Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Modest Proposal to Radically Reduce the Nation's Bureaucracies

On the criminalization of everyday life.

Yesterday I described the power of digital technologies to replace paid work: The Python (Script) That Ate Your Job. Since organizations only have expenses, any paid work that can be replaced by software and/or robots will eventually be replaced by software and/or robots. Maintaining high expenses is a fast-track to going broke.

Which brings me to the nation's vast array of overlapping public and private bureaucracies.

I suspect that a significant percentage of the nation's many bureaucracies could be replaced with a very simple script that yielded one answer to most queries: no.

If the answer to all queries was "yes," there would be no need for bureaucracies to rubberstamp this approval. If the answer to any query was "no," then there would also be no need for bureaucracies to rubberstamp this denial.

Bureaucracies justify their power, payroll and budget by granting occasional favors of "yes" to supplicants who bow before the power of the bureaucracy and pay the appropriate fees.

In other words, bureaucracies justify their power, payroll and budget by saying "no" conditionally. If the agency issued "yes" as a matter of default, then the agency could be replaced by a script. The same is true of the agency always issued a "no" as a default; that agency could also be replaced by a simple script.

The modest proposal is to replace all bureaucracies with simple scripts that mimic actual bureaucratic function and output but without the extraordinary cost of tens of thousands of employees. We should also recall that regulatory bureaucracies are designed to be captured by monied private interests, i.e. "some are more equal than others." This intrinsic well of injustice would be capped off by automated scripts.

Here's an example of how this would work.

All queries relating to permits, fees and what is against the law will be handled in this fashion:

"Do I need a permit to do X (plant a garden in my front yard, bake a loaf of bread, build killer drones in my garage, perform minor surgery on myself, etc.)?"
Default response: yes.


"Is X (attempting to contact aliens via my tin-foil hat, crossing the street with a geranium plant, wearing mismatched socks in public, etc.) against the law or prohibited by statutes"?
Default response: yes. If it isn't against the law, it will be shortly.



"Can I do X (dream of freedom, paint my front door red, build a submarine in my backyard, keep rodents as outdoor pets, seek the Tao, skateboard in my neighbor's empty swimming pool, etc.)?"
Default response: no.


Private bureaucracies would have a slightly different set of defaults:

"How do I contact customer support?"
Default response: no.


"How do I go about getting a refund?"
Default response: no.


"Can I buy an upgrade online?"
Default response: yes.


One justification for the expansion of public bureaucracies is the pressing need to criminalize every aspect of life in America: How Every Part of American Life Became a Police Matter.

But justifying the expansion of centralized authority and Central State bureaucracies via overcriminalization could easily be scripted as well. For example, the script could insert operative phrases that criminalize virtually everything, at almost no cost to the taxpayer. For example:

"Can I skateboard on the sidewalks?"
No. You are a public threat, and therefore subject to arrest and imprisonment in America's gulag.


"Can I stop my kid's attention-deficit-whatever meds and just eliminate sugar, TV and violent videogames from his life?"
No. Sugar, violent videogames and addictive meds are all high-profit and therefore of the highest public good, and your proposal is a threat. Should you attempt to curtail your child's addictions to sugar, videogames and high-profit medications, you will be subject to arrest and imprisonment in America's gulag.


"Can my 7-year old boy hug his 7-year old friend at school who happens to be a girl?"
No. That is inappropriate touching. In fact, all touching is inappropriate. If this hug occurs and you fail to immediately stop it, you will be subject to arrest and imprisonment in America's gulag.


"Can I sell a few spliffs of home-grown medical marijuana to a friend?"
No. You are a dealer of dangerous drugs and deserve a "tenner" in America's gulag.


The script could also insert appropriate warnings such as:

Please note that if you live in locales with private police forces and private prisons, the odds of you being arrested and incarcerated in a highly profitable private prison are significantly higher than if you live in a jurisdiction with an overstretched public police force and an already crowded state gulag.

To mimic the rare approval of actual bureaucracies, the script could randomly generate approvals, subject to payment of fees. For example:
"Can I dump toxic chemical waste in my neighbor's empty swimming pool?"
Response: yes, if you complete the appropriate forms and pay the processing fees.


With my modest proposal, at least we won't be paying a fortune for the criminalization of every aspect of life by an out-of-control array of Central State bureaucracies. A few simple scripts could do the same job, and millions of people currently working in centralized bureaucracies would be free to pursue something more productive than the criminalization of everyday life.

If you want to find out what a "tenner" is, or what centralized authority and the criminalization of everyday life leads to, please read the three volumes of The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956
The Gulag Archipelago 2
Gulag Archipelago 3


To those who say "it can't happen here" I reply: it's already happened here. War at Home: Covert action against U.S. activists 


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Reconnecting higher education, livelihoods and the economyWith the soaring cost of higher education, has the value a college degree been turned upside down? College tuition and fees are up 1000% since 1980. Half of all recent college graduates are jobless or underemployed, revealing a deep disconnect between higher education and the job market.

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go to print edition1. Debt and financialization
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