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Saturday, July 16, 2016

The disservice-based economy

As the number of rules increases without bound, respect for them approaches zero.

A few years ago, it was announced with great fanfare that we had stopped being a manufacturing economy and become a service economy. Instead of making things, we would all make a living serving cappuccinos to each other and pressing each other's pants. Pollution would disappear and flowers would bloom.

It didn't last. We have blasted right through the service economy and are now transitioning to the next stage: an economy based on rules instead of service. It's not everywhere yet. But wherever bureaucrats and administrators take over, we get the disservice economy.

We're all familiar with it: the interminable waits at the DMV, the two-day ordeal of paying taxes, and the idiotic workplace rules. Where I work there's a rule that only one person is allowed to order supplies, and only once a week. Instead of one hour a day for five days a week, that person now does it all at once, for five hours on Wednesday.

God handing forms to Adam
God handing tax forms (1040A, 1099, W-4), government forms (SS-4, PHS 398, OPM 1351A), DD Form 67 (Form Processing Action Request) and bankruptcy forms to Adam (Sistine Chapel)

In practical terms it means that whenever an unforeseen event takes place (such as a person solving some problem), all work comes to a screeching halt and the employees sit idle, meticulously cleaning that stubborn little spot off their desks, playing Solitaire, or using the Internet to translate their spam (“Эффективное избавление от алкогольной зависимости!” “Effective disposal of alcohol addiction!” “Pimples and black spots will go for 3 application!”). But it saves money, or so management thinks.

(The latest one is an ad that says “Now, in your spare time, you can repost record, leave huskies under various publications, and get paid for it!”)

It's a trivial example, but it illustrates how our disservice-based economy will work. A service economy is based on observing what is needed and providing it. A disservice economy is based on making life more convenient for administrators and bureaucrats. They decide how the world should work, suppress any evidence that conflicts with their conclusion, and profit by plowing the organization into the ground.

It is also the government way. The fundamental problem, not just in Washington but spreading across the country, is the belief that rules can solve problems.

It is not true. The purpose of rules is to prevent people from solving problems on their own. We use them everywhere to avoid having to figure things out: our laws and principles in math and science, our traffic regulations, and our legal system were all created to alleviate the need to solve problems.

We need rules, but when we lose sight of their purpose the rules become ends in themselves. Physicists sometimes fall into this trap, with their ever more fantastically complex theories, so compelling to the pattern-minded that people find themselves believing that not only does the world run according to rules, but it is composed of them.

Most of the government laws and regulations handed to us aren't intended to solve problems, but to serve government, whose sole purpose, as for all organizations, is to protect itself and ensure its own survival. The rules create new problems which politicians promise can and should be solved by still more rules and regulations, and that is their primary purpose.

Young people already feel it odd that no government form is needed to move to a different city, select a career, or to buy a book. Soon one will be, and we will move through the day in silent conformity, knowing that any stray thought is too dangerous to permit, lest we accidentally speak a forbidden word or break some unknown rule.

Already those who work in a corporate environment dare not converse with their co-workers, save in cautious whispers or as part of their labors; we are fired or hired on a whim, and our ability to keep company afloat and thereby remain employed is frustrated by rules that are designed to sink it. They call it accountability, a nice reassuring term, but what it amounts to is doing paperwork instead of solving problems. It only benefits the rule-makers.

As the number of rules increases without bound, respect for them approaches zero. Government becomes a capricious god, striking people like lightning for no discernable reason. People become resigned to having their children, husbands and wives randomly slaughtered by terrorists or unemployable rioters for no reason. The government denies that a war even exists because it is the government's war, perhaps caused by a mindless blunder, or maybe part of a scheme to enhance its own power. There is no way to be sure because those entrusted to find the truth have found it more convenient to lie.

In the disservice economy, the lower class ignores the rules and the upper class is exempt from them, but there is only gloom for the productive class. So their fertility rates go to zero. The government will eventually have to replace them with AI or test-tube replacements. It goes downhill from there. The only way to escape it is not to let it start.

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