The Left Critique of Bureaucracy

Nathan J. Robinson in Current Affairs:

Sometimes my experiences with the Postal Service are almost enough to turn me into a right-wing libertarian. For instance: They offer a special discounted rate for sending magazines through the post. Which is good—I run a magazine that is sent through the post! In order to get the rate, however, you have to meticulously obey every single instruction in the 56 pages of Handbook DM-204, which governs Periodicals Mailing Privileges. There is an incredibly complicated application, and a $700 fee, and a seemingly endless set of potential pitfalls. I couldn’t figure out how to finish the application, so I hired someone to do it. That person eventually gave up in frustration. It ultimately took us a year to get the permit. Shortly afterward, the postal service threatened to revoke our permit (and send us back to step 1) because we had failed to print the contents of Form 3510-M in our magazine.

For every bad experience I’ve had with the post office, though, I’ve also had a good one. There are two post offices within a few blocks of Current Affairs HQ. At one, the staff are consistently ornery and chide you for doing something wrong. (I play a game with myself: “What have I done wrong this time?” in which I try to guess what I am going to be told I have done wrong. The last time I went in it was “failing to fold the priority envelope along the crease when sealing it.”) At the other post office, the staff are absolutely lovely. They apologize to you, they find fun stamps for you, they give you king cake during Carnival Season. I adore them.

On the left, we often talk about the importance of making things publicly owned and operated. But the structure and character of those institutions matters just as much as their being “public” versus “private.” There’s a reason why “Do you want your healthcare to be run like the post office and the DMV?” is a very effective conservative talking point against greater federal involvement in financing medical care.

More here.