Thursday, September 28, 2006

Max Weber, Franz Kafka, and All of You

The other day, while I was griping about how hard it has been to get a building permit from the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, I went into a sort of reverie.

My training as an economist has convinced me that market institutions provide greater material benefits to humankind than any other institution of human devising. Adam Smith wrote:

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."

Acting in their own interest, they make their goods at an efficient cost and sell them at a competitive price. And here I sit, eating my meat, beer, and bread -- with neither the knowledge nor skills required to put them on my own table, but enjoying them nonetheless.

But this thought has a partner. Perhaps the indifference of a bureaucracy is capable of greater evil than any individual could devise alone.

Oh, Weber might disagree:
"Precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs--these are raised tothe optimum point in the strictly bureaucratic organization"

But Mises is much more stern:
Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.

And Kafka is positively dour:
Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, my musings about the impersonal evil of bureaucracies have been overtaken by events. This week, the House and Senate of the United States have each passed legislation that allow torture to be an officially sanctioned policy of this country.

Congress has voted to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus indefinitely. Soon You, Dear Reader, can be detained as an illegal combatant anywhere in the world -- even if you are a U.S. citizen in the U.S. -- and not be afforded the opportunity to see the evidence presented against you, or to defend yourself against the charges against you in a fair trial. You can be sentenced to death in this manner.

Congress has voted to amend the War Crimes Act (the U.S. implementation of the Geneva Convention) to grant the Executive unreviewable authority to determine what practices consitute torture. So when the U.S. government detains You and tortures You, it can declare your torture to be legal.

32 Democrats, 1 Republican, and 1 Independent Senator voted against this bill.
53 Republicans, 11 Democrats, and 1 Independent Senator voted for it.

Kafka, again:
All human errors are impatience, a premature breaking off of methodical procedure, an apparent fencing-in of what is apparently at issue.

I leave it to You, Dear Reader, to determine what is at issue.


At 1:12 AM, Blogger Herr Richter said...

Great post. Kafka is definately an appropriate writer to bring to bear on whats been going on in our country lately. The problem is that the people in charge have this optimism about the US, that we could never become totalitarian. I usually avoid conspiracy theories, but with technology getting more and more powerful, we need to be careful about which path we decide to send out country down..we don't have big brother yet, but I cringe when I think about where we'll be at in 100, 150 years.


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