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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy and can compose the administration of any organization of any size, although the term usually connotes someone within an institution of government.

The term bureaucrat derives from "bureaucracy", which in turn derives from the French "bureaucratie" first known from the 18th century.[1] Bureaucratic work had already been performed for many centuries. In countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, bureaucrats are known to be the officers that run the government at ministerial levels as well at district levels.

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  • ✪ Bureaucracy Basics: Crash Course Government and Politics #15
  • ✪ Formal Organizations: Crash Course Sociology #17
  • ✪ If You’re Not a Politician, a Judge, or a Bureaucrat, You’re a Business Professional! Now...


Hi, I'm Craig, and this is Crash Course Government & Politics, and today, we're gonna talk about bureaucracies, just as soon as I finish filling out these forms. Do I really have to initial here, here, and here on all three copies, Stan? Regulations say so? All right. I'm just kidding. I don't really have to fill out forms in triplicate in order to make an episode of Crash Course, but this kind of stuff is one of the main reasons that people don't like bureaucracies. Americans tend to associate them with incomprehensible rules and time-wasting procedures and probably most annoying - actual bureaucrats. But bureaucracies are a lot like our extended families, in that we largely don't understand, or at least don't appreciate, the important role that bureaucracies play in our lives, mainly because of all the forms, and because my cousin who always ate all the cookies from the jar at Grandma's house. So what exactly IS a bureaucracy? I don't like to do this, because I'm arrogant and lazy, but sometimes it's helpful to go to a dictionary when you need to find out what a word means. So here's a serviceable, political science-y definition: "A bureaucracy is a complex structure of offices, tasks, rules, and principles of organization that are employed by all large scale institutions to coordinate the work of their personnel." Two points to emphasize here: First, bureaucracies are made up of experts who usually know more about the topic at hand than you do and who are able to divide up complex tasks so that they can get done. Second, all large scale institutions use bureaucracies, so the distinction between big business and big government is, in at least this respect, bogus, or what I like to call a false dichotomy. Is that too pretentious to say "false dichotomy," Stan? I don't care, I'm saying it. False dichotomy! So if people hate bureaucracies so much and compare them unfavorably with Google and Amazon, why do we have them? Well, the main reason is that bureaucracies are efficient. They make it easier for governments to accomplish tasks quickly and to basically operate at all. In the US, federal bureaucrats fulfill a number of specific important functions. One, bureaucrats implement the laws that Congress writes. Have you ever read a law? They're pretty complicated. It's a good idea to have experts who can interpret them and put them into action. Two, bureaucrats also make and enforce their own rules. But this isn't as action hero-ish as it sounds. And three, they settle disputes through a process called administrative adjudication, which makes them kind of like courts. Now, since I know that all of you have been paying extremely close attention to these episodes, you know that at least two of those functions are problematic in ways that go beyond making rules that seem Byzantine or stupid or both - Byzantupid. The big concern here is the separation of powers, which you remember is the idea that power is divided between three branches of government. Technically the federal bureaucracy is part of the executive branch, but it's so big that it dwarfs the other two branches and can easily overpower them, much like I overpower this eagle. "That's right eagle. I make my own rules, like a bureaucracy." But an even more troubling, to some people, aspect of bureaucracies is what they actually do. So let's go to the Thought Bubble. Bureaucracies don't just enforce the rules; they make new ones called regulations. In doing this, they're acting like a legislature, especially since the rules have the force of law and people can be punished for breaking them. For example, if you say "Sh%t Sticks" on TV, the FCC can fine you, just like the local law enforcement would if you broke a state law against speeding. And don't say "Sh%t Sticks" to the cop. But according to the Constitution, Congress is supposed to make the laws, so if you're a constitutional formalist, this is going to give you fits. On the other hand, the rule making process allows for a degree of popular participation that goes way beyond what happens in Congress. In 2014, Congress called for the mandatory notice and comment period on new FCC rules on the issue of net neutrality. Any person can read the proposed rules which are not easy to understand and offer a public comment, including suggestions for new rules using the internet. The bureaucracy is required to read the comments and they could be incorporated into the final rules that are published in the federal register. So in a way, federal rule-making is more democratic than congressional law-making, but it's still not in the constitution. Administrative adjudication raises similar separation of powers issues, but they're less problematic because the constitution gives congress the right to establish courts other than the Supreme Court and it doesn't say that these can't be administrative tribunals that are part of bureaucratic agencies. Many low level bureaucratic positions are filled through competitive exam-based civil service procedures which are supposed to ensure a level of expertise and take politics out of the staffing process. But many upper level bureaucratic leaders especially cabinet secretaries and also ambassadors are very political. For one thing, they're appointed by politicians who may be repaying favors or trying to pack the agencies with like-minded favorites. For another, bureaucrats engaged in bargaining and protect their own interests, the very thing that politicians do all the time. Thanks Thought Bubble. So the first reason we keep bureaucracies is because bureaucracies are useful. They do get things done even though it might not be as quickly as we'd like. And some of these things are things we want done, like inspecting our meat so we don't get E. coli or Salmonella or Mad Cow Disease. One response to this that we'll talk about later is to get rid of public bureaucracies and contract their tasks out to private companies. There's something to be said to this. After all, in a lot of ways UPS does a better job of getting packages to us than the postal service does. And I also have a lot more fun at the private bowling alley than the public one. There's no such thing as a public bowling alley. If there is, I'm going. Might be free. But the main argument for privatization seems to be cost. And that one might not always be true. It seems unlikely that a private corporation would spring up to inspect meat. And although we can rely on pricing to signal that our chicken wings are salmonella free, I don't think it's a good idea. So in addition to being useful and filling roles that the private sector might not fill, one of the reasons we have so many bureaucracies is because Congress keeps making them and delegating power to them. If we didn't have bureaucracy, Congressmen and their staff would be taking on all the oversight and enforcement of their own laws. In addition to creating its own separation of powers problem, this might be kind of chaotic, considering that potentially the entire House of Representatives could be replaced every two years. One advantage of bureaucracies is a certain amount of stability in the built-up expertise that comes with it. Probably the main reason why we don't change bureaucracies though is that doing so is really difficult. Once Congress makes a bureaucracy it's usually permanent for a number of practical and political reasons. We'll get into those reasons next time. So I'm going to wrap this up with a little bit of a reminder about Federalism, based on a largely unwarranted assertion. I bet that if you ask most Americans to give an example of a bureaucracy they will say the DMV. Most people will tell you a DMV horror story of the time they had to wait in line for four hours just to renew their license and when they got to the counter a clerk told them that they didn't have the right forms and they needed to post a money order, and not a credit card or a check or even cash and that anyway they had to go on break and I had to come back in fifteen minutes and all I wanted was my license-- AAAAAAH the DMV! And I sympathize with this predicament but I feel the need to remind anyone who has had this experience at the DMV, that it's a state bureaucracy, not the federal bureaucracy. Most of the bureaucrats you meet in your daily life: teachers, policeman, tax assessors are officials of your state government, not the federal government, like Bureaucrat Jimmy. Which is pretty much what the Framers intended. So it's a good idea to be thoughtful about which government we're going to transfer our anger towards and to rage against the correct machine. That's what federalism's all about. Thanks for watching. I'll see you next week. Crash Course: Government & Politics is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. Support for Crash Course: U.S. Government comes from Voqal. Voqal supports nonprofits that use technology and media to advance social equity. Learn more about their mission and initiatives at Crash Course was made with the help of these soulless bureaucrats. Thanks for watching.


