The Seven Rules of Bureaucracy

This post was derived from an article at Misses Institutue.


Harry E. Teasley

Teasley has spent his life confronting bureaucracies. His business career was spent at The Coca-Cola Company as head of various lines of business. His nickname was “Thor” for his willingness to confront the evils of bureaucracy and its mindless agents.


Gone are the days when both the people and their government live within their means. With 44 percent of households receiving some form of federal subsidy and the majority of Americans not paying any taxes, our country is now more the land of entitlements than the land of opportunity (Boskin, 2011; Heritage Foundation Report, 2011).

With the current challenge of reducing the runaway government spending and an entitlement mentality by citizens, it is quite possible to trim the budget by reining in our bureaucracy. Thomas Sowell suggested that to do so, we must further examine and challenge the giant economic leviathan of our government bureaucracy.

Bureaucracies fail or simply don’t do what they were designed to do. Sowell (1995, p. 257) reveals part of this problem in The Vision of the Anointed:

When the government creates some new program, nothing is easier than to show whatever benefits that program produces.… But it is virtually impossible to trace the taxes that paid for the program back to their sources and to show the alternative uses of that same money that could have been far more beneficial.

Even worse, bureaucrats and their supporters are loath to admit when their programs have harmful consequences and are inclined to double-down on a failing policy once it has proven its worthlessness.

Bureaucracy: A Root Evil

In order to understand the foundation of America’s morass, we must examine bureaucracy. At the root of this growing evil is the very nature of bureaucracy, especially political bureaucracy. French economist Frédéric Bastiat offered an early warning in 1850 that laws, institutions, and acts — the stuff of political bureaucracy — produce economic effects that can be seen immediately, but that other, unforeseen effects happen much later.

That the world should know not me but these: it is in such an evolution that we are already caught up, and the great question is therefore not how we can promote and hasten it, but what we can oppose to this machinery in order to keep a portion of mankind free from the parceling-out of the soul, from this supreme mastery of the bureaucratic way of life.

Free-market economists have challenged government bureaucracies since the 1920s. Ludwig von Mises, in the preface to his 1944 edition of Bureaucracy, asked if Americans should give away their individual freedom and private initiative for the guardianship of the bureaucratic state. He warned,

America is an old democracy and the talk about the dangers of bureaucracy is a new phenomenon in this country. Only in recent years have people become aware of the menace of bureaucracy, and they consider bureaucracy not an instrument of democratic government but, on the contrary, the worst enemy of freedom and democracy. (Mises, 1944, p. 44)

Rules of Bureaucracy

Rule #1: Maintain the problem at all costs! The problem is the basis of power, perks, privileges, and security.

Problems, not solutions, are the basis of bureaucratic power, perks, privilege, and political security. In politics, the tougher the problem appears, the more resources must be devoted to it. Political careers have been made by bureaucrats promising to fix problems. Bureaucrats feign trying to fix problems while usually making them worse. This is because maintaining the problem creates constituent dependency and allows the bureaucrat to show tangible evidence that he or she is working hard for constituents and their cause. It also allows bureaucrats to spend lavishly and, seemingly endlessly, on new government programs and employees.

Rule #2: Use crisis, and perceived crisis, to increase your power and control.

Rule 2a. Force 11th-hour decisions, threaten the loss of options and opportunities, and limit the opposition’s opportunity to review and critique.

Rule #3: If there are not enough crises, manufacture them, even from nature, where none exist.

Rule #4: Control the flow and release of information while feigning openness.

It is telling that the term public relations is not used in government bureaucracies. This is not to say that governmental bureaucracies don’t engage in public influence; it’s just that they don’t want to be seen as doing so. Ironically, they spend huge sums of money at all levels trying to persuade the public and media that they aren’t persuading them. Instead you have “public affairs,” “public information,” “public communication & liaison,” and “public engagement” to duck public criticism of their information-control efforts. The bottom line is that government bureaucracies don’t want people to think that they are controlling the spin and flow of information, so the appearance is all about giving the public the information they want and need and making it sound benign, instead of persuasive.

Rule 4a: Deny, delay, obfuscate, spin, and lie.

Rule #5: Maximize public-relations exposure by creating a cover story that appeals to the universal need to help people.

