How Much Looting?

Few libertarian philosophers and scholars have failed to recognize the extensive bureaucracy and the effectivity problems that are associated with big government. But is it fair to claim that big government is literally out of control? In Sweden, the answer is yes.

Recently the Swedish government was forced to admit that they simply had no idea how many government agencies exist. As the major daily papers took up the issue, the Agency for Public Management were given the task of performing an official inquiry to find out how many agencies there were.

One of the first things the agency did was to call the largest free-market think tank in Sweden, Timbro, and ask whether they knew. Alas, the expansion of public bureaucracy has been so rapid in Sweden that even the opposition to central planning finds it difficult to keep track of things.

And so the investigation has been going on for a few months. The results that were recently released were shocking to say the least. There are currently 552 government agencies in Sweden, working with important issues such as making sure that those employed by the merchant fleet can consume culture or that we might have "handicraft circuses" (an ongoing project of the committee for handicraft issues).

Looking at the list of Swedish agencies and having some previous knowledge of what they spend their funds on, it is perhaps quite understandable that even our government did not know how many agencies existed – if you don't do anything worth noticing nobody is going to be aware of your existence.

The 552 government agencies currently employ 230,976 persons. That corresponds to over 5,7 percent of those active in the Swedish labor market. Note that this figure does not include the countless bureaucrats employed by the 20 county councils and the 290 municipalities in Sweden. The actual number of Swedish bureaucrats might easily be over 10 percent of those active in the labor market.

Sweden has been famous for having fewer problems with bureaucracy and inefficiency in public institutions than other modern economies. This is most likely an important factor for why the Swedish welfare state has been able to become the largest amongst industrialized countries.

However, it would seem as if not even the strongest protestant working ethics can stand against the mechanisms of government inefficiency. As Swedish politicians keep creating new agencies so that their colleagues and friends can get easy top-paying jobs, the jungle of government agencies grows more rapid than anybody can keep track of.

November 5, 2005