from newly discovered blog Isegoria, Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics

Francis W. Porretto notes that Cyril Northcote Parkinson studied the same phenomenon of bureaucratic behavior:

Parkinson promulgated a number of laws of bureaucracy that serve to explain a huge percentage of its characteristics. They’ve exhibited remarkable predictive power within their domain. The first of these is the best known:

Parkinson’s First Law: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

Parkinson inferred this effect from two central principles governing the behavior of bureaucrats:

  1. Officials want to multiply subordinates, not rivals.
  2. Officials make work for one another.

Like most generalizations, these are not always true…but the incentives that apply specifically to tax-funded government bureaucracies make them true much more often than not. They make a striking contrast with the almost exactly opposite behavior observable in private enterprise.
That young bureaucrat will profit from deliberate ineffectiveness to the extent that he can get himself viewed as an asset by his superiors and a non-threat by his peers. His superiors want him to produce justifications for the enlargement of their domains. His peers simply ask that he not tread on their provinces.

Miltion Friedman noted that bureaucratic resource allocation involves spending other people’s money on other people, so there are no compelling reasons to control either cost or quality — but a bureaucrat will learn, given time, how to “spend on others” in such a fashion that the primary benefit flows to himself.

To do this, bureaucrats must manage perceptions, so that their work seems both necessary and successful: