economist, bureaucrat, and poet: fantasies of importance

The economist:

the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. … I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas. Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; … soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil. … Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.[1]

The bureaucrat:

A poet in our times is a semi-barbarian in a civilized community. He lives in the days that are past. His ideas, thoughts, feelings, associations, are all with barbarous manners, obsolete customs, and exploded superstition. The march of his intellect is like that of a crab, backward. … But in whatever degree poetry is cultivated, it must necessarily be to the neglect of some branch of useful study: and it is a lamentable spectacle to see minds, capable of better things, running to seed in the specious indolence of these empty aimless mockeries of intellectual exertion. Poetry was the mental rattle that awakened the attention of intellect in the infancy of civil society: but for the maturity of mind to make a serious business of the playthings of its childhood, is as absurd as for a full-grown man to rub his gums with coral, and cry to be charmed to sleep by the jingle of silver bells.[2]

The poet:

Whilst the mechanist abridges, and the political economist combines labor, let them beware that their speculations, for want of correspondence with those first principles which belong to the imagination, do not tend, as they have in modern England, to exasperate at once the extremes of luxury and want. … The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the State is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism. Such are the effects which must ever flow from an unmitigated exercise of the calculating faculty. … Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.[3]

The bell rings, the curtain drops, the conference ends, so much say so. But what is truth?

poetic crab

Google provides the means for useful study. The table below shows the number of search results returned for various search strings. The column “Top Match” gives the rank of the first result that directly references the relevant quote above. Some facts:

  • Poets far outdistance economists and bureaucrats in generating results. Poetry apparently is a common defense in human life. The relatively poor showing of bureaucrats suggests a need to increase public appreciation for bureaucrats.
  • “Economists ideas power ‘vested interests'” tops “poets legislators.” This result indicates that economists’ words have been more fecund than poets’ words.
  • “Poetry ‘useful study'” shows few results, but that does not seem to be associated with results from “specious indolence.”
  • Persons seeking symbolic results should put the poor before the rich. “poor poorer rich richer” delivers about ten times as many results as “rich richer poor poorer.” The poet, lacking the calculating facility, lacked this insight.
Google Search String Search Results Top Match
economists 12,000,000  1
economists ideas power “vested interests” 222,000 2
ideas power “vested interests” 287,000 1
ideas “more powerful” “vested interests” 19,200 5
bureaucrats 3,810,000
poets intellect crabs 7,350 2
poetry “useful study” 20,000 4
mind poetry “specious indolence” 6 1
poets 38,900,000
poets legislators 141,000 1
poor poorer rich richer 1,050,000 >10
rich richer poor poorer 117,000 >10



[1] Keynes, John Maynard (1936), The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, Chapter 24, Sec. 5. I have re-arranged the order of the quoted sentences.

[2] Peacock, Thomas Love (1820), “The Four Ages of Poetry,” in Ollier’s Literary Miscellany. Peacock worked for about 37 years as a clerk in the East India Company.

[3] Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1821), “Defense of Poetry,” circulated in manuscript, but first published in 1840. Peacock and Shelley were close friends. Shelley’s “Defense of Poetry” was a response to Peacocks “The Four Ages of Poetry.”

COB-19: sitting position

Being able to maintain a good sitting position is a core competency for bureaucrats. In the video below, a bureaucrat working in the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission demonstrates the challenges that a conscientious bureaucrat faces. Watch it carefully and learn!

The bureaucrat begins with a lean-forward, braced note-taking position. The problem with such a strong documentary start is that it can be difficult to sustain. Thus we were not surprised to see her soon shift into the double-elbow, flat-arm bracing position. That’s an excellent position to go the distance in a long-winded meeting. Moreover, it helps protect the head in the case of a somnolence-induced sagging of the upper spinal region.

Notice, however, that the bureaucrat failed to hold the position. Despite some standard head movements, which signal attention and help to promote blood flow, at 5:10 into the video she broke form into the back-leaning, folded-armed position. This position is associated with arrogance and obstinacy. It has no place in the sitting repertoire of a professional bureaucrat.

Supplementary tentative statement: According to the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission, it is against the law in Alberta “to discriminate against anyone in the following areas of activity… [including] public statements, publications, notices, signs, symbols, emblems, or other representations.” We therefore and heretofore hereby duly declare that the above public statement is not meant to discriminate against, between, or for anyone in Alberta, and that we hereby affirm, in accordance with the applicable human rights law, that it applies not just to the bureaucrat represented, but equally to all bureaucrats in Alberta.

In other bureaucratic emissions for this month, Tim O’Reilly at O’Reilly Radar discusses Bad Math Among eBook Enthusiasts. O’Reilly is an organization that has been in business since 1978. Hence it qualifies as a bona-fide bureaucracy for the purposes of this Carnival in accordance with Carnival Rule 2.A.a, calculated according to Internet time. Tim declares:

My advice to publishers and authors is this: figure out what it costs to produce what you sell, estimate what kind of volume you’ll be able to achieve using the best available data, and then set your prices at a level that will deliver a reasonable profit from your efforts.

This is classic public-utility pricing methodology. Forget about Web 2.0 buzzwords; on the web or off, just set prices for rate-payers. True bureaucratic insight.

Chris Tolles at Topix offers data on comments. The data show that non-registered users generate three times as many comments with only a 50% higher comment rejection rate. Is requiring registration a bad idea? Of course not. Requiring registration helps users to develop their skills in filling out forms.

The Daily Davos reports that billionaire George Soros has called for a “massive injection of regulation and oversight over financial markets.” In conjunction with such an effort, we believe it is also important to increase public appreciation for regulators. How about establishing a “Hug a Regulator” Day? If you know a regulator, thank her/him for all s/he does!

Steve Yelverton discusses journalism history. He states, “Today’s J-student should understand that the task is not to get a job and draw a paycheck, but rather to build a following.” Followers are necessary for a following. Work in bureaucracy is excellent training for developing followers.

Samuel Bryson at Total Wellbeing discusses free market economy and the welfare state. He states, “It may well be that a lot of the money disappears in various bureaucratic processes, which is a common complaint of the classical liberals.” It may well be that this common complaint has little merit and should be summarily dismissed.

The Little Professor describes the Academic Olympics. It includes the “bureaucratic triple jump”:

Each competitor must fight back against a student grievance, which s/he contests in three different administrative offices. There are bonus points for eloquence, documentation, and concision, but penalties for foul language, threats, and/or tears.

We are delighted that bureaucracy has risen to the level of Olympic sport.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of the Bureaucrats. Submit your blog article to the next edition using our Carnival submission form. Submissions should conform to the Carnival regulations. Past posts and future hosts can be found on the Carnival index page.