The Decaying State

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The
public sector ain’t what it used to be, and thank goodness. Consider:

The
wire services are trying to drum up hysteria about a shortage of
public-school teachers and school principals. It turns out that
young people have developed other aspirations besides being slaves
to the government and its brainwashing schemes. They especially
have no desire to enter into the administrative bureaucracy of a
decaying system. The wages are tolerable and secure, but it’s an
awful way to fritter away one’s talents. A mind is a terrible thing
to waste working for the government.

Politicians
are proposing state and federal programs to boost interest and income
in these fields. But whatever they do to stop the hemorrhage out
of the public schools, it will not correct the larger problem –
a problem, anyway, from the point of view of the government. The
trouble is this: not just the public schools but all its bureaucracies
are in decay, experiencing an unprecedented brain drain to the private
sector. Daily, talented people decide that huge pensions and secure
jobs don’t provide enough compensation for being drones for Leviathan.

The
New York Times ran a study on the State Department in particular,
whose Foreign Service was considered the elite bureaucracy, the
one that attracted the best and the brightest into its much-ballyhooed
diplomatic corps. The exams to get in were notoriously difficult,
and being called back for an extended interview was considered an
extreme honor. No one would think of turning down an offer.

No
more. The smartest no longer bother. If an offer comes, it is often
turned down. Interviewers have noticed that the talent pool they
have to chose from grows dimmer by the day. And the people who presently
work in the bureaucracy are leaving in record numbers. As the Times
puts it, "talented diplomats are leaving for careers that they
believe have more power and prestige in the new global economy.
And college graduates who used to rush to take the Foreign Service
exam no longer bother."

The
reality is that the diplomatic corps is no longer where the action
is. Hardly anyone pays attention to paper shufflers from government
agencies. To be among them is to make little or no impact on the
world. And where are the rewards? You work your way up based on
connections and time served, not creativity or genuine accomplishment.
And even when you get to the top, what are you doing? Writing memos
nobody cares about, attending endless meetings where nothing happens,
and otherwise trying to make your boss look good.

The private sector’s profit-and-loss mechanisms rewards companies
that promote the best people, and punishes companies that become
bureaucratized and irrelevant to the lives of regular people. Especially
in this economic boom, companies have to be more attentive to the
consumer and the international commercial landscape than ever before.

The
world of Dilbert – bureaucracy, dumb management, time wasting,
irrational strategies, and undefined missions – applies in
spades to the public sector. A Dilbertized company will be punished
severely in today’s business environment, while one that rewards
its employees, serves the public, and stays on top of daily affairs
excels and attracts the best people. How can the State Department
compete in that environment? Today it can offer none of the risk,
reward, idealism, and positions of consequence that government seemed
to offer during its glory days.

Several
studies have been conducted on the problem and concluded that the
State Department must change its system of recruitment and remuneration.
But this isn’t going to solve the long-term problem, which has a
much deeper root: the status and prestige of government work isn’t
what it used to be.

This
is something we should celebrate! If government were small and unintrusive,
as it generally was in the early 19th century, you wouldn’t mind
if its offices were filled with highly educated people from old
families with social prestige. But when the government is bloated
and most of its powers illegitimate, and it is trying to run or
bomb the world, we are far better off having its offices populated
by discards nobody else wants.

Ineffective
government is always a blessing, but especially now. The less government
we get for our money, the safer are our freedoms.

The
actual problem is that the world has changed dramatically from fifty
years ago, while the government has not. The central state as we
know it is a product of an ideology of central planning that has
failed, and an administrative apparatus that is completely outmoded
in a world where the market economy is the driving force.

Look
at the global system of embassies and other State Department offices.
As the ultimate brick and mortar institutions, they were created
before Instant Messaging, email, and faxes. If there really is any
"diplomacy" to be conducted, the self-appointed leaders
of the world would be better off getting a solid internet connection
rather than wasting tax money building new palaces for themselves.
How about using an online Chat Room for the next meeting of the
World Trade Organization, for example?

How
can the government regain its prestige? Leslie Gelb at the Council
of Foreign Relations offers this guide to a New York Times
reporter: "The State Department will be able to attract anyone
it wants when once again the building becomes the center of making
foreign policy and foreign policy strategy," he says. "Good
people want to work at places that are at the center of things."

The
answer, then, from the point of view of the state, is to put itself
at the center of things. And that is precisely why anyone who loves
freedom should oppose all efforts to shore up the status of life
in the bureaucracy. We should celebrate the decay of the state,
and find ways to encourage this glorious trend in which good people
who want to be at the center of things avoid anything having to
do with the government.

September
8, 2000

Llewellyn
H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig
von Mises Institute
in Auburn, Alabama. He
also edits a daily news site, LewRockwell.com.

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