Bureaucracy Causes Evil?

Only the procedures matter; the outcomes don't, no matter how unjust.

The question of good versus evil has been debated endlessly over the millennia.  Up until the last hundred years or so, Western thought was based on a clear distinction between good and evil.  The Chinese philosophy of Taoism, in contrast, popularized the "Yin-Yang" symbol which represents good flowing so smoothly and imperceptibly into evil so that there can be no clear distinction between the two.

In recent decades, philosophical concepts such as situational ethics and relativism have advanced the idea that there is no longer an insurmountable difference between good and evil; this view has gained almost total sway in Western universities and elite circles.  To modern thinkers, each person has to work out his or her own idea of what is good and what is evil; there's no inescapable reason to say that one person's idea of evil is any better than anyone else's.

One of our major difficulties in dealing with terrorism is that our liberal leadership elites have a hard time believing that people could organize themselves to deliberately commit evil by murdering anyone who happens to be near, say, the World Trade Center or the Baghdad food market.  If you don't believe that evil exists, you're handicapped in understanding people who deliberately commit evil deeds.

We've summarized what Ingrid Betancourt has told of her treatment by the FARC drug dealers during the six years she was held captive in the jungles of Colombia.  Newspapers reported that she used the word "cruel" rather than the word "evil," but she also said that she now understood how the Nazis could have done what they did.  Most people acknowledge that the Nazi custom of making lamp shades out of their victims' skin was evil; Mrs. Betancourt's saying that the way the FARC treated her helped her understand the Nazis makes it reasonable to assume that she regards what they did to her as evil.

We've quoted Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as speaking of a "tilt of freedom in the direction of evil ... evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent in human nature."  Having first-hand experience of years of well-organized, systematic ill-treatment in Soviet prison camps, Mr. Solzhenitsyn clearly believed in the reality of evil.  He was convinced that evil could grow out of benevolent concepts and well-intentioned processes; he tried to warn us to the best of his ability.

In an editorial "Stalinism was just as bad as Nazism" on page A13 of the Aug. 7 issue, the Wall Street Journal quoted Mr. Bush:

In the 20th century, the evils of Soviet communism and Nazi fascism were defeated and freedom spread around the world as new democracies emerged.

The Russian government protested Mr. Bush's description of Nazi fascism and Soviet communism as a "single evil;" the Journal made a good case that they were identical:

Actually, the Bush statement is correct: There is really no big difference between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia.  When World War II began in September 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were allies; indeed, Stalin and Hitler launched the war together. ...  Germany invaded Poland on Sept 1 from the north, south, and west, Stalin invaded Poland from the east on Sept 17.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn learned the nature and reality of evil the same way Mrs Betancourt learned it - by direct, day-to-day personal experience.  There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that either communism or fascism can lead to great evil.

We would do well to carefully consider Mr. Solzhenitsyn's warning that humanistic benevolence can also lead to evil unless proper safeguards are put in place to account for the possibility that some of the people who implement well-intentioned laws may turn out to have evil intent.

Bureaucracy and the Potential for Evil

A bureaucracy is group of people who are organized and funded to enforce some set of regulations.  The regulations are supposed to control the activities of other people.  The word comes from "bureau" which refers to the building where officials work as well as the desks at which they sit.

From the very beginning, it was recognized that bureaucrats could easily get so obsessed with their rules, regulations, and procedures that they lost sight of the greater good that they were supposed to be doing in the first place.  Any group of bureaucrats can do great harm when their process becomes more important to them than the product they are supposed to produce.

In the United States, most new bureaucracies are founded to address some perceived social problem.  The legislators who sponsor the laws to create and fund the new bureaucracies inevitably cite some pressing moral imperative for the government to right some intolerable wrong.  Most of the time, the proponents of the new legislation cite a humanistic reason why the wrong cannot be tolerated.

Unfortunately, Mr. Solzhenitsyn was correct in asserting that evil could come from humanistic impulses; much evil has grown out of the well-intentioned Mondale Act.  The act was supposed to empower social workers to engage in coercive intervention in families where children were being abused; it provides cost reimbursement to state agencies when children were removed from their homes.

We'll summarize two of many well-documented cases of government-sponsored child abuse: a child was removed from his parents when he was accidentally served alcoholic lemonade at a baseball game; and 146 children were removed from their parents when their community was accused of supporting polygamy, which while it may be illegal in its own right, is in no way abusive of children younger than 12 or so.

