Saturday, December 26, 2009

What kind of state we need?

It is a popular question today, not only for those who try to figure out what kind of social system (or in case of conservatives state, authority, society etc.) would be the better from the different perspectives of diferent value systems, but for ordinary people. The state is easily seen as a burden, an unneccessary burocratic authority, not encouraging, but restraining the productive skills of its citizens. Too many people had too many disappointing experience with burocrats, seemingly irrational regulations and rules for not to accept also the broader approach to the problem: the state is ineffective, expensive, inefficent, a hindrance of building a better future rather than supporting it.
As this is the case with many generalizing statements, it is too often proved by individual experiences to contradict easily and this post never would claim to be in this position. However, the problem of the state and the burocracy is maybe a bit more complex then the otherwise quite justified everyday complaints and their conclusions would suggest. It is easy to percieve the elminination of "burocracy" (at this point it is only a common reference to state administration in the broadest sense) as something releiving not only burdensome activities from citizens but as a reasonable source of financial saving and that way a possibility to lower taxes. The reason for this assumption is simple and not easy to refute: if the "burocracy" carries out tasks that are unnecessary and applies rules that are only a hindrance to individual progress to get rid of them means less public servant to pay and more time for work and/or leisure.
However, the situation is maybe not so simple. Continental states and societies are usually different from Anglo-Saxon ones, they usually try to presume every possible situation and circumstances in advance, provide a law and/or regulative framework that can easily be applied by state administration, instead of bringing tha situations not covered by the law to the court in order to create a precedent. In this sense the state administration - I mean it at this point in a broad sense, including local authorities etc. - has the right and responsibility to apply the rules for almost every imaginable situation in a community. It is not simply an administrative machinery, but it takes the burden of acting pre-emptively in order to avoid conflicts or resolve them as first instance.
It can be argued that these roles could be attributed to the community itself, but this is a real historical tradition in Europe and beyond this fact the societies in ECE spent the 20th century in a constant state of exclusion (a signficinat, albeit changing part of the societies were sidelined and/or violently excluded from their rights), in which they hardly could have collected enough experience of cooperation instead of conflict. (Or expereinces to create their own, local regulative framework while taking into consideration every legitimate local interest.) Unfortunately this hole in the social experience was not filled after the change of regime, but sometimes even widened. Anyway, the logical conclusion would be to ask: if the state is eliminated as it is argued, who will take and with what means these tasks, that are integral parts of society? Even if local administration and its rules seems irreasonable, many of the regulations really avoid conflicts, for example the procedure of giving permissions for construction. If the state wouldn't have the right to decide these issues (for example whether one can build a house one-two-three-four etc. meters from the border if his estate or not) it is not impossible that in too many cases the issue would turn into a constant quarrel between neighbors, with equal or even higher costs, but this time without any hope for solving it. It does not necessarily mean that every prerogative and task of the state administration is useful from this perspective, but before deciding the elimination of any of those a thorough analysis from this aspect would be necessary as well. Without knowing what tasks can be easily taken over by the society and which one causes a danger of replacing regulated life with irresolvable conflict or simply anarchy is a real issue, not to be neglected.
Another aspect of the process of natural selection of unnecessary tasks. Guesses regarding the number of public servants to be laid off are usually based on the assumption that the state not only assumes a series of tasks, but in fact fulfills it. As a consequence it is presumed that if an unnecessary administrative task is identified and eliminated the personnel responsible for carrying it out can also be eliminated from the system. But there is a series of administrative fields where the "burocracy" nominally has rights to act and responsibility but due to a mutual adaptation process of the citizens and the authorities, nobody really excerises them. For example although modifying a small roof over the door of a house needs official permission and an approved plan, it is rarerly applied for and rarely required by the authorities himself. Not to speak of the possible general shortage of qualified public servants in a series of fields, where this state of affairs in itself could lead to neglectment of administrative duties. Anyway, it is possible that the state only nominally claims a series of roles and rights but the administration never really uses it and therefore the existence of these tasks in itself is not a sign of a surplus of burocratic personnel. It is also possible that after eliminating these tasks it would turn out that the existing personnel is barely capable to deal with the remaining ones and therefore it is not a source of saving, but simply an adjustment to the realities.
I have no idea to what extent these phenomena exist today in Hungary. But I'm sure that they are in fact realities and therefore without assessing their importance and extent it is hard to plan a meaningful restructuring of burocracy and burocratic responsibility.

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