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Bureaucracy as mass movement

Reader comment on item: [Bureaucratic Leftism and] Globalthink's Perils

Submitted by John J. Olson (United States), Sep 25, 2002 at 10:45

Isn't bureaucracy the fossil of a dead mass movement? In his classic analysis, "The True Believer", Eric Hoffer theorized that mass movements go through three phases. First, the idea, when disgruntled intellectuals spark the movement by discrediting the old power structure; second, the active phase, when fanatics lead the movement; finally, the power structure, when the careerists take charge. In each phase, the leaders promote the mass movement because they correctly believe they have no better way to gain status, wealth, and power.

If you want to be a labor union president today, you don't go to work or even go on strike. You go to law school because labor unions today are bureaucracies, the fossil of a once-vibrant labor union movement.

Today, if you want to promote the social and economic welfare of black people, you don't become an unpaid Freedom Rider opposing tyrannical racial segregation, to the risk of your life and property. You go to work for the EEOC and collect a salary for seizing and doling out opportunities among other people, at no cost or risk to yourself. Civil rights is no longer an ideal, it is a job opportunity for people who can't compete in fields such as heavy industry or high technology.

If you want to heal the sickest people of the world, you might think that working for the World Health Organization would be a good way to go about it. Far from it. In a press release in 1999, WHO declared that six illnesses account for 90% of all infectious disease deaths for people under 44 and that it would cost no more than $20 a person to prevent them yet these diseases caused over 11 million deaths in 1998. Hence, all those deaths could be prevented at the cost of $220 million. That is only 20% of WHO's annual budget and it is less than a third as much as WHO spends on its own administration and its Geneva headquarters. It will never happen as long as WHO is a jobs program for healthy bureaucrats instead of a health program for sick people.

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