Alcoholic Lemonade

  • Christopher Ratte, a tenured professor of classical archeology at the University of Michigan, took his 7 year old son Leo to a Tigers baseball game.
  • The concession stand vendor gave Leo alcoholic lemonade by mistake.
  • A Comerica Park security guard noticed the bottle in Leo's hand.
  • Prof. Ratte was interviewed by a Detroit police officer at Children's Hospital, where a doctor at the Comerica Park clinic had dispatched Leo -- by ambulance!  And we wonder why health costs are out of control.
  • An ER (Emergency Room) resident who drew Leo's blood found no trace of alcohol.
  • It was two days before the state allowed Ratte's wife to take their son Leo home and nearly a week before Ratte was permitted to move back into his own house.

The social workers told Prof. Ratte that the whole thing was unnecessary as they drove Leo away.  The Free Press explains, "But there was really nothing any of them could do, they all said. They were just adhering to protocol, following orders."

This is a clear example of a humanistic bureaucracy abusing a child because their procedure says they must.  As with many bureaucracies, child protection agencies get caught up in procedures so that the process becomes more important than the outcome.

In this case, the social workers knew there was no reason to take the child from his family, they knowingly harmed a child and his family by following orders.  We refer to this as "bureaucracy on autopilot" and regard it as convincing evidence for Mr. Solzhenitsyn's assertion that humanistic impulses which do not account for evil in human nature can nevertheless lead to state-sponsored evil.

Removing 146 Children From Their Parents

In the celebrated Texas polygamy case of a few months back, Texas child-protection authorities received a faked telephone call which purported to come from a 16 year old girl who said she had been forced to marry a 50 year old against her will.  No evidence for the existence of this person was ever found, and the phone number from which the call was made had previously been used to make other false-alarm calls; for some reason, tracking down and prosecuting the fraudster has been lost in the fog.  Based on this this phony call, social workers and police removed 146 children from the community without warning.  On April 8, Fox News reported:

Children's Protective Services (CPS) spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said each child will get an advocate and an attorney. But she said they would have a tough time adjusting to modern life if they are permanently separated from their families. [emphasis added]

The social workers knew that the children would have a tough time if they were separated from their families.  This isn't rocket science - an MIT study which was reported in USA Today has shown that removing children from their biological parents nearly always leads to worse outcomes than leaving families intact, almost no matter how lousy their parents may be.

The key to the CPS behavior is their statement that "each child will get an advocate and an attorney."  Under the terms of the Mondale act, these costs are reimbursed by the federal government along with more money to cover the agency's administrative costs.  Thus, by removing 146 children at one go, the agency received millions of dollars in cost reimbursement from the federal government and an automatic administrative "profit", despite knowing that the children they were supposed to be helping would have a "tough time."

Not only does their protocol require child removal, they get paid extra for doing so.  They've lost sight of the fact that they're supposed to protect children from abuse, not abuse them in order to maximize federal reimbursement.

In this case, the bureaucracy followed their protocol and maximized their budget by seeking federal reimbursement.  We don't know whether Mr. Solzhenitsyn anticipated that a bureaucracy would profit financially by doing evil, but it's clear that his assertion that humanistic impulses can lead to evil is entirely correct.

Bureaucrats Also Abuse Adults

On August 2, 2008, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had a headline "Milwaukee man faces foreclosure because he didn't pay parking fine." The article begins:

Peter Tubic ignored a $50 parking fine in 2004, and on Monday, it cost him his $245,000 house.

Mr. Tubic had parked his unregistered van in his own driveway. City zoning ordinances won't let property owners park unregistered vehicles on their own property.

The van needed repairs to pass the state vehicle inspection; those of us who live in states which require vehicle inspections sympathize with Mr. Tubic.  He didn't have the money and had more pressing problems at the time.  The article says:

His father was suffering from dementia. His mother was battling cancer, and he was their live-in caretaker. He needed to shop, cook, clean, maintain the house and tend to his parents' needs.  The van repair could wait, he thought.

Then a man from the city showed up and told him otherwise. It was February 2004. Tubic would have to move the van or get license plates for it within 30 days, per city zoning codes, the man said. Somebody had complained.

Think about this for a moment.  The city has the arrogance to say that you cannot park an unregistered vehicle on your own private property.  This man's van wasn't unsightly. It wasn't sitting up on concrete blocks with wires hanging out.  It didn't even have its hood propped up; it needed radiator work and was undriveable, but unless you actually tried to drive it you'd never know from looking.

Yet because of a missing sticker, not only was the car illegal to drive on the road - not unreasonable as the road belongs to the city - but its owner couldn't even park it in his own private driveway?  This sort of high-handed bureaucratic interference in property rights is just plain wrong, as we've stated before.  In fact, it's theft of property, it's a "taking" without compensation, pure and simple.

