America Excels at Building Bureaucracy

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

A new bridge in Los Angeles is one example out of thousands.

Los Angeles recently celebrated the opening of its new Sixth Street Bridge, which connects downtown to the city’s eastern district and crosses over an industrial area and the L.A. River (drainage wash). Designed to safely accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles, it is indeed a beautiful bridge.

ADVERTISEMENT

Are there any negatives about the bridge? Well, not according to media coverage.

In conducting an Internet search on the bridge’s construction and opening, I could not find one negative story or remark in six pages of sources. Media outlets were uniformly ecstatic about the bridge.

But there are negatives, as there are a lot of construction projects in America. Consider:

ADVERTISEMENT

The bridge had been projected to be completed in three years at a cost of $428 million. Unsurprisingly, it took six years and cost $588 million, or $160 million over budget.

If you’re a US taxpayer, you paid some of the cost, even if you don’t live in L.A. or California. That’s because $364 million of the funding came from the Federal Highway Bridge Program—although the bridge isn’t exactly a critical infrastructure of national importance.

Given that the average household income in the US is $90,000 in rounded numbers, this means that the $364 million in federal funding is equal to the total yearly income of about 4,000 households across the nation.

ADVERTISEMENT

Cost overruns missed deadlines, and hide-the-pea funding has become so commonplace on public works projects that they are met with a big yawn from the media and the public. 

This reflects the bureaucratization of America, one of the most serious problems facing the nation—a problem that doesn’t get the attention it deserves but will get some in this commentary.

It might seem hyperbolic and even kooky to say that bureaucratization is that serious, but history suggests otherwise. Bureaucracy has caused huge corporations to lose touch with customers and market trends, ultimately resulting in them going out of business. The same with nations, most notably the Soviet Union, which, due to communism, tried to micromanage an entire economy and society. It was the ultimate bureaucracy and a perfect illustration of my axiom: The more socialism, the more bureaucracy

Experts from various disciplines are puzzled as to why productivity growth has flat-lined for many years in spite of new technologies. This is a very important question because prosperity depends on productivity. The answer is that productivity is being throttled by red tape.

Bureaucracy is also a key reason why Americans are frustrated with their government and elected leaders. Layer upon layer of unaccountable and unelected apparatchiks have come between them and lawmakers, a situation made worse by the fact that most members of Congress are attorneys, who, by nature, training and experience, are comfortable with abstruse minutia.     

Equally concerning, public and private construction projects seem to take a lot longer than they did more than a century ago, in spite of such technological advances as computer-aided design, instant electronic communications, lighter and stronger materials, and more versatile and powerful construction equipment.

Take the Kinzua Bridge near my wife’s hometown of Bradford, Pa., in the northwestern part of the state.  A railroad trestle, it was built in 1882 to carry coal from Pennsylvania coal mines to Buffalo.  At 301 ft. tall, it was the highest railroad bridge in the country at the time.  Spanning the Kinzua Valley, it was 2,052 ft. long.  Originally made of iron, the bridge was built in 94 days.  Years later it was torn down and rebuilt out of steel in order to accommodate heavier trains.

To compare, it took 94 days in 1882 to build the Kinzua Bridge in Pa., versus six years in the twenty-first century to build the Sixth Street Bridge in L.A.

Or consider the Eads Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River at my hometown of St. Louis. It was the first bridge over the Mississippi at its wider section south of the Missouri River. It took seven years to build, beginning in 1867. That’s one year longer than it took to construct the Sixth Street Bridge, but the Eads Bridge, at 6,442 feet in length, had to cross a mighty river, had to be high enough for tall steamboats to pass underneath, and had to carry trains and horse carriages and wagons (and later motorized cars and trucks). Not only that, but new construction methods had to be developed as it was being built, such as learning to build a bridge with steel and inventing the pneumatic caissons required to construct footings 100 ft. below the surface of the river.

Then there is the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Its construction began in 1918 and was completed in one year. The facility, much of which still stands, covered 94 acres and consisted of two eight-story warehouses, three two-story piers, ancillary buildings, railroad tracks, cranes to move material between pier and ship, and a storage yard with a capacity of 2,200 freight cars. In all, it had 4.6 million square feet of indoor space.

What has happened over the intervening years to slow down construction projects? The easy answer is labor laws, safety regulations, and environmental regulations—all of which came into being for good reasons but have morphed into a nightmare of needless red tape. For example, it can take years to write an environmental impact statement and get government approval before construction can begin, even for something as environmentally benign as a bridge.  

