Bureaucracy and suspicion of science

Quote of the day:

A “rational optimist” like me thinks the world will go on getting better for most people at a record rate, not because I have a temperamental or ideological bent to good cheer but because of the data. Poverty, hunger, population growth rates, inequality, and mortality from violence, disease and weather — all continue to plummet on a global scale.

But a global optimist can still be a regional pessimist. When asked what I am pessimistic about, I usually reply: bureaucracy and superstition. Using those two tools, we Europeans seem intent on making our future as bad as we can. Like mandarins at the court of the Ming emperors or viziers at the court of Abbasid caliphs, our masters seem determined to turn relative into absolute decline. It is entirely possible that ten years from now the world as a whole will be 50 per cent richer, but Europeans will be 50 per cent poorer. . .  Matt Ridley.

He goes on to talk about the costs of bureaucracy:

As the Ming empire found out, the more government you buy, the less economic activity you get. A Fujian travelling salesman in 1400 was enmeshed in such a tangled bureaucracy that he could neither travel nor sell without bribes and permits, and he had to submit a monthly inventory of his stocks to the emperor.

Sound familiar? Every small businessman I talk to these days has a horror story to tell about the delays and costs that have been visited upon him by planners, inspectors, officials and consultees. Using the excuse of “cuts”, the bureaucracy is taking even longer to make decisions than five years ago. In the time it has taken Britain’s Government to decide whether to allow a fifth exploratory shale gas well to be drilled in Lancashire, and from the same standing start, the same investors have drilled 72 producing wells in Argentina. That the country of Watt and Stephenson should look a potential cheap-energy gift horse in the mouth in this way is staggering to this jaded optimist.

From ancient Egypt to modern North Korea, always and everywhere, economic planning and control have caused stagnation; . . .

There is a need for some rules but the more involved governments are in business the more difficult, and costly, it is for businesses to start, to operate and to grow.

. . . A growth-preventing bureaucracy is not the only thing suppressing enterprise in Europe. Superstition is also playing a part, as it has done in past episodes of economic decline. The great flowering of Arab prosperity and culture under the Abbasids was brought to an end with the burning of books, the shutting down of inquiry and a mistrust of novelty.

Again there are echoes. Many of the ideas that led to the genetic modification of plants — which has boosted yields, cut insecticide use, saved fuel and soil, and helped the poorest farmers — were pioneered in this country. Yet today there is almost none of this work done in Britain and none of its boons are permitted to farmers and their customers. The labs are ghostly quiet. Why? Entirely because of neophobic superstition that has animated reactionary elites into opposing change on the basis of myths peddled by green mystics. . .

Those myths promoted by green mystics are getting in the way of science and productivity improvements here too.

Hat tip: Tim Worstall

7 Responses to Bureaucracy and suspicion of science

  1. TraceyS says:

    My how this article struck a chord with me. “A Fujian travelling salesman in 1400 was enmeshed in such a tangled bureaucracy that he could neither travel nor sell without bribes and permits, and he had to submit a monthly inventory of his stocks to the emperor. Sound familiar?”


    From http://www.odt.co.nz/regions/north-otago/228632/water-plans-felt-farmers I recalled:

    “Independent hearing commissioner Clive Geddes said the plan did not propose to change the way people had been farming in the past, and pointed out that if water quality was found to be deteriorating, and if everything possible was being done to mitigate the problem, a Restricted Discretionary Consent could be sought to continue with existing levels.”

    If the plan creates a need for consent where one wasn’t required before, then of course it changes the way people have been farming in the past. It shifts focus and attention away from activities that are land-based and productive towards more bureaucratic, unproductive ones.

    What purpose does a Restricted Discretionary Resource Consent serve if “…everything possible was being done to mitigate the problem…”? There may be no purpose, it is simply because the new rules say it is needed. Not because it further improves the environment. Every dollar spent on the consent process would be for the purpose of ticking a regulatory box. That money could be spent in far better ways.


  2. Viv says:

    How do poor farmers benefit from GM seed with the terminator gene that means they can’t save seed to plant next year?


  3. Viv says:

    Tracey. I thought the ORC water plan change was fairly clear. If the water that leaves your property is more polluted (by the measures the ORC uses) than when it arrives there, then you have to change what you are doing so that it isn’t more polluted. That would apply to lifestyle block septic systems, industrial processes and farming.


  4. TraceyS says:

    Really Viv, if things were that simple then very little bureaucracy would be required at all.

    “I thought the ORC water plan change was fairly clear” – then you seem to know more than the hearing chairman who said “…he was aware that the plan, as it was notified, did not make clear how the proposed limits would be triggered…” (http://www.odt.co.nz/regions/north-otago/228792/orc-advice-farmers-criticised).

    The Local Government Act 2002, Section 82 Principles of consultation says that consultation undertaken by a local authority in relation to any decision or other matter must be undertaken in accordance with a list of principles which includes:

    1(c): “that persons who are invited or encouraged to present their views to the local authority should be given clear information by the local authority concerning the purpose of the consultation and the scope of the decisions to be taken following the consideration of views presented”.

    “Clear information” concerning the purpose AND “the scope” of the decisions. Hmmm. I suggest it’s bureaucracy gone mad if it does not agree with it’s own legislation.


  5. TraceyS says:

    Question Viv – how many farmers in NZ save seed to replant the following year?


  6. Viv says:

    The post Ele had put up was a speech from someone in England. I had presumed they were referring to poor farmers in developing countries, my question remains.


  7. JC says:

    Terminator seeds are not yet commercially available. Seed producers like Monsanto rely on commercial contracts where buyers promise not to save genetically improved seed for their future crops.

    Farmers will only buy GM seeds where they believe they will get an improved profit than they can get from their saved seed. It stands to reason that they should pay the seed supplier extra for their greater profitability and likewise continue to pay extra for future crops that are superior to their saved seeds.

    If farmers don’t want to do this they have full protection by exercising their own free will.. aided by prohibitions against compulsory use (and even voluntary use) of edits from the UN and their own governments.

    Basically what the greenies object to is the legal process that may ensue when a farmer purchases GM seed, is impressed by its performance and illegally saves the seeds to plant the following season without paying for the research and development.



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