Disclaimer: possible side effects of this column include drowsiness and mild agitation. I have set myself the challenge of diverting your attention from your far more interesting tweets to a more somber topic: bureaucracy. Those ever-present, beguiling administrators huddled together at the top of the pyramid and at the end of the corridor. They are the elevator music that keeps the humdrum humming along.
To employ perfectly good newsprint such as this in the service of administrators and their paper-laden strategic plans and reports seems redundant. But take that risk we must – for our collective sanity as well as our pocketbooks.
Thirty-four cents out of every dollar spent on healthcare in this country pays for administrative overhead. And for every tax and tuition dollar that makes its way into the bureaucratic vortex of higher education, 24 cents is siphoned-off by pinstripe suits and their ponderous task forces.
Welcome to the latest chapter in the age of the administrator, amongst the most self-serving, calculated specimens that our species has produced – and predominately male in gender. And I’m not singling out corporate lawyers, investment bankers or military brass for this ongoing calamity, but rather those who live and die by the art of double-speak, by their penchant to obscure and complicate what is simple, and by creating obstacles for rank-and-file employees who actually do things.
These are not the hip millennial leaders of agile, innovative organizations – hardly; it is not there that these self-aggrandized career-climbers lurk and seek solace; it is in the heaving, bloated monolithic structures such healthcare conglomerates and public universities; the alphabet soup of government agencies.
In a sense, we can think of Gordon Gekko, the king of greed himself, as the antithesis of the administrator – unadorned of policies and protocols. Here, Gekko uses a shareholders’ meeting to take aim at corporate bureaucracy:
“Teldar Paper has 33 different VPs – each earning over $200,000 a year; I’ve spent the last two months analyzing what all these guys do – and I still can’t figure it out. One thing I do know is that our paper company lost $110 million dollars last year and I’ll bet that half of that was spent in the paperwork going back and forth between all these vice presidents.”
In order to hold onto the reins and siphon-off sumptuous incomes and pensions, administrators must, above all else, defend and protect the status quo, the topmost layers of the organizational chart in particular.
Over the last few decades, the upward trend of unchecked mergers and consolidations – what to speak of insolvencies – have dictated that administrators hone their craft to justify their roles. The recipe is fairly consistent.
Essentially, flood communication channels with polished messaging about how “our organization is transforming into a recognized global leader of tomorrow” … that kind of thing. While that PR megaphone is blasting away, internally, a core of like-minded, committed lieutenants must pledge their loyalty to the hierarchy. Mind you, these bureaucratic henchmen are to be the agents of change that will actually never take place, and they must then ladle out the sauce with a semblance of passion.
Whatever the pretense, their paychecks are intended to produce a passable smile. Richard Heinberg describes the charade well: “The power holders in society incentivize smart people below them in rank and wealth to normalize the unsustainable.” And in exchange for the smiles and attaboys, the lead paper pusher promises to circle the wagons to protect them.
And there are oh-so-many more to protect. According to economist Richard Vedder, “If the ratio of campus bureaucrats to faculty had held steady since 1976, there would be 537,317 fewer (university) administrators today.” There would also be far greater income equality. If we go back to 1965, the average chief executive-to-worker pay ratio was 20-1; it now stands at 312-to-1.This degree of largesse is uniquely American. Our value system has found it inconvenient to distinguish between determined entrepreneurs and organizational opportunists run amok. So how are we ever to bring down the cost of the “$100 band-aid” or make college affordable?
More administrators of course.
After years of globetrotting, Todd J. Broadman finds himself writing from his perch on the Palouse and loving the view. His policy briefs can be found at US Resist News: https://www.usresistnews.org/