Is bureaucracy a good thing or bad thing? It depends very much on what you want from it and how well it deals with your issues.

Proponents of bureaucracies point to the fact that all people who have business with the bureaucracy are dealt with uniformly.

Everyone is equal in the eyes of the bureaucrats and receives the same attention and treatment. The rules apply to everyone equally and everyone can expect equal treatment.

No one, theoretically, can suffer due to the whim of a bureaucrat. S/he must obey the rules or a complaint may be laid at his/her door.

Opponents point out that sometimes the rules don’t fit a particular situation or person, because of the situation, requires special treatment.

If the rules don’t fit then the bureaucrats are at a loss on how to deal with the situation. Sometimes, treating people equally results in inequality of results.

The decision to give a person special treatment often requires that a decision be referred upwards, to someone higher in the hierarchy who is empowered to make such a decision.

This incurs long delays while investigations are made and decisions discussed and finally settled, by which time the customer’s situation has no doubt deteriorated to a position of being urgent. The new urgency may then result in another round of discussions about the new situation, and even more delays. And so it goes on.

Bureaucracies are slow to change, to adapt to new situations. There may be problems until a new situation or social ideal becomes part of the rules, and until that happens, people will be treated unfairly.

Sometimes it is hard to get a bureaucracy moving on some enterprise due to the inherent inertia of any large body, particularly a body of people.

On the other hand, it can be difficult to stop any enterprise in progress which has proved unnecessary, useless, or just unwanted, again due to the inbuilt inertia of the bureaucracy.

Once a bureaucracy starts moving in a particular direction it can prove difficult, and often impossible, to stop or to change its direction. It often seems that the more money involved, the more expensive the project, the harder it is to change any aspect of it, even when it is obvious, to a non-bureaucratic observer but not the bureaucracy, that stopping is the best, maybe only, option.

Unfortunately, a bureaucracy has a lot of inertia, for good or bad. I think that it is safe to say that the bigger the bureaucracy the more the inertia.

Dealing with low-level bureaucrats can be very frustrating, because they are not  allowed to, or won’t, make a decision.

It may be that they don’t want to trespass on the prerogatives of a superior and have to deal with the resulting wrath. It may simply be they don’t want to be bothered.

They may require that the matter be ‘referred upstairs’ but this may just be a ploy to rid themselves of a bothersome client. It seems that often ‘refer upstairs’ is a euphemism for ‘lose the file and forget all about it’.

A large part of the problems with bureaucracies is due to the Peter Principle (discovered by  Dr Lawrence Peter) which says that in any organisation everyone rises to their level of incompetence, and then stays there, incapable of doing their job properly.

Thus, by this principle, most (if not all) bureaucrats are incompetent and incapable of doing their jobs.

That certainly fits many of the situations one comes across when dealing with bureaucracies. A satisfactory solution to the problem is a lot more difficult, and one which no-one has yet found.

It seems that the best way to deal with a bureaucracy is as little as possible. In the modern world we can’t avoid them unfortunately, so we just have to stay out of their clutches as much as possible.

This is very difficult because they pay attention to us, and are constantly watching and counting us, from the cradle to the grave. Even after we have gone, they don’t lose interest in us. We become that beloved thing of all bureaucracies – a statistic.