COB-49: bureaucratic superheroes

Among superheroes, Judge Bao is a much stronger than Superman. Judge Bao has represented justice in China for about a thousand years. Superman was invented about seventy-five years ago. Judge Bao is righteous, fearless, and incorruptible. Superman has a well-known vulnerability to Kryptonite and a weakness for Lois Lane. Judge Bao does his official job. Superman is a freelancing amateur. Judge Bao represents bureaucratic strength. Superman represents the individual initiative of an orphan.

Every country needs bureaucratic heroes like Judge Bao.  A recent scholarly article observed:

Judge Bao is only the most prominent representative of the “pure official” (qingguan) in Chinese popular literature. Every age has added new figures to this gallery of saintly and heroic bureaucrats. Popular tradition turned historical officials who had distinguished themselves by their probity, purity, daring and stubborn steadfastness in the pursuit of justice into figures of legend. Once that happened, cases easily moved from one pure official to the next as their legends were further embellished by subsequent generations. In their efforts to maintain the proper social order and to eliminate all crime, these pure officials, if need be with the support of divine powers, do away with thieves and murderers, lecherous monks and adulterous wives, corrupt officials who disregard the law, and thousand-year-old animals that charm gullible young men. Elites and commoners in both traditional and modern China viewed these pure officials as the staunch defenders of the highest spiritual and social values of Chinese culture.[*]

Chinese culture is a great culture. Making bureaucrats into legends and superheroes helps to make a culture great.

In other bureaucratic news this month…

Jim Henshaw at the Legion of Decency records the huge amount of work that bureaucrats in Canada do. Recent work includes the development of 27 separate initiatives for reducing sodium consumption. Analyzing statistics undoubtedly contributed to the development of 27 initiatives. Yet the Canadian government recently weakened Census statistical gathering. Jim asks:

How come the bureaucrats screaming now about not having the stats they need weren’t screaming back then when nobody acted on the reports they slavishly labored to produce using them?

Everybody should be chanting and screaming, “Work produced by bureaucrats should be acted on by us!”

Candra Malik at Jakarta Globe claims, “Bureaucrats in Central Java Protest Prosecutor’s Dedication to Doing His Job.” That’s completely absurd. No bureaucratic value is more important than focusing on doing your job and not doing anyone else’s job.

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land considers regulating the New York Times’ process for determining what to cover and how to cover it. On a typical day, the New York Times newsroom might ponder whether to write a story on the effect of the Gulf oil spill on the occupational risks of women shrimp fisherpersons, or a story on how male-only mandatory Selective Service registration discriminates against women and could potentially lessen the number of role models for female fighter-pilots, or a story documenting the injustice of men still not doing an equal share of home decorating. Deciding which of these stories is front page news requires well-developed journalistic expertise. As to whether bureaucrats could regulate the New York Times, they already do.

The Free Press of Mankato, Minnesota, covers the big story of the bureaucratic battle about the repainting of a silo near Highway 169. Thus far, the silo has attracted concern from Cambria Countertops, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Nicollet County Attorney, an Administrative Law Judge in St. Paul, and the Minnesota Insurance Trust. We believe that further opportunities for bureaucratic development should be explored.

Commenting on a post on Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) at Armed and Dangerous, Shenpen insightfully observes:

I found the following a good, useful heuristic: always assume that an average, typical big corporation is much similar in culture / internal incentive systems to some sort of a government bureau than to an entrepreneur.

We could even make a general economic law of it: incentives get diluted by every step by which the decision-making person is removed from people who actually own things, and what matters is not whether the organization in question is officially called public or private but the actual number of such steps, and the main reason we see public working worse than private is not because it is different is essence but because the number of such steps is usually much higher.

While the superiority of bureaucracy is usually self-evident, Kurt Denke at Blue Jeans Cable seems to have successfully turned aside monstrous litigation-intimidation machinery. We definitely will in the future buy all our cables from Blue Jeans Cable. But don’t expect to find many small organizations like Blue Jeans Cable. Bureaucracy, in one form or another, is usually the winning bet.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats. Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here. Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

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[*] Idema, Wilt Lukas, Introduction to Judge Bao and the Rule of Law: Eight Ballad-Stories from the Period 1250-1450 (December 23, 2009) p. x.  Wilt L. Idema, JUDGE BAO AND THE RULE OF LAW, World Scientific Publishing, 2009 . Available at SSRN:

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