Several days later Tubic's dad died. Tubic was overwhelmed, he said.  "It was a combination of things financial and emotional, my caregiving role, all heaped themselves on me at the wrong time," he said. "I still don't function well."

Month after month the city Department of Neighborhood Services sent an inspector to the house to see if the van had moved or had license plates. Each time a new fee was assessed. And a letter was sent to Tubic's home.  At no time did Tubic call or write to object or explain his circumstances, city officials said. So the bureaucratic cog kept turning.

Tubic's $50 fine escalated to $1,475, and after it was clear he wasn't going to respond, the city filed a tax lien.  While Tubic paid the property taxes, he never paid the $1,475 for the zoning violation.  With interest and penalties, he owed $2,645 before the city foreclosed on Monday.

Mr. Tubic's house is fully paid for and is assessed at $245,000.  The city has foreclosed on him to collect roughly 1% of the value of his house.

It gets worse.  The article tells us more about Mr. Tubic:

According to the Social Security Administration, Tubic, 62, has been disabled since 2001. He has been diagnosed with psychological disorders that limit his "ability to understand, remember and carry out detailed instructions," according to documents from the administration.

How can disabled, disturbed Mr. Tubic cope with bureaucracy?  Bureaucrats can be pretty tough on normal people.

In several lengthy conversations with the P.I. Team spanning two weeks, Tubic frequently grunted in pain and broke down in tears.  "They're trying to take my house away for a parking violation," Tubic said. "I know it was my own fault for letting it drag on, I've been under mental duress. I haven't been able to handle this."

Instead of abusing children as CPS bureaucracies are prone to do, the Milwaukee zoning bureaucracy is abusing a sick, disabled adult, for a trivial amount of money, over an issue which is none of their business in the first place.

Janine Geske, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and law professor at Marquette University, called the case a human tragedy and an example of how people can fall through the cracks in the system.

"It seems like a drastic remedy," Geske said of the city's foreclosure. "But on the other hand the city has to enforce its zoning laws. I don't fault the city for that. [emphasis added]

We at Scragged most assuredly fault the city for having such an abusive, unconstitutional zoning ordinance in the first place. Why can't Mr. Tubic park his own van in his own driveway until he can get around to repairing it?  How dare the city presume to say he can't?

Ms. Geske went on:

"It's a shame someone didn't intervene to help him... It would be nice if someone who worked for government would take the time and say 'let's look at this and see if we're doing the right thing.' . . . It would be nice if they would remember the human factor here." [emphasis added]

What Justice Geske doesn't realize is that looking at a situation to see if "we're doing the right thing" is utterly contrary to the nature of bureaucracy.  Bureaucracies operate on fixed procedures; there is no human judgment allowed.  No human factors can be permitted to interfere in the smooth functioning of the bureaucratic machinery.  This is basic to the self-selecting nature of bureaucracy; people who don't think like bureaucrats find other employment lest they go insane.

Unjust Justice

It's pretty clear that the judges, whose job it is to dispense justice, have been bitten by the same bug.  Our founders knew very well that people are highly inclined to do evil unless they're restrained by some other force.  They knew that only government had enough power to protect people from government; that's why they set up a divided government with "checks and balances."

The job of the court system is to do justice, which includes protecting citizens from government excess.  This Milwaukee judge has completely forgotten his constitutional duty to protect citizens, particularly disabled citizens who, due to mental instabilities, need more protection than most:

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Richard Sankovitz technically stayed the judgment to give Tubic one last chance to explain why he hasn't paid or even responded, but Sankovitz ruled in favor of the city's foreclosure.  "The city was entitled to a judgment," Sankovitz told Public Investigator on Thursday. "There hadn't been an answer to the complaint."

Ah yes, you can't help but sympathize with the much-put-upon city.  "There hadn't been an answer to the complaint"!  Of course, there's nothing for it but to steal a disabled, mentally-disturbed man's house to assuage the offended dignity of the local authority.

Rubbish!  Judge Sankovitz is supposed to protect people against this sort of bureaucratic evil; his responsibility for this outrage is all the greater.

There's an old legal doctrine called "shock the court" or "shock the conscience of the court" which refers to a legal outcome that's so unreasonable, so unjust, that regardless of the technicalities of the law, the judge has to reverse it.  If stealing a mentally crippled man's house to collect 1% of its value doesn't shock Judge Sankovitz, what would?

The Judge has the power to dismiss the case with prejudice; he has the legal authority to cuss out the bureaucrats; he even has the power to declare the law unconstitutional due to its outrageous result, though he might be reversed on appeal.  If he truly felt the situation was wrong, he has the ability to fix it in one of several ways, or at least force more powerful people to go on record as defending the bureaucracy's action.

Like Pontius Pilate two millenia ago, he knows perfectly well what's the right thing to do, he even says so... and doesn't do it!  Why not?  Is there no longer any justice to be found in our "justice" system?

Down the Drano

If you think that this unjustified foreclosure is an aberration, we suggest that you read this report of how the Massachusetts authorities spent three days confiscating the contents of a hobbyist's home chemistry lab without a warrant even though it contained nothing but common household chemicals.  The commentator's posting ends:

There's a word for what just happened in Massachusetts. Tyranny. And it's something none of us should tolerate.

The combination of absolute fixation on procedures coupled with the power and willingness to foreclose on a sick, mentally crippled man for 1% of the value of his property and the power and willingness to invade a law-abiding man's home and confiscate harmless chemicals are examples of the humanistic, bureaucratic evil of which Mr. Solzhenitsyn warned us.  His books such as Gulag Archipelago and One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich lay bare the bureaucratic, procedural nature of the evil of prison camp administration which so abused him.

Bureaucracy, by its inherent nature, is prone to evil.  As George Washington put it, "Government, like fire, is an untrustworthy servant and a fearful master."  Will we listen to either of these men?  Or will we wait until the government comes to take our own house, when it's too late?

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Bureaucracy.
Reader Comments
One unfortunate feature of bureaucracy is its inability to filter out the psychopaths and narcissists who can readily make it a home. These people by their very nature gain personal satisfaction by imposing discomfort on others -- that is called evil by normal people.

Terms such as "the typical bureaucrat" have solid origins based on the personality disorders congregating in bureaucracies. The very worst of these individuals are the Hitlers and the Stalins. Less intense versions are the ones who take handicapped people's houses without their conscience getting in the way.

Call it political correctness, moral relativism, progressive, socialism, or whatever -- it always results in evil because of the personality-disordered individuals who always migrate into leadership positions and cannot be easily removed.

True democracy along with true free enterprise, while not free of evil, tend to make it more difficult for 'typical bureaucrats' to become entrenched. Show me a well entrenched bureaucracy and I will show you a source of widespread evil. The United Nations comes to mind along with just about any organization of tenured faculty.

August 19, 2008 9:23 AM
There are two core reasons why bureaucracies are bad. First, they have no incentive to succeed. Second, bad ones cannot be easily removed. One incentive to succeed in regular business is that if you don't, you might lose your job. Bureaucrats can do bad for years and years and have every assurance of job security.
August 19, 2008 9:33 AM
Assuming that the city had contacted Mr Tubic and was able to personally talk with him and yet he *still* refused to pay for it, what would you recommend the final action have been?

The law was insane, yes, but assuming that it *was* the law, the city's only actionable steps to collect is foreclosure. They have no other choice unless you believe that they should have no enforcement mechanism at all.
August 19, 2008 9:41 AM
I believe the judge should have dismissed the case with prejudice as "shocking to the conscience of the court."

I believe some chief bureaucrat should have thrown the ticket in the trash prior to submitting it to the court, realizing the profound injustice of what was about to occur.

I believe whoever wrote the ticket should have torn it up after his conversation with the guy. Although, admittedly that is a hard thing to do. What is fair to expect of a person who is paid to do things that are unAmerican and wrong by definition? Unfortunately, Americans who understand the constitution don't go into that sort of career, as noted above; instead, they attract petty tyrants, who enjoy throwing their weight around, the more unjustly the better.

The real question is this:

"If stealing a mentally crippled man's house to collect 1% of its value doesn't shock Judge Sankovitz, what would?"

That same question can be asked of every politician, judge, and bureaucrat. The answers will undoubtedly be deeply and profoundly disturbing.
August 19, 2008 10:03 AM
I sympathize with the man, but none of that answers my question.

What you are saying is that bureaucrats and judges should have the right, should they deem the circumstance to be "shocking" enough, to not enforce the law. Boil it down and that's what you've got.

I'd like to see a real solution proposed here such that this type of thing never happens again **while at the same time** making sure there are strict, easily-understood measures for enforcing laws.

Unelected judges and bureaucrats should *not* have the right to do or not do what they, should it seem unjust.
August 19, 2008 11:11 AM
The problem here is, what do you do when it is the LAW itself that is unjust? That's why, in theory, you are supposed to have a Constitution which enumerates the powers of government. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to much work anymore. In the days of our Founders - or even as recently as 100 years ago - the very idea that the government should have any say as to what an individual did on their own private property, as long as it did not directly cause harm to another individual or their private property, would have rightly been condemned as totalitarian. Any government agent who would attempt to enforce such a wrongful law could expect to be repulsed with armed force; this happened quite routinely in the West for many years.

