Far Less Could Be Much More

Written by Lionel Tiger on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.

A form of
functional gridlock devoured everyone’s energy just protecting and expanding
their vanities and turf instead of doing whatever it is political operatives
are supposed to do to turn their employers into all-purpose alloys of Winston
Churchill and Regis Philbin. Of course the potential value of the colorfully
heady gesture of leaving Washington and reducing the imperial entourage seems
to have been virally attacked by the campaign’s continued employment of
several evidently compromised leaders such as Tony Coelho and the appointment
of a campaign director, Donna Brazile, familiar with the crucible of political
failure during her maladroit conniption as a leading lady in the anti-exemplary
Dukakis odyssey.

But this
is not to detract from someone’s decision that in politics, as well as
decorating cakes and makeup for dowagers, less is more. There is a deep and
accurate perception throughout the history of human organizations that they
expand on their own, as often without functional purpose as with some credible
or at least plausible cause. It seems almost a law of human nature that people
find it easier and emotionally more satisfying to add numbers to their groups
rather than dispense with them. What has been called The Iron Law of Bureaucracy
has been the slow ruin of countless organizations baffled by the fact that what
they are supposed to do they do less effectively and with less fun than they
would like. Bureaucracies appear to specialize in turning external product into
internal process. The worst ones produce nothing at all except an avalanche
of paper or now electrical scribbles describing action and reaction, and nothing

For a dozen
years I was a research director of the one of the Guggenheim foundations that
was charged with supplying money to researchers looking for fundamental causes
of human violence and inequality. We had a splendid and invigorating time identifying
and then cosseting people–in a modest manner–who were pursuing serious
and often arrestingly significant work on a fascinating variety of subjects.
In general, we almost never provided money for organizations that are endlessly
voracious sponges for resources that lose their impact without a trace. We emitted
money only to individuals, and under their personal control too. And we paid
no "overheads" to the universities employing these researchers–some
institutions decided that their kickback had to be as high as 73 percent of
the original grant. Once Stanford University sent a vice president to New York
to tell us so very urgently we had to pay their luxurious rake-off on a $30,000
grant since everyone else did that sort of thing. We refused and offered to
let Stanford tell its scientist he couldn’t receive his grant because of
our bad behavior. Of course they hadn’t the courage to do so.

this sturdy rule, at one point it seemed plausible to bring together an international
group in a forum to try to explain what was being found out to a variety of
national and cultural milieus. With considerable trepidation given its already
hideous reputation, I went to UNESCO headquarters in Paris to discuss the project
with people there who had already indicated an interest in this subject so obviously
relevant to the organization.

But I chose
a bad time. Unexpectedly, I left full-handed. Even though I was Mr. Modest Moneybags,
I was not able to spend a minute with a single significant bureaucrat because
they were all working on the Director-General’s Annual Report. Now this
happened to be the unusually awful and morally toxic Director-General, Amadou
M’Bow, from Senegal. He ran an organization that managed to spend 80 percent
of its $198 million budget in Paris on itself. Twenty percent escaped the clutches
of perhaps 1500 multicultural officials, probably by mistake, and actually found
its way into the rest of the wide world to deal with literacy, monuments, cultural
exchange and the like. The concernocrats ran the show for their own amusement,
expenses, advancement and jobs for cousins. Every single person of even moderate
status in the huge building was involved in crafting their particular unit’s
contribution to the grand proclamation of the great man. When it was completed
it was of course an utterly predictable diarrhea of stupefying platitudes and
high-church civil-service sentimentality. The politics of this process were
so intense that even the lure of free and unexpected American money for long
lunches by the Seine could not interfere with the spectacle of an organization
producing nothing other than its own digestion of its own self. It consumed
itself and produced itself at one and the same time. It was actually quite remarkable–a
spectacle of human nature as intricate and self-contained as temple carvings
in Angkor Wat. Even though UNESCO clearly had and still has a potentially sensible
and significant human mission, it was a justified relief when the United States
and the UK left the organization in l985 amid ominous discussions to legislate
a New World Order for journalists. In essence, the point of this was to permit
individual countries to decide who could write what about their communities
in order, naturally, to protect their national autonomy. To say nothing of their
dictators and criminal barons. After all, why should journalists from foreign
countries, especially "developed" ones, be permitted to reveal their
bigoted misunderstanding of national values and local customs by writing about
what they saw and of what they thought? Who said Franz Kafka should be allowed
to wander freely in Ruritania?

In any event,
like the Gore campaign, UNESCO would almost certainly have become far more efficient
had it far fewer people within its walls. The same is true of the United Nations
in New York and countless other organizations as well. The American presidency
as an institution has grown so shamefully bizarrely in size that a presidential
state visit becomes a holy procession with hundreds and hundreds of costly officials
in tow. Each of them can no doubt justify their specific and vital function
but cumulatively they generate a morbid reality of governmental prosperity gone
mad and officialdom gone tumorous.

It is as
tempting as dark-chocolate candy to conclude that, always, far less would be
much more and much better. But distinctions have to be made. The principle cannot
prevail across the board. "Lean and mean" as a description of an organization
may reflect an unnecessarily punitive restriction on legitimate activities of
decent enterprises. For example, the Securities and Exchange Commission is starved
by Congress for funds and personnel as it tries to do nothing less vital to
everyone including affluent tax-cutters than preserve the collective nest egg
of the community and the integrity and transparency of U.S. investment and of
the dollar itself. It lacks the computer facilities and sophisticated personnel
to deal with a stock market changing more rapidly than ever during a period
in history The Wall Street Journal has called "a golden age of financial
fraud"–when two seemingly authoritative but ill-supervised banks,
Barings and Kidder Peabody, were doomed by criminal white-collar adventure.
Likewise, the IRS is supposed to collect taxes fairly and efficiently so that
there’s enough public money and taxes haven’t to be raised. But it
is also under severe pressure from a petulantly cheap Congress that appears
to miss the point that if appropriate taxes were efficiently levied overall
levels might be able to be lower. The lack of oversight of both investment and
tax systems rewards irresponsible malefactors and outright criminals and punishes
us all.

Lean and
mean in those particular bureaucracies is wrong. But in others it is a relief
and refreshing. Eternal vigilance is the price of excellent organization.