: EEOC, OSHA, FDA, DEA, DOT, FAA, EPA, FAR, and FTC. And probably more that I can't remember off the top of my head. And that does NOT include state and local agencies with their location-specific regulations, such as pharmaceutical, business and tax licensing.

  4. They don't have any regulatory demands on buildings in Bangladesh - that's why their apparel factories hold up so well - the market takes care of it. Oh, wait, never mind

    1. Anonymous:

      I have to admit you have changed my mind. Bangladesh is 7000 miles from the US. I should have said "every busybody within 7000 miles", not just 10 miles.

  5. Oh boy. Another tiresome, gratuitous swipe (which you label a "gem") at the Affordable Care Act.

    Here's the reality: U.S. health care is much more expensive (and much less inclusive) without better outcomes than what's available from any other advanced country, and that's not because other countries implement the libertarian or free market policies you advocate. Far from it.


    The ACA is a good faith attempt to bring significant cost control and universality to our health care system. The approach it embodies originated with a conservative think tank and is working with some success in Massachusetts Of course it's not perfect. It's necessarily complex and will require lots of fine-tuning. but fundamentally it deserves the cautious support of fair minded people, which arguably includes you.

    1. "Necessarily complex". Someone has a bright future in government! The ACA is complex because they didn't have the brains and/or the guts to make it simple.

      "working with some success in Massachusetts" This is a use of the word "success" with which I'm unfamiliar.

      The ACA will be every bit as effective as other massive federal programs such as the War on Poverty (Poverty won) and the War on Drugs (Drugs won). You can't fiddle with 18% of GDP and not have severe unexpected consequences - something already felt by not a few restaurant workers now cut to 29 hours/week. And that was one of the *foreseeable* consequences.

      Like other government programs it will bloat until it collapses under its own weight. Remember the birth of the Department of Energy back under Carter? What was one of the main goals? Energy independence. How's that working out? It started with 20,000 employees and now has 16,000 employees plus 100,000 contract workers.

      The countries that provide cradle to grave medical care, free college, wage protection, early retirement with great benefits, etc are called Ireland, Italy, France, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, etc. They are not good role models.

      Speaking as a physician who has visited with colleagues in other countries I conclude that most Americans would find the level of services unacceptable. They also lie about their statistics and fudge their research: compare the wildly successful claims made for artificial lumbar disks in Europe vs the disasters encountered when finally introduced here.

      When I was in Italy in May I was having coffee with a family doctor who asked me where I was from. "Houston! My brother had his heart surgery there!". Why not Italy, Switzerland, or any of the other great health care systems that are so superior to ours?

      Do you want inexpensive heart surgery like they have in India? Me too, but how do we find nurses willing to work for $22,000/year?

    2. Obamacare was manifestly not a good faith attempt; it was passed by a single vote against increasing opposition (which led to a Republican landslide in 2010). It required bribes given to key legislators and extra-legal maneuvers to soften its impact on Congressional staff. It is not on track to be implemented according to schedule. The basic plan is to trap the country in its clutches and make it difficult to dismantle - "fine-tuning" in your lingo.

    3. "Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities." --Thomas Jefferson

      "Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program" --Milton Friedman

    4. Doctor McM, Thank you for the generous blunderbuss fusillade.

      • Your contempt for government is irrational, unjust, and, like most contemptuousness (including the grumpy one's), unbecoming. As in every area of human activity (most definitely including the free market) incompetence and corruption are found. But government is served my many dedicated, honest, hard working people, not unlike yourself, who perform important and valuable services.

      • Under ACA-like Romneycare Massachusetts citizens are much more likely than those in other states to have health insurance, and a large majority (84%) favor the program. While difficult challenges remain, greater universality and wide acceptance are clear successes.



      • And how is it you're unaware of the growing popularity of Americans having surgery overseas?


      • I notice when you list countries with generous social benefits you omit Germany, with the most generous benefits in Europe, and the Scandivanian countries, but I suppose including them wouldn't support a biased thesis.

  6. Linking to such a snide sneering screed is beneath the dignity of someone calling themselves a serious academic. How am I supposed to take you seriously on intellectual matters when you call this dick joke filled hit piece a "gem?"

