One of the things most people fail to comprehend is the logic of bureaucracy. When we bump into it and inevitably get frustrated by the results, we assume it is due to sloth and stupidity. The image of the callous, incompetent bureaucrat is a stock figure on TV and in movies. In America, the Post Office is the example held up as emblematic of the dull-witted and disinterested government functionary.
The truth of it is, many of the people working in the bureaucracy are quite competent. The average is probably about the same as you would find at any private sector company. The difference between the government bureaucracy and the corporate bureaucracy is what gets rewarded. In government, it’s all about advancing the interests of the bureaucracy, while the private firm is motivated by profit. The latter encourages competition among employees, while the former encourages cooperation.
The most obvious example is corruption. City police departments are often bedeviled by corruption because cops never rat on one another. That’s a good way to get killed. Instead, the honest cops look the other way and the crooks collude to advance their corruption. In the private sector, employees rat out crooks and loafers all the time, because the crooks and loafers are seen as a drag on the organization. The peer pressure in the private sector is to advance the goals of the group, which is always about profit.
The goals of government organizations are about protecting the prerogatives of the organization. The people inside are entirely focused on what happens inside. The people at the Post Office, for example, don’t care a wit about the customers or the service they are allegedly providing. They simply care about their place within the blob and protecting the blob against outside threats.
This story about “Pizza Rat” in the NYTimes provides an excellent example of how the internal logic of the bureaucracy looks insane from the outside.
Even in a subway system often cluttered with trash, it stood out: a whole slice of pizza left carelessly on the floor.
The slice found its way into the grip of an ambitious rat that dragged it down the stairs of the First Avenue L station in Manhattan early Monday. A video of the spectacle spread quickly online, amassing more than two million views on YouTube, and a star was born: Pizza Rat.
A day later, Thomas P. DiNapoli, the state comptroller, released an audit that questioned whether an effort by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to reduce trash and rats on the subway was working. Mr. DiNapoli said that a pilot program to remove trash cans from some stations had shown little evidence of success.
“After four years, the best one can say about this experiment is that it’s inconclusive, except for the fact that riders have a harder time finding a trash can,” Mr. DiNapoli said. His office declined to comment on the video of the rat.
The authority has removed trash cans from 39 subway stations in recent years to encourage riders to take garbage with them instead of dropping it in overflowing trash cans and leaving scraps for rats to feast on. On Tuesday, the authority defended the program, saying it had reduced the number of trash bags collected at those stations.
“We wholeheartedly disagree with the comptroller’s opinion,” Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the authority, said.
Now, to normal people the obvious solution to over flowing trash barrels and the subsequent rats is to empty the trash barrels. If the trash barrel in your office fills up, you empty it. If you use a service, maybe you have them come more often. If you have a rat problem, you get a service to eliminate the rats. In other words, the problem needs to be solved and that means the problem stops being a problem. The trash barrels get emptied and the rates go away.
To the bureaucrat, the problem is not the overflowing trash barrels and the rats. They don’t care about that. The problem is how to create activity. It’s always about creating activity, which is why problems never get solved because solved problems create the need for new activity. In this case, overflowing trash barrels means pilot programs, committee meetings, budget hearing, endless activity as long as rates are dragging slabs of pizza around the subway platforms.