Our bodies have about 100 trillion cells. But some organisms, such as bacteria, are single-celled. They have a much simpler time: all they need to do is divide in two, and those two divide to make four, and so on. But with many-celled creatures like us, there is much more going on. We have many different kinds of cell needed for our bodies to work. Our cells still divide in two, but there are limits. They must work with other cells, so there are controls on how much they divide.
But sometimes cells in our bodies malfunction. They just divide uncontrollably. This is cancer. The dividing mass of cells just grows. Then it can invade or choke off other important organs. Even worse, some of the cells can break off and travel to other parts of the body to start new cancers, which is known as metastasis.
This is very dangerous. In 2007, cancer caused about 13% of all human deaths worldwide (7.9 million). The problem is, unlike healthy cells, the cancer cells don’t ‘care’ that they are killing the body, which will mean the death of the cancer cells as well. But while the cancer is growing, it hijacks a blood supply so it can draw oxygen and nutrients meant for healthy cells. The cancer’s only function is to grow at any cost.
Many types of cancer are sadly still hard to cure. The main reason is that the cells are still human cells, so anything that kills a cancer cell is likely to be toxic to healthy cells as well. The best chance of stopping cancer is to catch it early. And the best country to have a chance of doing this is still America, at least for now. Countries with socialized medicine have such long waiting lists that cancer has a much greater chance of advancing past any chance of cure. E.g. in the UK:
“A recent academic study showed National Health Service delays in bowel cancer treatment were so great that, in one in five cases, cancer which was curable at the time of diagnosis had become incurable by the time of treatment.”
Apologies in advance if the above brief medical analysis is too morbid. But I think this provides an understanding into how government bureaucracies function.
Bureaucracies choke the nation like cancer
Think of the nation as a body, and its people as its cells. In a healthy society, people pursuing their own interests without coercion contribute to the good of society. Bureaucrats, believe it or not, are people too. And while a cancer is descended from once-healthy functional cells, bureaucracies were usually intended for a helpful function.
But by its very nature, a bureaucracy is like a cancer. A bureaucrat’s salary and prestige is determined by how big his bureaucracy is. So he has an incentive to grow his bureaucracy as big as possible. And as a cancer spreads, the bureaucracy likewise expands its tentacles. The cancer strangles other organs, and bureaucracies strangle the nation’s industries and people’s freedoms. The cancer sucks nutrients, and bureaucracies suck productivity.
One good example is the IRS. Thanks to the third party run of Teddy Roosevelt, the Democrats won the White House (those who ignored my advice and wasted their vote on a third party last year should remember this!). This resulted in the Income Tax. But back then, Congress levied a 1 percent tax on net personal incomes above $3,000, with a 6 percent surtax on incomes of more than $500,000 (this is $70,500 and $11.8 million in today’s currency). And taxpayers filled out a simple three page form following one page of instructions. But now, the tax code is 4 million words, five times more than the whole Bible. And it costs Americans 6 billion hours every year just to comply, or the equivalent of almost 9,000 lifetimes! National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson denounced this excessive time as well as the difficulty in understanding such a convoluted mess.
Bureaucracies, like cancer, are difficult to cure
Just as cancer cells are still human cells, bureaucrats are still citizens. So chemotherapy kills healthy cells, anti-bureaucracy measures often fail because bureaucrats still vote. And as cancer cells can hurt the body, bureaucrats can make sure they hurt the people if there is any challenge.
In 2011, I wrote about the contrast between a healthy industry and a bureaucracy when facing cuts in funding. The former will cut back on less popular products and save money. But the bureaucrats will cut the most popular products, e.g. closing the popular Washington Monument, White House tours, and cutting air traffic controllers causing flight delays. Also, note that in bureauspeak, “cut” doesn’t mean an actual reduction in funding, but a reduction in the growth of funding, which is still growing, just as with the current ‘sequester’.
Another example comes from the leading conservative columnist and economist Dr Thomas Sowell. Back in his university teaching days, he would ask the class to consider a government bureaucracy that had only two functions: building Benedict Arnold statues and providing medicines that saved children. Then, what would they cut if they were faced with funding cuts? Answer: the life-saving meds of course. That would cause public clamor, and the politicians would cower and restore funding. If they cut the other, people might ask why they were honoring a traitor.
And municipalities facing cuts will often threaten to cut police and firemen. They could choose to forgo the new office carpets, furniture, and huge salary raises. But this wouldn’t produce the public outrage that would restore their funding.
The current sequester debate has been no different, but this time, it was the President who was deliberately trying to hurt Americans for daring to challenge his wild spending spree. See this great video clip from Bill Whittle:
Just like we should catch cancer early, we should also eliminate bureaucracies early, before they become too big, and have too many vested interests supporting them. In fact, they should never be started in the first place! A sensible small bureaucracy is as logical as a safe small cancer.