The Need for Bureaucracy

I listened to an interview the other day with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). The interviewer (Ari Shapiro) asked him about a Treasury Department report finding that over-regulation was not killing business. In fact, the most highly regulated industries are experiencing the strongest growth. His response was, “Well, that’s just not what I’m hearing from my job creators in Wisconsin.” Consider the logic of this argument: Shapiro offers a study by economists, Rep. Ryan dismisses the study with anecdotal evidence from his narrow personal experience. I would have expected more critical thinking from the budget darling of the Republican Party.


One of the lessons I take from comments like this is the need for bureaucracy. Or, more accurately, for bureaucrats. Take this example with Ryan. On one hand, we have a conservative Congressman. He represents (a) a political party for which he has become a chief economic spokesman and (b) his constituents in a slice of Wisconsin. He gathers at least some of his most important economic evidence by asking business owners in his district what can be done to help them create more jobs. Is anyone surprised that these businessmen, asked by this Congressman, responded by pointing to government regulation as a major obstacle?

On the other hand, how was the Treasury Department report produced? Though I don’t have the details, we can guess that it was the work of one or more bureaucrats. Though they currently work at Treasury, as trained economists (or statisticians, accountants, etc.), their primary loyalty is likely to their professional values more than their employer. I suspect that one does not pursue a career that leads to producing studies for the Treasury Department because you’re hoping to radically reshape U.S. government policy. More likely, you have a commitment to clean social science methods, good data, and informed decision-making. And if you’re hoping to make a long-term career in Treasury, because you really like economic data and the opportunity to produce it in ways that might help the U.S. government make better policy, being narrowly partisan is a bad career move.

Data gathered for the Treasury Department study would be national, probably involve a time range, and be both collected and analyzed systematically. There would be in place standards for data collection to protect against or account for bias in the sample. It would not be anecdotal. In short, it’s much more likely to produce an accurate picture of how our economy works than anecdotal evidence collected by a single individual in one congressional district.

This is why our government (and society in general) needs bureaucrats. They are easy to attack as faceless and seemingly malevolent cogs. But these are real people, many of them trying to live up to the best standards of their training. We should be grateful for their service, not brush them aside as though they were partisan hacks.

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