A cynic—or perhaps a realist—would say that politics come into play, in that politicians can “buy” votes by building something that an interest group wants and by spreading the cost across all taxpayers. Economists refer to this as concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. Those who benefit will tend to be better organized, more vocal, and more determined than the general public that foots the bill. Of course, the beneficiaries are insensitive to costs.

However, there are other causes of bureaucracy that are even more pernicious and almost impossible to stop.

First, the natural tendency of organizations, including nation states, is to slowly become more bureaucratic as they age. Like a ship slowly accumulating barnacles, a ship of state slowly accumulates laws, regulations, and rules. As an example, when the income tax was instituted in 1913, the tax code was four pages. It grew to 1,000 pages during FDR’s New Deal, to 8,200 pages during the Second World War, and to more than 70,000 pages today.

Similar exponential growth in red tape has been produced by other federal agencies, departments, sub-departments, and sub-sub departments. States and municipalities have followed suit.

The second reason for the growth in red tape is self-interest. Every law and regulation, and every sub-section of a law or regulation, becomes the rice bowl of those in the public and private sectors who are paid, often handsomely, to interpret and administer the gobbledygook.

As an example, the IRS now has over 70,000 employees, or one for every page of the tax code.  Not included in this number are the tens of thousands of private-sector tax attorneys, accountants, administrators, financial advisors, clerks, developers of tax software systems, and others who owe their livelihood to the tax code. No doubt, many of these are small-government conservatives who rail about the growth of government.

It was frustrating during my corporate career when I had to attend expensive seminars to learn about new regulations promulgated by OSHA or some other agency. Oftentimes, the consultants holding the seminars were the former government bureaucrats who wrote the regulations. They had an incentive in their former jobs to make the regulations as indecipherable and ambiguous as possible.

Equally discouraging is the government’s spawning of regulations to address problems caused by the government. Ponderous financial regulations such as Dodd-Frank are a case in point. The Federal Reserve and the Treasury have caused financial crises by working in cahoots to print money and lower interest rates, to cover deficit spending. This in turn has fueled financial speculation, market exuberance, and malinvestments. In response, the government has promulgated regulations instead of addressing its culpability.

It’s a similar story with the government’s tuition loan programs, which have driven up the cost of college, which in turn has led the government to enact even more subsidies and regulations, which in turn have driven up costs even more.

My 1991 book on bureaucracy detailed how companies could save themselves from being destroyed by self-inflicted bureaucracy, and my consultancy helped to save several clients. There are no solutions for nation-states, however. In those, bureaucracy will run its course and slowly weaken the host, until something catastrophic happens and upends the existing order, such as devaluation, bankruptcy, revolution, or being conquered or subsumed economically by a stronger nation.

On the bright side, at least L.A. will have a pretty bridge.

 

 

TAKE ACTION

Are you fed up? Are you worried that America in rapidly sliding into a neo-Marxist state by the radical left in control of Washington with historically narrow majorities in the U.S. House and Senate and an Executive controlled by unnamed far leftists in place of a clinically incompetent President Biden? They are desperate to keep power and complete their radical progressive agenda that will change America and our liberty forever.

Americans just witnessed the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 without one Republican vote in the U.S. Senate and House (just as Obamacare was passed in 2010). The IRS  will be hiring 87,000 new agents, many armed, to terrorize American taxpayers.

Americans witnessed the FBI raid at the Trump Mar-A-Lago home and property of President Trump, truly a first in all of American history. We know what that is about. 

It is undeniable that the Democrat Party and the administrative state (the executive branches of the DOJ, FBI, IRS, et al) are clear and present dangers to our Republic and our liberty as they increasingly veer further away from the rule of law and the Constitution. What is the solution? At this critical juncture, there is only one action we can all take.

The only viable and timely solution at this critical point is to vote – yes, vote correctly and smartly to retake the U.S. House and Senate on November 8th and to prepare the way to retake the White House in two years. Vote and help everyone you know to vote. Please click the TAKE ACTION link below – we must vote correctly and in great numbers to be sure our votes are counted to diminish the potential for the left to rig and steal the midterms and the 2024 elections as they are clearly intending to do after their success in 2020.

 

 

TAKE ACTION
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
ADVERTISEMENT