COB-58: benefits of bureaucratic empires

climbing to the topBureaucrats are renowned for empire-building.  Less widely appreciated is the enduring value of being part of a bureaucratic empire.  A four-scholar task force centered in Germany recently issued a relevant report.  The report concerns the Habsburg Empire, which slowly coalesced from the efforts of the House of Habsburg in central Europe beginning in the eleventh century.  By 1740, the ruler of the Habsburg Empire, Maria Theresa, had gained the following title:

Maria Theresa, by the Grace of God, Dowager Empress of the Romans, Queen of Hungary, of Bohemia, of Dalmatia, of Croatia, of Slavonia, of Galicia, of Lodomeria, etc.; Archduchess of Austria; Duchess of Burgundy, of Styria, of Carinthia and of Carniola; Grand Princess of Transylvania; Margravine of Moravia; Duchess of Brabant, of Limburg, of Luxemburg, of Guelders, of Württemberg, of Upper and Lower Silesia, of Milan, of Mantua, of Parma, of Piacenza, of Guastalla, of Auschwitz and of Zator; Princess of Swabia; Princely Countess of Habsburg, of Flanders, of Tyrol, of Hennegau, of Kyburg, of Gorizia and of Gradisca; Margravine of Burgau, of Upper and Lower Lusatia; Countess of Namur; Lady of the Wendish Mark and of Mechlin; Dowager Duchess of Lorraine and Bar, Dowager Grand Duchess of Tuscany

Lesser empires typically don’t feature titles any bigger than Senior Executive Vice President for the Administrative Group.  The Habsburg Empire’s day-to-day functioning pioneered the consistency, reliability, and predictability that characterize a stolid bureaucracy:

Despite the national aspirations of the peoples within the [Habsburg] empire, some aspects of Habsburg policy were widely accepted.  In particular, the bureaucracy throughout the empire was well respected by the population because of its reliability.

Most persons don’t want innovation.  They want reliability.  A good bureaucracy delivers unthinkable reliability.

Despite the Habsburg Empire’s abolition in 1918, it continues to have enduring effects.  The report’s intricate and extensive econometric work has established that historical affiliation with the Habsburg Empire “increases current trust and reduces corruption in courts and police.”[*]  The effects of a bureaucratic empire thus live on long after it has been formally eliminated.  Since every organization needs more trust and less corruption, if your organization doesn’t have a bureaucratic empire, start building one at your next meeting.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, new Google CEO Larry Page reportedly “has made a series of moves to cut through the firm’s 24,000-person bureaucracy.”  That’s pointless.  Page instead should form a committee to study the Habsburg Empire and to produce a report on how Google can emulate the Habsburg’s bureaucracy.  Page reportedly has also “asked that employees develop new practices for meetings, such as designating a decision-maker and refraining from working on their laptops.”  The key to improving meetings, just like improving piano-playing, is practice.  If Google wants to have better meetings, it needs to start having more meetings.

Given the importance of meeting practices, the meeting boycott movement should be harshly crushed for the sake of public welfare and prosperity.  In 2004, Frederick P. Cerise, the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, officially proclaimed a No Meeting Day.  Mr. Cerise is no longer Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.  We hope that Mr. Cerise was swiftly and painfully punished by the organization responsible for bureaucratic excellence.

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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[*] Becker, Sascha O; Boeckh, Katrin; Hainz, Christa; Woessmann, Ludger (2011). “The Empire Is Dead, Long Live the Empire! Long-Run Persistence of Trust and Corruption in the Bureaucracy,” CESifo Working Paper No. 3392.  Quotes above are from p. 7 and the abstract.

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