TCS Daily

'Any Organization Will, In the End, Be Run By Those Who Stay Awake in Committee'

By Tim Worstall - June 23, 2005 12:00 AM

An interesting report recently came out from the Globalization Institute (an organization I am peripherally involved with so they must be good guys) on the prospects for the international trade system. It's rather gloomy about the likely success of the Doha Round of trade liberalization, very perky on the likely effects of Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank and strongly in favor of the (seemingly stalled) nomination of John Bolton.

The most important part of the argument to me is this:

        Ultimately, bringing the round to a successful conclusion and ensuring the 
        WTO's longer-term relevance depend on tackling its systemic problems. 
        A much expanded post-Uruguay-Round agenda has broadened sectoral 
        coverage and gone much deeper into politically-sensitive domestic 
        regulation. This has resulted in a loss of focus and a drift towards multiple and 
        contradictory objectives. Hyperinflation of the membership has almost 
        crippled decision making. The WTO has become much more politicised, 
        buffeted by external criticism and with deep internal fissures. These are 
        all symptoms of the "UN-isation" of the WTO.

Now quite obviously there are those who would welcome the "UN-isation" of anything, from the methods we use to play with kittens to world governance. You may not be all that surprised to find out that I don't agree. Such -isation really seems to mean that the structure is run by those who stay awake in committee meetings.

I would, and do, argue that this is, in fact, the inevitable fate of all and any organizations, so much so that we might call it Worstall's Law of Organizations, perhaps a minor corollary to Parkinson's Laws. All and any organizations will in the end be run by those who stay awake in committee. A brief survey of the world around us will show that this is a simple and obvious truth.

        - The UN itself started as a well meaning attempt to stop war and bring at 
        least a modicum of good governance to the world and now features 
        such joys as The Sudan, Zimbabwe and Libya as current or recent members 
        of the Human Rights Commission.

        - Amnesty International started as a focused group protesting against the 
        imprisonment of two students by the Fascist regime of 1960s Portugal (in 
        a prison not 5 miles from where I write), expanded to deal with those 
        universal human rights such as the basic freedoms of conscience, speech, from 
        torture and arbitrary arrest and then in recent years went too far. No, not 
        the stupidity over the gulag comments, but their decision in 2001 to adopt 
        the full panoply of "rights", such as to free primary education, health care 
        and so on.

        - The European Union similarly started out with the best of intentions, 
        to make a war between the states of the continent unthinkable and it now 
        concerns itself with the allowable curvature bananas and the contents 
        of compotes.

The mission creep that is the effect of those not slumbering in meetings and thus adding another bright idea to the tasks the organization attempts is not restricted to the public sector.

Private companies are just as vulnerable. However in that private sector we have a mechanism by which the seemingly inevitable bureaucratization is dealt with. Once it happens, the organization goes bankrupt and is removed from the scene. What we need is a similar system to deal with this process in the public sphere.

I don't, given the above, find it at all remarkable that the WTO is regarded as succumbing to these forces, nor the UN, Amnesty, the European Union or even our own domestic governments (just how did the interstate commerce clause become a justification for Congress to restrict something that is not interstate and is not commerce?). I think it inevitable.

Various solutions appear to be available, the French one might be an example. Put up with it for 50 years then have a revolution and start again. Perhaps the answer is never to allow the public bodies to have much power in the first place, a solution that hasn't really been tried anywhere. The Italian one? Let the system carry on adding ever more layers but ignore it? Stalin's? Every 15 years or so shoot the bureaucrats?

All such methods have their attractions and their faults but a solution we do need to find. For one of the lessons I take from the history of the 20th century is that we don't actually want to be ruled by those who stay awake in committee meetings.

Tim Worstall is a TCS Contributing Writer living in Europe. Find more of his writing here.


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