Government bureaucracy is honed on populist rhetoric. Bureaucrats have become skilled at using the “helping the people” angle when making speeches, and especially when dealing with the press. It is a variation of the “people angle” taught in media relations training programs as the best method to attract media attention and promotion. Almost any government program, no matter what its cost in money or personal liberties, can be sold through the media by claiming it is for (1) the children, (2) the environment, (3) the elderly, (4) the poor, (5) the homeless, (6) the national defense, (7) homeland security, or (8) the sick.

Rule #6: Create vested support groups by distributing concentrated benefits and/or entitlements to these special interests, while distributing the costs broadly to one’s political opponents.

Rule #7: Demonize the truth tellers who have the temerity to say, “The emperor has no clothes.”

Rule 7a: Accuse the truth teller of one’s own defects, deficiencies, crimes, and misdemeanors.

20 responses to “The Seven Rules of Bureaucracy

  1. Rob Augustine

    sent via Facebook
    The larger the entity the more these rules apply.

  2. sent via Facebook
    Do you have any suggestions for improving DCSD?

  3. I have lots of suggestions, but I’m always outvoted and it’s usually 6-1. The BOE chair has been from South DeKalb for 20+ years. As long as we have this tyranny of the majority and as long as the board has Stockholm Syndrome, I anticipate the school district going against the will of District 1.

  4. Nancy Jester

    The first step in solving the problem is recognizing there is one. It would also be helpful to second motions that stand up to bureaucracy.

  5. sent via Facebook
    Let’s start the discussion. I think we have more common ground on the BOE than you think. I’ll start by suggesting a budgeting process that includes knowing where our 9,000 non-teaching personnel are and what they do.

  6. There are 50+ school districts that have a higher percentage of students on Free/Reduced lunches, spend less per student than DeKalb and get better academic results (as measured by CCRPI).

    I’ll support any initiative that shines a light and challenges the implementation of any of these rules of Bureaucracy.

  7. Jonathan Weintraub

    sent via Facebook
    The heritage foundation? Give me a break.? The article starts with a false premise. This is not what I expect from a school board member.

  8. Mr. McMahan,
    So how will you and the other BOE members find out where the 9000 non-teaching personnel are and what they do? Will you ask Dr. Green NOW about that, so he has no excuse not to provide that info to the BOE before the budgeting cycle begins? Often y’all ask very nicely for info but the public never knows if you get that info or if it is timely enough to affect your decisions.

    From where I sit, the BOE is just a rubber stamp for Dr. Green, except for Stan. Stan sometimes isn’t very diplomatic about things, but I sure wish you and other BOE members would back him up.

  9. chamblee getting screwed

    McMahan= wimp. He’s done nothing for his constitutents. Come on Lakeside, vote this guy out!!

  10. While I don’t agree with every vote Jim McMahan makes, I have to say Chamblee Getting Screwed is out of line.
    Jim works his butt off for his constituents. Obviously, Chamblee Getting Screwed doesn’t live in Jim’s area.

  11. Frustrated and disappointed DeKalb Citizen

    If these Rules of Bureaucracy don’t ring frighteningly familiar to DeKalb County School System parents, teachers, and tax-payers, I’m afraid you must not be paying very close attention. Rules 2a and 4 seem to have been faithfully followed in the recent SPLOST project vote. Providing results from an invalid online survey and input from meetings attended by only a tiny fraction of stakeholders as evidence to support plans to spend millions of tax dollars without first completing thorough feasibility studies for these projects, much less employing good old common sense, is a clear demonstration of either incompetence or adherence to the rules of bureaucracy or both.

  12. sent via Facebook
    I thought Stan offered this as a critique of bureaucracy in general – factors which present a negative tension and compete with innovation and efficiency. DeKalb, in its glory days, was a high average system run very efficiently by Jim Cherry. It was effectively run by the federal courts for two decades which allowed many of the caveats listed in the article to take full root within the system. If it is helpful Jon, disregard the first paragraph. Read the article in the context of where on the continuum DCSS and DeKalb County rest. I think we are far closer to the negative end of the continuum than the healthy end. I know you worked hard while in Gwinnett and DeKalb government to be efficient and break down barriers – can you honestly say that spirit currently exists? I would also point out that we need to be careful that we do not compare the past with the present. A system run today in the style of Jim Cherry or Manuel Maloof – both strong leaders – would collapse under its own weight today. What is discouraging is that many of the national/ international innovations that I have seen – offered by both sides of the political aisle – in the past 15 years would have found a quick death in DCSS – in past years. The jury is still out, from my vantage, with respect to the current governance team. Always hopeful, however.

