Government Regulations: Demeaning and Costly

Tibor R. Machan

Every time I am dealing with an organizations like the omnipresent TIAA-CREF–which seems to have a monopoly on handling retirements at colleges and universities across the country–I am put through a labyrinth of bureaucratic procedures. With each turn, of course, there is a quite lengthy average–say, 7 to 13 minute–wait, mostly on being on hold on the phone. This happens also when I make airline reservations or deal with banks and other financial institutions but there is some competition there, although these, too, appear to be heavily regulated by the government which imposes on them innumerable rules.

Whenever I voice a protest about any of these inconveniences–actually, more than that since my life-time is being consumed when these waits go on endlessly–I am told that they cannot help it, they are required to go through all these infuriating delays by the government. Forms need to be filled out and sent off just to satisfy the state! And those people who impose these requirements are, of course, nowhere to be found so one can give them one’s opinion of their handiwork. Instead hapless office personnel are confronted with outraged citizens and are, of course, exasperated when they cannot answer their complaints with any hope of relief.

Nearly everything the bureaucrats demand is farmed out to various administrative departments at colleges and universities, primarily the offices of HR, ironically called human resources (as if what HR did at these places had any productive function are all). And, of course, when it comes to payroll offices at nearly all companies, there, too, most of the procedures are controlled by directives of governments, including that odious, vicious practice of withholding taxes, something again that the government managed to farm out to the employers who then are the object of ire of all of us who are peeved about the various tax policies.

Round and round goes the bureaucracy, treating us all as if we were robots doing service to some far off master who cannot be contacted by any of us (except in a very iffy and indirect fashion when people cast their votes). Even then, while politicians can be dismissed, bureaucrats cannot.

The one time I had anything to do in Washington, as a founding member of the Jacob K. Javits National Fellowship Program — http://smu.edu/nationalfellowships/javits.asp — I was told that the bureaucrats at the Department of Education, where this program was administered, never changed no matter who got elected. If Washington had a Democrat regime, the same folks stayed in the various bureaus as when Republicans were in office. And in time this became evident to me quite directly through the arrogance of the staff whose members never feared being dismissed or demoted. Their jobs were secure! (This may not always be the case, just as treasury bonds aren’t so secure when major financial fiascoes occur at the federal level.)

Now all of this is, of course, infuriating and utterly demeaning–you must stay on hold because no one ever is authorized to make outgoing telephone calls! I always feel like a royal subject, tempted to stand at attention until I am spoke to by these folks who are doing the government’s work, work that, of course, should not have to be done. Are we all involuntary servants of these people?

Then there is, of course, the waste of time and money involved in all of this. Each year I probably spend 20 to 40 hours or more dealing with the bureaucracy, directly or indirectly, and if one multiplies this across the country, the wasted time piles up incalculably. The economic value of this time is difficult to estimate but when some try the numbers turn out to be beyond belief. (John Stossel did his very first ABC-TV special on the topic of government regulation and the cost that he estimated for it went way beyond virtually everything else the taxpayers are force to pay for.)

Maybe some people do not care about this just as some people do not protest spousal abuse. But no matter–it is still very demeaning to be subjected to all this and it costs a bundle to boot, money spent that could very well go to genuine productive task that might even ease the unemployment problem in the private sector.