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  • Hi, I'm Craig, and this is Crash Course Government & Politics, and today, we're gonna talk about

  • bureaucracies, just as soon as I finish filling out these forms. Do I really have to initial

  • here, here, and here on all three copies, Stan? Regulations say so? All right. I'm just

  • kidding. I don't really have to fill out forms in triplicate in order to make an episode

  • of Crash Course, but this kind of stuff is one of the main reasons that people don't like bureaucracies.

  • Americans tend to associate them with incomprehensible rules and time-wasting

  • procedures and probably most annoying - actual bureaucrats. But bureaucracies are a lot like our

  • extended families, in that we largely don't understand, or at least don't appreciate, the important role that

  • bureaucracies play in our lives, mainly because of all the forms, and because my cousin who always ate

  • all the cookies from the jar at Grandma's house.

  • [Theme Music]

  • So what exactly IS a bureaucracy? I don't like to do this, because I'm arrogant and

  • lazy, but sometimes it's helpful to go to a dictionary when you need to find out what

  • a word means. So here's a serviceable, political science-y definition: "A bureaucracy is a

  • complex structure of offices, tasks, rules, and principles of organization that are employed

  • by all large scale institutions to coordinate the work of their personnel."

  • Two points to emphasize here: First, bureaucracies are made up of experts who usually know more

  • about the topic at hand than you do and who are able to divide up complex tasks so that

  • they can get done. Second, all large scale institutions use bureaucracies, so the distinction

  • between big business and big government is, in at least this respect, bogus, or what I

  • like to call a false dichotomy. Is that too pretentious to say "false dichotomy," Stan?

  • I don't care, I'm saying it. False dichotomy!

  • So if people hate bureaucracies so much and compare them unfavorably with Google and Amazon,

  • why do we have them? Well, the main reason is that bureaucracies are efficient. They

  • make it easier for governments to accomplish tasks quickly and to basically operate at

  • all. In the US, federal bureaucrats fulfill a number of specific important functions.

  • One, bureaucrats implement the laws that Congress writes. Have you ever read a law? They're

  • pretty complicated. It's a good idea to have experts who can interpret them and put them

  • into action. Two, bureaucrats also make and enforce their own rules. But this isn't as

  • action hero-ish as it sounds. And three, they settle disputes through a process called administrative

  • adjudication, which makes them kind of like courts.

  • Now, since I know that all of you have been paying extremely close attention to these

  • episodes, you know that at least two of those functions are problematic in ways that go

  • beyond making rules that seem Byzantine or stupid or both - Byzantupid.

  • The big concern here is the separation of powers, which you remember is the idea that

  • power is divided between three branches of government. Technically the federal bureaucracy

  • is part of the executive branch, but it's so big that it dwarfs the other two branches

  • and can easily overpower them, much like I overpower this eagle.

  • "That's right eagle. I make my own rules, like a bureaucracy."

  • But an even more troubling, to some people, aspect of bureaucracies is what they actually do.

  • So let's go to the Thought Bubble. Bureaucracies don't just enforce the rules; they make new

  • ones called regulations. In doing this, they're acting like a legislature, especially since

  • the rules have the force of law and people can be punished for breaking them. For example,

  • if you say "Sh%t Sticks" on TV, the FCC can fine you, just like the local law enforcement

  • would if you broke a state law against speeding. And don't say "Sh%t Sticks" to the cop. But

  • according to the Constitution, Congress is supposed to make the laws, so if you're a

  • constitutional formalist, this is going to give you fits.

  • On the other hand, the rule making process allows for a degree of popular participation

  • that goes way beyond what happens in Congress. In 2014, Congress called for the mandatory

  • notice and comment period on new FCC rules on the issue of net neutrality. Any person

  • can read the proposed rules which are not easy to understand and offer a public comment,

  • including suggestions for new rules using the internet. The bureaucracy is required to

  • read the comments and they could be incorporated into the final rules that are published in the federal register.

