Bureaucracy and the Civil Service in the United States—Rothbard

Government, in short, is particularly subject to the well-known evils of an arrogant, hidebound, inefficient, red-tape-ridden, ever-expanding “bureaucracy.” Socialists, even during the seeming heyday of the Soviet Union, were often worried about the problem of bureaucracy, and have tried vainly to detach government from its bureaucratic aspect.”


“One of the most important sociological laws is the “Iron Law of Oligarchy”: every field of human endeavor, every kind of organization, will always be led by a relatively small elite. This condition will hold sway everywhere, whether it be a business firm, a trade union, a government, a charitable organization, or a chess club. In every area, the persons most interested and able, those most adaptable to or suited for the activity, will constitute the leading elite. Time and again, utopian attempts to form institutions or societies exempt from the Iron Law have fallen prey to that law: whether it be utopian communities, the kibbutz in Israel, “participatory democracy” during the New Left era of the late 1960s, or the vast “laboratory experiment” (as it used to be called) that constituted the Soviet Union. What we should try to achieve is not the absurd and anti-natural goal of eradicating such elites, but, in Pareto’s term, for the elites to “circulate.” Do these elites circulate or do they become entrenched?

The free market economy provides an unparalleled example of a continuing healthy circulation of elites. In this dynamic economy, failure to keep up with competitors, failure to satisfy the demands of consumers in the best possible way, will topple elites quickly and establish new ones who do the job better. Ludwig von Mises wrote frequently of the inappropriateness of leftists referring to so-and-so as the “Steel King” or the “Automobile King”; for consumers frequently uncrown these alleged monarchs. Dethroning of financial monarchs on Wall Street is a frequent phenomenon. There are innumerable striking examples of big businesses failing to grasp the importance of a new product or new development, and of losing out to newer upstarts. I will refer to only two glaring cases experienced in my lifetime: the cry of leftists to “break up A&P” in the 1930s because of its alleged “monopoly” of the retail grocery business; and the failure of the old-time photography “monopolist” Eastman-Kodak to grasp the enormous significance, after World War II, of either instant photography or xerography, thereby leaving the field to newer, and more alert competitors.“