Spotting C Northcote Parkinson in the wild


That Parkinson's Law is generally applicable is obvious. But in the great man's work there are other observations which we can spot occasionally out there in the wild as it were. That the Royal Navy will have more Admirals than ships has been true for some time now, that committees and bureaucracy will, in the end, strangle the life out of any and every organisation is also obviously true. He also pointed out what is happening here:

Civil servants went on a £1billion spending spree in just eight weeks to hit the Government’s target of spending 0.7 per cent of the nation’s income on overseas aid.

The extra cash was spent at the end of 2013 on humanitarian programmes in Syria and the Philippines and a fund which was started by billionaire Bill Gates to help victims of Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

MPs said the fact that the taxpayer funds were spent so quickly raised serious questions about whether value for money was achieved. Civil servants are now set to be called in front of an influential committee of MPs to justify the spending.

The point of spending by a bureaucracy is not to provide value for money. Nor is the point of political spending to actually achieve anything. In this story we combine those two to lethal effect.

The point of political spending is to allow a politicians to announce that something is being done so vote for me. Doesn't matter what is being done, how effectively it is being done or even whether it needs to be done at all, let alone with other peoples' money. The point is the purchase of those votes.

Similarly, the point of a bureaucracy is not to provide value for money. It is to spend the budget allocated to that bureaucracy and to thus make the case that the budget, and thus the bureaucracy, should be larger in the next budget period.

These two have combined here to produce the sight of a bureaucracy shoveling money out the window, into and on anything at all, in order to enable the politicians to purchase votes.

Well done everyone.

The solution Parkinson offered to such problems was simple. It isn't possible to reform such practices. One must simply stop doing the thing itself. No, we don't mean stopping charitable aid to poor people if that's what we all decide we want to do. But stop running it through these inefficiencies of government.