  • So in a way, federal rule-making is more democratic than congressional law-making, but it's still

  • not in the constitution. Administrative adjudication raises similar separation of powers issues,

  • but they're less problematic because the constitution gives congress the right to establish courts

  • other than the Supreme Court and it doesn't say that these can't be administrative tribunals

  • that are part of bureaucratic agencies.

  • Many low level bureaucratic positions are filled through competitive exam-based civil

  • service procedures which are supposed to ensure a level of expertise and take politics out

  • of the staffing process. But many upper level bureaucratic leaders especially cabinet secretaries

  • and also ambassadors are very political. For one thing, they're appointed by politicians

  • who may be repaying favors or trying to pack the agencies with like-minded favorites.

  • For another, bureaucrats engage in bargaining and protect their own interests, the very

  • thing that politicians do all the time. Thanks Thought Bubble.

  • So the first reason we keep bureaucracies is because bureaucracies are useful. They

  • do get things done even though it might not be as quickly as we'd like. And some of these

  • things are things we want done, like inspecting our meat so we don't get E. coli or Salmonella

  • or Mad Cow Disease. One response to this that we'll talk about later is to get rid of public

  • bureaucracies and contract their tasks out to private companies. There's something to

  • be said to this. After all, in a lot of ways UPS does a better job of getting packages

  • to us than the postal service does. And I also have a lot more fun at the private bowling

  • alley than the public one. There's no such thing as a public bowling alley.

  • If there is, I'm going. Might be free.

  • But the main argument for privatization seems to be cost. And that one might not always

  • be true. It seems unlikely that a private corporation would spring up to inspect meat.

  • And although we can rely on pricing to signal that our chicken wings are salmonella free,

  • I don't think it's a good idea. So in addition to being useful and filling roles that the

  • private sector might not fill, one of the reasons we have so many bureaucracies is because

  • Congress keeps making them and delegating power to them.

  • If we didn't have bureaucracy, Congressmen and their staff would be taking on all the

  • oversight and enforcement of their own laws. In addition to creating its own separation

  • of powers problem, this might be kind of chaotic, considering that potentially the entire House

  • of Representatives could be replaced every two years.

  • One advantage of bureaucracies is a certain amount of stability in the built-up expertise

  • that comes with it. Probably the main reason why we don't change bureaucracies though is

  • that doing so is really difficult. Once Congress makes a bureaucracy it's usually permanent

  • for a number of practical and political reasons. We'll get into those reasons next time.

  • So I'm going to wrap this up with a little bit of a reminder about Federalism, based

  • on a largely unwarranted assertion. I bet that if you ask most Americans to give an

  • example of a bureaucracy they will say the DMV. Most people will tell you a DMV horror

  • story of the time they had to wait in line for four hours just to renew their license

  • and when they got to the counter a clerk told them that they didn't have the right forms

  • and they needed to post a money order, and not a credit card or a check or even cash

  • and that anyway they had to go on break and I had to come back in fifteen minutes and

  • all I wanted was my license-- AAAAAAH the DMV!

  • And I sympathize with this predicament but I feel the need to remind anyone who has had

  • this experience at the DMV, that it's a state bureaucracy, not the federal bureaucracy.

  • Most of the bureaucrats you meet in your daily life: teachers, policeman, tax assessors are

  • officials of your state government, not the federal government, like Bureaucrat Jimmy.

  • Which is pretty much what the Framers intended.

  • So it's a good idea to be thoughtful about which government we're going to transfer our

  • anger towards and to rage against the correct machine. That's what federalism's all about.

  • Thanks for watching. I'll see you next week.

  • Crash Course: Government & Politics is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. Support

  • for Crash Course: U.S. Government comes from Voqal. Voqal supports nonprofits that use

  • technology and media to advance social equity. Learn more about their mission and initiatives

  • at voqual.org. Crash Course was made with the help of these soulless bureaucrats. Thanks for watching.

Hi, I'm Craig, and this is Crash Course Government & Politics, and today, we're gonna talk about

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Bureaucracy Basics: Crash Course Government and Politics #15

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    zhangyor posted on 2019/10/25
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