Are Bureaucrats a Necessary Evil, or Unsung Heroes?

” Excuse me, could I say something? I think we would all like this victory to go out to all the other guys, and I’m talking about the people in this city who are super good at their jobs but never get any credit. Like the lady in the DMV – that’s a rough job. “

We’ve all been to the DMV. We’ve all come face to face with faceless, ungraspable bureaucracy, where the person in front of you only has the authority to say “no.” But the truth is that bureaucrats, like lawyers and police officers, suffer from a terrible reputation that is often undeserved.

They’re frustrating because we don’t know the rules of the game. But their job is to enforce those rules. And without those rules, culture falls apart. Does that mean that every bureaucrat out there is a kindhearted individual? Heck no. But they are the human embodiments of a system that most days, keeps the food moving and the people fed and the kids educated and the transportation system working and the power on.

If we don’t know the rules of the game, that doesn’t mean it’s fixed. And they’re not usually the ones who made the rules and laws anyway. They give a face to faceless bureaucracy. And sometimes that means that we don’t see them as people.

The “Soulless” Bureaucrat

While we can imagine a world where people all choose to do the “right” thing, the reality is that most people, on most days, simply find it expedient to cut a few corners. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that there are seven billion human primates in the world, and we’re not really all that inclined to get along.

It’s easy for us to think about police officers and lawyers as enforcers of law. But there is another force in the rule of law: the quiet, often derided and underestimated bureaucrats. They are the ones who make sure that the “t”s are crossed and the “i”s dotted. While police might be the “hands” of law, and lawyers the “mind,” the solid “body” of governing relies on these people.

We often think of bureaucrats as powerless, and they show up in fiction as petty tyrants or, more rarely, kind guides. And often they are, indeed, personally powerless. But they are, at the same time, necessary cogs in the machine of governance. Every organization moves ahead on paperwork, and these are the masters of it.

Red Tape Is Better than Anarchy

When we think of everyday people as free-willed, freedom-loving, and out to accomplish great things, then the lowly bureaucrat is too easily seen as some kind of villain. But when we remember that all people are really territorial primates not always given to solving their problems for the greater good, we see the need for people who give their lives to making complex systems work.

They’re not glamorous heroes, and there are almost never TV shows about their wacky adventures. But they are the everyday people who bring complex systems to life. Their job is to help us all get along with the world.

Bureaucrats don’t chase down criminals and they don’t change the law — but these are the everyday enforcers who make sure that we have car insurance, drivers licenses, and roads to drive on. They make sure that our food is clean and that records are kept. In short – they work to make sure that we get to keep living in civilization.


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