Why Democracy Inevitably Leads to More Bureaucracy

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Parkinson’s Law is the amusing adage that work expands to fill the time available.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson, who worked extensively in the British Civil Service, originally coined the law in a humorous essay published in The Economist in 1955, in which he noted that Great Britain’s Colonial Office had its greatest number of staff at the point when it was folded into the Foreign Office because of a lack of colonies to administer.

Martin Regnen takes this as a starting point for explaining why Democracy inevitably leads to more bureaucracy:

Reflecting on Parkinson’s Law recently, I realized that democratic governments should be more vulnerable to it than totalitarian governments. After all, a democractic government can always expand itself to exercise more control over its subjects, whereas a totalitarian govnernment already has total control and therefore nowhere to expand its influence except through territorial, population or economic growth. By creating more government agencies and officials in a democracy, a government expands its power and attracts more people to government employment. A totalitarian government, on the other hand, can only divide the existing complete power into smaller pieces, thus making previously existing officials less powerful.

Regnen actually tested this hypothesis by looking at some publicly available data on the number of laws passed in an unnamed neighboring country — he lives “somewhere in Central Europe” — that went from Democracy to Communism and back to Democracy:

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