Denseman on the Rattis

Formerly known as the Widmann Blog



The title of this posting is somewhat weird, but I couldn’t think of a better word, because the word bureaucracy already exists in English with a different meaning, and I was looking for a word for a society run by bureaucrats. In Danish, I would have coined a new word, djøfikrati, for it (based on DJØF, the Danish Union of Lawyers and Economists), but I know of no English word that similarly covers the bureaucrat professions (law, economics and political science), so I allowed myself to make an impromptu borrowing from Danish.

But enough about the title! What really concerns me is how democracy is being abused and slowly eroded by professional politicians with a bureaucrat background and mindset. A generation or two ago, politicians would to a much larger extent come from all swathes of life, but these days, my impression is that most have studied a DJØF subject at university and have then spent time before parliament working for their party or somewhere in the administration.

The problem is that they are very good at what they do, and that makes it difficult for other people to be successful in politics. For instance, I yesterday read an article in a Danish newspaper complaining about the fact that the Danish state budget is now so complex that a university degree in economics is almost needed to understand it – just ten years ago, most members of parliament could still make sense of it, but since then it has been extended with more and more detail.

Also, as the old saying goes, “when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Michael Portillo had an interesting article in The Times today, where he points out that “[i]n place of ‘ethos’ it brought plans and targets geared to bonuses, performance depending not on consumer satisfaction or local accountability but on obeying instructions. […] The idea that a dentist or a social worker or a civil servant might be motivated by duty was to them unimaginable”. In other words, bureaucrats tend to assume that all others think as bureaucrats too, and they swamp us all in oceans of red tape.

Finally, the modern obsession with opinion polls is also a consequence of the djøficracy. In old days, most politicians had strong opinions, a moral compass and extensive connexions with their voters, which meant that they could and would intuitively take decisions in line with what was expected of them. But many modern bureaucrats seem to have picked their party more or less at random, and they want power for power’s sake, so they let their policies be determined by the latest opinion poll, with the result that more and more voters cannot see the difference between the parties and become apathic.

What can be done? I think the answer is to get more non-bureaucrats into politics. It requires recruiting more people from diverse backgrounds into political parties, but it also requires voters to stop voting for bureaucrats when they have a choice. If that doesn’t work, perhaps short-lists, like the ones used to increase the number of female and non-white politicians, could even be used.

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