Cancerous Bureaucracy


Mervin Yeung Editor/Publisher

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This article was written on Jan. 16, 1999. The study did not focus on economics; it focused on politics. And it was just as important. As we found out in the study, growth of bureaucracy has always been the biggest danger facing any human organization. One fact comes into our mind: In 1980, when former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher began to cut down the size of government, public spending accounted for 43% of the economy. After almost 20 years of ruthless cuts, extreme measures to suppress unions, and fanatical dismantling of the welfare state, the state's share has gone down to just 42%. Obviously, in this aspect, she was simply a failure. Can we blame President Reagan for his failure to cut government spending?! Did someone say the age of big government was dead? In America, government spending in 1913 accounted for less than 2% of the economy; by 1937, it was still only 9% after all those New Deals. Today? American government accounts for 33% of its GDP. And you know what? American government has the smallest government among the rich industrial nations! Now, can you see that the bureaucracy is really a cancerous tumor? (This short introduction is written on Dec. 20, 1999. )



Cycle may not be so obvious in Western History, but in Chinese History, cycle is the rule:


1. Old dynasty collapsed; chaos followed. (See #7)  

2. Winner took all: A new dynasty was founded. The winner became the new emperor because he suppressed and pacified all other factions and other forces. Chaos lasted less than 50 years, as a rule.  

3. A long period of peace followed. Prosperity returned.  

4. During this period, bureaucracy expanded rapidly and the cost of supporting it was becoming overwhelming.  

5. Gradually, corruption and inefficiency infested every branch of government. Finance deteriorated. Government responded by raising tax, debasing coins, and/or printing money. Some dynasties were so corrupted that they even delayed or cut salary to soldiers.  

6. Either a foreign invasion or a local peasant rebellion (often due to drought or flood) occurred. This should be easily repelled or suppressed in previous time period. But it became fatal due to de-moralized army and weakened finance.  

7. Dynasty collapsed. (Go back to #1)


As we saw from #1 to #7, bureaucracy had a life of its own, like cancer, it kept growing and growing until the whole nation, the whole society could not support this ever-expanding entity. Then, government finance was in ruin and eventually, even a small rebellion or a foreign invasion will destroy the nation or the empire.





1. Ch'in Dynasty ( 221 BC -206 BC )

( Too short for analysis. Like Alexander the Great, after the founding emperor died, empire collapsed because the conquered people rebelled. )


2. Han Dynasty ( 202 BC - AD 220 )

( Long, continuous war with nomadic Chiang tribes caused severe inflation. ( AD 57 - AD 169 ) Like the US's Vietnam War, government finance was in ruin. AD 184, a peasant rebellion ( Yellow Turbans Rebellion ) fatally weakened the empire and Han formally ended in AD 220 )


3. Chin and Southern Dynasties ( AD 265 - AD 589 )

( Four coup d'etat resulted in 5 southern dynasties in this generally peaceful period in Southern China. Northern China was in Huns and other nomadic tribes' hands, like West Roman Empire. Southern China was Chinese version of East Roman Empire -- a refuge. From AD 502, government finance deteriorated under Emperor Hsiao Yen, who wasted huge amount of money for donation to Buddhist Temples and monks. AD 548, a general rebelled, caused widespread devastation, and destroyed the structure of the empire. See #5 - #7 )


4. Tang Dynasty ( AD 618 - AD 907 )

( This powerful dynasty was continuously expanding. Wars against East Turkic Empire ( at modern day Mongolia ), West Turkic Empire ( at Central Asia ), Koguryo Empire ( at northern Korea ), Japanese Empire ( Fighting occurred at southern Korea ), Arabs ( at Sogdiana, in Kazakhstan, Central Asia ), Tibet Empire and Nan Chao Empire ( at south west China ) caused severe and worsening financial stress. A rebellion by a frontier general An Lu-shan in AD 755 weakened the empire and massive peasant uprisings (drought) in AD 874 destroyed it. Same old story: see #5 - #7 )


5. Sung Dynasty ( AD 960 - AD 1279 )

( This dynasty was weak in military but extremely rich in commerce and culture. Paper currency was invented under this dynasty. A bloated army and a huge government bureaucracy put public finance under stress. AD 1258, when Mongols invaded, Sung's bloated, ineffective army was no match. Mongol conquered Sung Dynasty at AD 1279. )


6. Yuan Dynasty ( AD 1264 - AD 1368 )

( This dynasty was the eastern section of the Mongol Empire. Mongols learnt from Sung's success with paper money. However, the barbaric Mongols thought that paper money was equal to wealth. They over-printed it beyond any restraint. Hyperinflation occurred. Corruption in government overwhelmed imagination. You probably have noticed that this Mongol dynasty was particularly short: It lasted only about 100 years. Hyperinflation and an economic collapse were the causes of the destruction of the empire. Even the mighty Mongol Empire was no match against the power of hyperinflation. )


7. Ming Dynasty ( AD 1368 - AD 1644 )

( Same old story: See #1 - #7. In the final years of the dynasty, the army refused to fight against the peasant rebellion (drought) because the soldiers did not receive their wages in months. Massive surrender and defection of its arm force were fatal to Ming Empire. "When you can't pay your army, your empire is in trouble. " )


8. Manchu Dynasty ( AD 1644 - AD 1912 )

( One of the "cleanest" dynasties in Chinese history. Only until 19th century the government became corrupt and ineffective. After AD 1842, Manchu lost Opium War to the British Empire and was forced to open trade. Chinese pre-industrial products were not able to compete with European industrial products. Huge trade deficit occurred. Opium imports further worsened the deficit. Government finance was ruined. From AD 1850 to AD 1864, a Chinese Christian rebellion almost succeeded. Helped by the British, Manchu was able to suppress this rebellion, only barely. This empire's days were numbered. )


Chinese history indeed provides a series of cycles and a lot of facts about how bureaucracy grew, how it decayed, and how it eventually destroyed its host -- the nation.


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