Role in society

Bureaucrats play various roles in modern society, by virtue of holding administrative, functional, and managerial positions in government.[2][3][citation needed] They carry out the day-to-day implementation of enacted policies for central government agencies, such as postal services, education and healthcare administration, and various regulatory bodies.[4]

Types of bureaucrats

Bureaucrats can be split into different categories based on the system, nationality, and time they come from.

  1. Classical – someone who starts at a low level of public work and does not have to express opinions of their own in their professional capacities. They follow policy guidelines and gain increasing ranks within the system. Tax collectors, government accountants, police officers, fire fighters, and military personnel are examples of classical bureaucrats.
  2. American bureaucrats – these are different from other types because they operate within a republican form of government, and the political culture traditionally seeks to limit their power.
  3. Chinese bureaucrats, also called “Mandarin bureaucrats” – Mandarins were important from 605 to 1905 CE. The Zhou dynasty is the earliest recording of Chinese bureaucrats. There was a 9 rank system, each rank having more power than the lower rank. This type of bureaucrat went on until the Qing dynasty. After 1905, the Mandarins were replaced by modern civil servants. In 1949, the Communist Party took over China, and by their theory, all people were bureaucrats who worked for the government.
  4. European – originally referred to as “Mandarins” stemming from the Chinese word for government employee. Bureaucracy didn't catch on in Europe very much due to the many different governments in the region, and constant change and advancement, and relative freedom of the upper class. With the translation of Confucian texts during the Enlightenment, the concept of a meritocracy reached intellectuals in the West, who saw it as an alternative to the traditional ancien regime of Europe.[5] Voltaire and François Quesnay wrote favourably of the idea, with Voltaire claiming that the Chinese had "perfected moral science" and Quesnay advocating an economic and political system modeled after that of the Chinese.[5] The implementation of Her Majesty's Civil Service as a systematic, meritocratic civil service bureaucracy, followed the Northcote–Trevelyan Report of 1854 which was influenced by of the ancient Chinese imperial examination.[6] This system was modeled on the imperial examinations system and bureaucracy of China based on the suggestion of Northcote–Trevelyan Report.[7] Thomas Taylor Meadows, Britain's consul in Guangzhou, China argued in his Desultory Notes on the Government and People of China, published in 1847, that "the long duration of the Chinese empire is solely and altogether owing to the good government which consists in the advancement of men of talent and merit only," and that the British must reform their civil service by making the institution meritocratic.[7] In 1958, though, after the formation of the European Union the job of the Bureaucrat became extremely important to help organize and govern such a large and diverse community. In 1961 the term Eurocrat was coined by Richard Mayne, a journalist at the time. A Eurocrat is a bureaucrat of the European Union.
  5. Modern Bureaucrat - Bureaucrats gained increasingly negative reputations throughout the second half of the 20th century. As populations grow it becomes harder for bureaucratic systems to work because it often involves a lot of paperwork, which increases processing times, which eventually will be nearly impossible to manage. The digital age and the Internet has revolutionized Bureaucrats and the modern Bureaucrat has a different skill set than before. Also, the internet lowers the corruption levels of some Bureaucratic entities such as the Police Force due to social media and pro–am journalism.

