Bureaucracy: Is It an Issue in the Developing World of Papua New Guinea?

Author:Lea, David

There has been a trend over the last three and a half decades to increase the size of bureaucracies, whether in the private or public sector of the economy. What has been increasingly evident is the enhanced authority and compensation received by those in the middle and upper levels of the bureaucracy. This reality has been explained in part by reference to needs for supervision, strategic planning, fact checking, efficiency, and monitoring, allegedly in order to keep shareholder and stakeholders informed. This transmogrified bureaucratic hierarchy has meant a reality of augmented paperwork including more extensive and detailed forms to be completed in reports that are now required on every conceivable aspect of the individual's work activities.

As a direct consequent of this development, those immediately engaged in productive activities, such as health workers and professors, are being increasingly subjected to more paperwork, meetings, and other administrative duties that preoccupy them to the exclusion of the more meaningful work related to patient welfare and student teaching. It has been reported that preoccupation with paperwork is interfering with the primary responsibilities of nurses (Graeber, 2018; O'Neill, 2002). Graeber points out that as much as 80 percent of their time is now taken up with meetings and filling out forms.

There is a recognition that in the Western context this reality has been driven by the transformation of the economy from industrial production to a market dominated by financialization (Dembinski, 2009; Epstein, 2005). Dembinski described this revolutionary development as one that involved a move from productivity to financial efficiency. He argued that this drive for greater efficiency was motivated by very large corporations that applied financial pressure to their subunits so that the focus was not upon increasing productive capacity in relation to the real economy but rather on increasing the value of the enterprise as perceived by the financial markets. Financial efficiency was understood in terms of enhanced shareholder value or return on equity (ROE). Dembinski alleged that very large companies therefore became depersonalized systems as they sought to transmit the pursuit of financial efficiency to the whole of their environment and from there to the whole of the economic and social fabric. In this context managers constantly forced enterprises to defenestrate anything that proved less efficient, that is, less efficient in terms of shareholder value or ROE--allegedly an indication as to which enterprises were using their equity capital most efficiently. Dembinski stated that, from the 1970s onward, ROE became the primary evaluative measure.

With financialization, Dembinski (2009) observed, very large companies subsequently became merely systems as they divested themselves of previously central functions such as manufacturing and focused upon organizing logistical and other links with their partners, suppliers, and subcontractors. Sales and global marketing subsequently became their central preoccupations. Dembinski (p. 121) observed that these companies owned the brands of products, sold them through distribution networks, and controlled design and relevant intellectual property rights and the necessary services once products were sold.

Financialization aided by digitalization has been accompanied by a new hierarchy of managers and administrators (Graeber, 2018; Lea, 2017). Although in the traditional Western economy, it would be expedient to reduce labor costs by trimming unneeded bureaucrats and workers, in the current financialized economy the tendency has been to enlarge and remunerate the bureaucratic component. Graeber described this current phenomenon as one in which the principal purpose is not to produce goods competitively but instead to increase monetary distribution. Organizations strive to distribute large sums of money, which are the proceeds from debt creation, and create money (by giving loans) while moving it around in very complex ways in order to gain fees from every transaction. This means that, in large organizations with equally large bureaucracies, profits are used to expand the bureaucracy as an end in itself rather than to increase and improve product or service. It is now the case that organizations strive to extract money from sundry organizational activities and then use the proceeds to create ever enlarging bureaucracies. Within this bureaucratic reality an important dynamic that drives growth has been personal status.

Noncommercial organizations have emulated this trend. This has become most perspicuous in both public and private tertiary institutions of learning, where the number of administrators and ancillary staff has steadily increased while faculty numbers remain relatively constant. Between 1975 and 2005 the number of faculty at U.S. colleges and universities grew by 51 percent whereas the number...

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