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Bound To Be Big

June 2024
1min read

The writer of the piece on how our government got so big, in the September issue, seems intent on proving that that growth did not occur just because of the philosophies and actions of “liberal progressives” but must equally be attributed to the doings of “right-wing conservatives” (how I hate the expropriation, mis-use, and conversion to jargon of those good and useful words). It is characteristic of much intellectual activity in the United States that blame must be apportioned. The inevitable consequence is to fail to reach the truth. The growth of bureaucracies has next to nothing to do with political philosophy. It is, as C. Northcote Parkinson declared and explained in his Economist article of 1955, followed by his books Parkinson’s Law in 1957 and Parkinson: The Law in 1979, rather the result of a law which can be treated scientifically, subjected to critical analysis, and expressed mathematically. It applies not only to governments but equally to industries, hospitals, unions, dioceses, and, in fact, all administrations set up for any purpose.

Parkinson’s first example was a British one: Between 1914 and 1928 the number of Royal Navy capital ships fell by 68 percent and sailors (officers and men) by 31 percent, while dockyard workers rose by 9.5 percent, dockyard officials and clerks by 40 percent, and Admiralty officials by 78 percent! His researches cover many other areas of activity and span much longer periods of time than that inaugural example. What is important is that the expansion in the number of government bureaucrats took place at a steady annual rate through the tenure of Tory, Labour, and Coalition governments! It’s not the government, stupid; it is Parkinson’s law.

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