Attributes of bureaucrats

German sociologist Max Weber defined a bureaucratic official as the following:[8]

  • He is personally free and appointed to his position on the basis of conduct.
  • He exercises the authority delegated to him in accordance with impersonal rules, and his loyalty is enlisted on behalf of the faithful execution of his official duties.
  • His appointment and job placement are dependent upon his technical qualifications.
  • His administrative work is a full-time occupation.
  • His work is rewarded by a regular salary and prospects of advancement in a lifetime career.
  • He must exercise his judgment and his skills, but his duty is to place these at the service of a higher authority. Ultimately he is responsible only for the impartial execution of assigned tasks and must sacrifice his personal judgment if it runs counter to his official duties.
  • Bureaucratic control is the use of rules, regulations, and formal authority to guide performance. It includes such things as budgets, statistical reports, and performance appraisals to regulate behavior and results.

As an academic, Woodrow Wilson, later a US President, professed in his 1887 article The Study of Administration:[9]

But to fear the creation of a domineering, illiberal officialism as a result of the studies I am here proposing is to miss altogether the principle upon which I wish most to insist. That principle is, that administration in the United States must be at all points sensitive to public opinion. A body of thoroughly trained officials serving during good behavior we must have in any case: that is a plain business necessity. But the apprehension that such a body will be anything un-American clears away the moment it is asked. What is to constitute good behavior? For that question obviously carries its own answer on its face. Steady, hearty allegiance to the policy of the government they serve will constitute good behavior. That policy will have no taint of officialism about it. It will not be the creation of permanent officials, but of statesmen whose responsibility to public opinion will be direct and inevitable. Bureaucracy can exist only where the whole service of the state is removed from the common political life of the people, its chiefs as well as its rank and file. Its motives, its objects, its policy, its standards, must be bureaucratic. It would be difficult to point out any examples of impudent exclusiveness and arbitrariness on the part of officials doing service under a chief of department who really served the people, as all our chiefs of departments must be made to do. It would be easy, on the other hand, to adduce other instances like that of the influence of Stein in Prussia, where the leadership of one statesman imbued with true public spirit transformed arrogant and perfunctory bureaux into public-spirited instruments of just government.

Bureaucrats in popular culture

See also


  1. ^ "bureaucrat - definition of bureaucrat in English | Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Dictionaries | English. Retrieved 2016-10-23.
  2. ^ Al-Hegelan, Abdelrahman. "Bureaucracy and Development in Saudi Arabia". The Middle East Journal. JSTOR 4326973.
  3. ^ Lankov, Andrei (6 October 2014). "The North Korean bureaucracy is here to stay". Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  4. ^ "Who Are the Bureaucrats?". US History American Government. Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  5. ^ a b Schwarz, Bill. (1996). The expansion of England: race, ethnicity and cultural history. Psychology Pres; ISBN 0-415-06025-7.
  6. ^ Walker, David (2003-07-09). "Fair game". The Guardian. London, UK. Retrieved 2003-07-09.
  7. ^ a b Bodde, Derke. "China: A Teaching Workbook". Columbia University.
  8. ^ Max Weber. Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. pp. 650–78.
  9. ^ Woodrow Wilson (June 1887). "The Study of Administration". Political Science Quarterly. 2 (2). pp. 197–222. Archived from the original on 2010-06-13. Retrieved 2008-03-25.

Further reading

External links

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