Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Vindication Of The Lawgiver

They thought he was joking.
His English countrymen assumed he was "having them on."
Surely Nature could tolerate no such thing as Parkinson's Law.

But reality has repeatedly borne him out:

Vast masses of statistical evidence have been collected and it is from a study of this data that Parkinson's Law has been deduced. space will not allow of detailed analysis but the reader will be interested to know that research began in the Navy Estimates. These were chosen because the Admiralty's responsibilities are more easily measurable than those of, say, the Board of Trade. The question is merely one of numbers and tonnage. Here are some typical figures. The strength of the Navy in 1914 could be shown as 146,000 officers and men, 3,249 dockyard officials and clerks, and 57,000 dockyard workmen. By 1928 there were only 100,000 officers and men and only 62,439 workmen, but the dockyard officials and clerks by then numbered 4,558. As for warships, the strength in 1928 was a mere fraction of what it had been in 1914 -- fewer than 20 capital ships in commission as compared with 62. Over the same period the Admiralty officials had increased in number from 2,000 to 3,569, providing (as was remarked) "a magnificent navy on land."

Indeed. A genius sees more widely and more clearly than a lesser mind -- and a courageous genius draws the appropriate inferences and reports them to all who will hear. But why this topic today? Simply this:

Not long ago, the Navy forced out 3,000 mid-career sailors. Military budget cuts have scrapped air shows, delayed deployments, and threatened civilian contractors with two-week furloughs. Craig Quigley, a retired rear admiral who heads the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance, says the cuts — while not as bad as first feared — will ripple past the local bases....

“You’re not going to buy the new car, you’re going to fix up the old one. You might cancel the family vacation. You are going to have to adjust your own household finances to accommodate 14 days without pay,” he said. “If you are a small business with only a handful of employees, you might not survive.”

At the same time, the Pentagon has added admirals and generals. There are now nearly a thousand. Many of those top officers are surrounded with entourages including chauffeurs, chefs and executive aids. Top flag officers have private jets always at the ready. They live in sometimes palatial homes and frequently travel in motorcades. Former Democratic Senator Jim Webb asked the Pentagon why the Air Force has more four-star generals than the Army, even though the Army has almost twice the manpower. Across all service branches, [Virginia Democratic Senator Mark] Warner said, the number of people at the bottom has shrunk while the number of generals and admirals has swelled.

Investigations have shown some in power misuse these perks. General Wiliam “Kip” Ward was demoted for using his staff and military vehicles to take his wife shopping, to spas and on vacations in $700-a-night suites, all at taxpayer expense.

“If you’re a four-star, and you’ve got a G-5 aircraft waiting for your private use, or governmental use, 24/7, that doesn’t make sense to me,” Warner said. “That all adds up, and it just sends the wrong signal, when we are cutting back on the number of troops, and soldiers, sailors and airmen, yet we are increasing the number of generals and flag officers.”

My, my.

It is no longer possible to be derisive of Parkinson's Law, nor to dismiss it as a humorous but not seriously meant observation. The damned thing works. Parkinson himself pursued innumerable cases of the Law in operation, but his gentle chiding and avuncular tone allowed many who ought to have had better sense to claim that his Law was merely a coincidence, like the correlation between the volume of the Caribbean rum trade and the salaries of Protestant ministers in New England.

It is not so, and never has been.
Every institution acquires an internal dynamic of survival and growth.
Such a dynamic will cater, first and foremost, to the interests of the institution's masters.
The masters of any governmental or similar institution will be those who exercise its highest level of authority and disposition.

I shall leave the exploration of the curious harmony between Parkinson's Law and the Dilbert Principle as an exercise -- just an invigorating hike through the intellectual woods -- for my Gentle Readers.


Wayne said...

Don't forget Jerry Pournelle's "Iron Law of Bureaucracy"

" any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions."

Tom Kratman said...

The problem with Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureacracy is that it's not true. See, rather than two kinds of people in an organization, there are actually four. The other two are those who work neither for the goals of the organization nor for the organization itself, but solely and entirely for themselves, and those who don't do a lick of work at all. It may be only the exitence of the latter that makes living in a bureaucratic state remotely tolerable.

Anonymous said...

This principle would seem to give reason for the drive towards drone and remotely piloted terrestrial weapon systems within the military and security apparatuses...coupled with the drive to disarm the general population.... thus allowing the 1% to stay in power without needing to pay a vast army of underlings who could threaten them with a coup.