We are forgetting what the default position ought to be. If there's any question about the law or its enforcement, it should be INNOCENT. The burden of proof is supposed to be on whoever is restricting freedom, namely, the government - not the other way round.
August 19, 2008 11:21 AM
To interject here -

I don't think anyone would say that parking fines are, themselves, unjust. Certainly, cities are perfectly within their right to impose fees to manage demand and impose fines to manage violations.

(Not that I agree with what the city did in the end)
August 19, 2008 11:25 AM
There's a subtle distinction that might have been missed here.

Parking fines are not unjust, because the town owns the road, and it's entirely appropriate for the owner of private property (even if the owner is the government) to regulate the terms of its use. Nothing wrong here.

The issue is that the citation was issued for the guy parking HIS OWN VAN on HIS OWN PRIVATE PROPERTY, that is, in his own driveway. Nothing to do with improper parking on the street. Apparently the town had an ordinance forbidding people from parking unregistered vehicles on their OWN property. This is wrong; it is a taking, and an infringement on private property rights.

Actually, that's a separate question from the justice and "shocking of the conscience" of confiscating the house from a disabled man for a $1,000 fine, even if the underlying complaint were valid.
August 19, 2008 11:29 AM
I don't care if the law is just or unjust. That has nothing to do with my point.

Given a just law (and we'll assume that law you referenced wasn't) should the government have mechanisms that allow them to absolutely enforce it? Any rational person would say yes of course. So the author's points on how severe the foreclosure was is irrelevant to the crime itself.

Foreclosing houses to collect small fines is the only way governments can, after enough time as passed, actually enforce what they put in place. What else is there?

It might be useful, at this point, to discuss methods that can be used collect fines without foreclosing houses. None come to mind. But one thing I am sure of: judges and bureaucrats should not have the right to waive fines what they deem "shocking". That is not their place.
August 19, 2008 12:10 PM
I am starting to agree with J. Masterson. Here's why...

The best way to remove bad laws is to enforce them absolutely. Like with speed limits - if you want them raised or removed, you can just enforce them half way. You have to enforce them absolutely so that everyone feels the pain of the regulation, gets angry and votes to overturn it. Otherwise, you get decades upon decades of the same bad regulations because no one is REALLY upset enough to make a big deal out of it. They know that MOST of the time they'll probably skate by so they don't say anything and the bureaucrats get away with keeping bad rules in place.

Let's look at the current case... Having a rule that it's illegal to park unregistered vehicles on private property is HORRIBLE law. The bureaucrats in Milwaukee have gotten away with that for a LONG time. But not the jig is up. This story has reached national news attention and people everywhere are asking the same questions. This re-enforces the point about enforcing bad laws to incite public wrath and get the laws removed. There are LOTS of people who feel sorry for this guy. What do you think would happen in Milwaukee right now if they put "allow unregistered vehicles on private property" on the next ballot referendum?
August 19, 2008 12:59 PM
That second sentence should go "Like with speed limits - if you want them raised or removed, you canNOT just enforce them half way"

(sort of changes the intent a little)
August 19, 2008 1:00 PM
Enforcing a law to get rid of it is a very old technique; scragged said as much with respect to immigration laws:


Mr. Bush must read scragged - shortly after this article came out, he started sending guys around to enforce the law. Much yelling and screaming, but ya know? Lots of illegals went home!

OOH, the staties tried this in upstate New York a few years back; they started busting legislators for going over the limit. The legislature offered them a choice - a pending pay raise would pass and the staties would forget about ticketing the legislature, OR the pay raise would die in committee, so sorry about that, we tried. Which do you think the staties chose?

What about "zero tolerance" laws in schools where kids get busted for sharing cough drops?
August 19, 2008 3:39 PM
Yes, I think enforcing bad laws absolutely is the way to get rid of them. I am all but completely convinced of this now.

With the NY staties, that's an issue of corruption. The executive and legislative branches of government worked together - stealing taxpayer money - to enrichen their personal selves. Corruption is a whole different bag.
August 19, 2008 3:51 PM
A new book "Brutality and violence under the Stalinist regime" by Ludwik Kowalski, is now available at www.amazon.com
August 20, 2008 7:08 AM
"In the days of our Founders - or even as recently as 100 years ago - the very idea that the government should have any say as to what an individual did on their own private property, as long as it did not directly cause harm to another individual or their private property, would have rightly been condemned as totalitarian."

What's sad is that these sorts of totalitarian laws are coming from the right as much as from the left.
August 20, 2008 12:23 PM
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