    1. Well, you're supposed to have a sense of humor, but I get the point that you and Mr. Anonymous above don't find this one so funny.

    2. It's not funny if it's about Democrats. That's why Stephen Colbert has to keep doing Bush jokes.

      We can argue the 40% number but everyone needs to re-read Kurt Vonnegut's "Player Piano" because they are about to live it. Farmers can milk cows and manage their crops from their living rooms. There are robot bartenders and you can vacuum your living room with a Roomba. The "Reeks and Wrecks" are coming. Try not to be one.

    3. the reason it's not funny is because it is part of a persistent theme by a utopian-libretarian wing of our society that dreams of a world without much regulations - which, according to them, would be a boon to economic growth. Bangladesh is kind of an extreme counter example - but all you have to do is go to Hong Kong which has no EPA and try breathing the air without a mask to see that this utopia is a bit naive

    4. When you live in a society where blind submission to the All-Seeing All-Knowing Federal Sugar Daddy is the norm, those who ask for reasonable concessions to liberty seem like radicals. I doubt Prof Cochrane envisions a libertarian utopia where we can drive at any speed we desire with missile launchers mounted on the our cars, spewing out fumes from leaded gasoline while freon hisses merrily from our AC units. Or maybe it's his dream. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

      As for Bangladesh, that's one of the reasons you can have a heart cath done there for the price of a mountain bike at WalMart: http://www.ibrahimcardiac.org.bd/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=138&m_i=73#angioplasty

      Bangladesh is hardly an example of libertarianism in action. Rather, it's a classic case of government interference in an economy. After gaining independence they created a socialist society and nationalized all the industries. It was a complete disaster. One of the main crops grown in Bangladesh is jute, which is used to make burlap. At one time burlap bags were ubiquitous around the world. Then came plastic bags and out went burlap. Instead of letting the economy adjust to the decreased demand for jute, the government decided to try to find new uses for it. In 1973 they established the Ministry of Jute, subsidizing attempts to find other uses for jute such as jute paper (which has the consistency and smoothness of matzoh). This, too, has been a failure.

      If you don't think we are in the Republic of Paperwork consider this little missive from HHS about a possible delay in implementation of ObamaCare:

      "Finally, this final rule provides notice that we are considering, for purposes of the initial open enrollment period for enrollment in a Qualified Health Plan through the Exchange, whether various provisions of the Medicaid and CHIP regulations should be effective October 1, 2013, or whether a later effective date is appropriate.

      In this final rule, we do not address all of the proposed regulatory changes to 42 CFR parts 431, 435 and 457. We are focusing on those changes that are most needed to implement
      the changes made by the Affordable Care Act starting in 2014. We intend to address certain of the other provisions in future rulemaking."

      You can read all SIX HUNDRED PAGES of this TEMPORARY "Final Rule" at https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2013-16271.pdf

  7. This may all be true, but it surely is somewhat exaggerated.

    Not to be taken at face value (which I am sure most people wouldn't).

    Whereas 40% of the workforce may do mundane tasks 90% of the time, a lot of the value of having humans in these "professional services" is the option to use their human creativity and flexibility the 10% of the time when you have fire drills and ambiguous situations that technology can't deal with and won't soon be able to deal with.

    And no- I don't think that technology would just displace 90% of those workers and leave behind a handful to deal with the fire drills.

    Anyone who has spent any considerable time in a professional workplace knows that business operations are too complex for one person to hold all potentially relevant information in his head.

    The key is having a diverse workforce so you can tap that one small *but crucial* bit of knowledge that helps resolve a potentially serious business problem when it inevitable arises.

  8. That's an interesting factoid. Also, it's not true. The author presents no citation, so I looked into employment data at my employer--a major hospital at the center of these healthcare regulations. We employ hundreds of people whose main job is regulatory compliance. That's no where near 40% of the 15,000 workers we employ. Even the most over-regulated field in the economy can't get you anywhere close to the author's claim.

    1. I hope what you're saying is wrong, because otherwise it might suggest that excerpt Prof. Cochrane selected as the basis for this post (his "gem") turns out to be baloney. And foisting baloney on one's readership is a bit of a disservice.

  9. Steyn is hilarious and for those of you who are too literal minded to get the joke, well, too bad.


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