The London Economist, which first proclaimed Parkinson's...

salmagundi

August 31, 1992

The London Economist, which first proclaimed Parkinson's Law (Work expands to fill the time available for its completion) in 1955, has made a horrifying discovery. The original dogma explained the growth of government: Bureaucrats create work to justify their own positions. The computer chip and other electronic wonders of the modern office should by now have "rescued us from the bureaucratic suffocation envisioned by Mr. Parkinson," the British journal reasons.

"Would it were so," the Economist concludes. "This year, for the first time, more Americans work in government than in manufacturing. Mr. Parkinson's observation that bureaucracies grow inexorably, independent of their workload, is as true today as on the day it was first made."

True, the bureaucrats' offices are now equipped with all sorts of presumably labor-saving devices like computers. To no avail. "Robots have reduced the number of people it takes to make a car. "Why have computers -- white-collar robots -- not reduced the number of people it takes to run a government?"

But officials whose standing is determined by the number of people they supervise have decided they need software and hardware experts to help them run the computers. And they pour out a lot more information, creating the need for humans to study it. Any self-respecting computer is hooked up to a network. That makes it possible for the bureaucrats to communicate easily with each other and even to share information. So those bureaucrats also need more staff to digest the additional information and to help the boss respond quickly to those new and more swiftly delivered messages. ("It's in the interoffice mail" doesn't wash as an alibi in the modern office any longer.) Sooner or later, the increased volume of shared information and memos means more computers. And so forth.

"Let us therefore add a coda to Parkinson's law," the Economist sadly concludes. "Because data expands to fill the hard disks available, and officials proliferate to process the data available, technology is the ally of bureaucratic expansion, not its foe." Time for another crusade by Ross Perot, the supreme data-processor of them all.

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