  13. Taylor J Bennett

    sent via Facebook
    In Re: Stockholm Syndrome metaphor…who is the captor??

  14. Nancy Jester

    Taylor – The captors are the ridiculous educrats that have shown a stunning consistency in how incompetently they run the district. And the board just goes right along with everything they “recommend”. I also refer to it as “regulatory capture”.

  15. William Blackwood

    In this instance, I would say that “resource capture” is more apt. The vehicle is a public good – the school system. The result is a kind of inverted rent-seeking (or not, depending on your point of view and your interpretation of history) whereby the control over jobs and contracts becomes embedded in an enabling winner-take-all political system. The necessary sociology is the ongoing transformation of south DeKalb (and, indeed, southwest Atlanta writ large) into a periphery that is increasingly cut off from the socially and economically dynamic core. Within this area, “middle-class” livelihood is dependent on public-sector employment in a hugely disproportionate way more akin to a developing country than to an integral part of the tenth-largest economic area within the United States. Paradoxically, the resulting dysfunction that characterizes the public sector works to undermine the legitimacy of the government-supervised sharing of social costs (deemed pejoratively “wealth redistribution” by some) that, up to now, anyway, has distinguished parts of the Atlanta area from most other places. In this context, it is worth noting that Kansas City is quite unlike DeKalb. The former does have a commercial and residential tax base sufficient to support a relatively small, isolated public school system. Kansas City, however, has none of the explosive economic growth that is currently transforming wide swaths of the ITP area north of Memorial. This economic growth harbors both the promise of reinvigorating public services as well as the peril that the existing political dynamic will render the public sector incapable of managing the resulting tensions.

  16. Matthew Lewis

    sent via Facebook
    Seems to me the BOE could pick a simple, non-controversial starting place: every parent, student and teacher deserves to know how much money is spent at his/her school and on what. The current budgeting process and resulting document make that nearly impossible to discern.

    It is not, however, so difficult to compute based on funding formula and tax digest. So start there. Each school, simple language, dollars “earned” based on law, dollars spent by category, including allocated shared expense.

  17. sent via Facebook
    Great idea Matt. Good to hear from you and hope you are well. Gwinnett County Schools have annual “Accountability reports” on each of their schools webpages. Great place to start but I think DCSD Flintstone era financial reporting software makes it hard to compute. I’ll ask at next week’s meeting.

  18. Kim Gokce (DIO's Butt Munch)

    On behalf of Fred, Barney, Wilma and Betty, I’m offended. Joking aside I appreciate Jim’s mention of the GC Accountability reports. When I stumbled on one school’s report last year I was dumbfounded.

    The clarity and candor was refreshing. I was also struck by the thought of the talent required for a principal to produce such an annual report. Until we have the systems and the culture of accountability we are going to continue to struggle.

    Change is hard or anyone could lead it. Here’s hoping that the personal commitment, competence and demonstrated courage of Dr. Green is enough to transform the very large and entrenched DCSD.

  19. Matt Dickinson

    I agree with Matt. Stakeholders have no idea how indirect monies are allocated to a school. DCSD uses Excel to do their accounting. The 2016-2017 budget is almost $1B. When will DCSD get an accounting package!? Hell, QuickBooks would even work.

  20. Category IV of E-SPLOST V is $65 million for Technology Improvements which includes an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) upgrade.

    ERP Update
    • Planning (Oct –Dec 2016) – Current-state process capture, Conducting Gap Analysis, and Statement Of Work (SOW) development.
    • Finance Deployment (Jan 2017 –Jan 2018) – Project Kick-off, Phase 1 –Training, and Deployment
    • Human Resources and Operations Deployment (TBD) – Phases 2 and 3 Kick-off, Training and Deployment