Lowering the standard. –Robert M. Shelby, 4-18-11. [1005 txt wds]

Can it be, that with Standard & Poor’s questionable help, poor has become standard? Well it’s good for a laugh, a sigh or a shrug. In 1955, UK historian and political analyst Cyril Northcote Parkinson (1909-93) commented in the Economist that the British Admiralty had expanded while the numbers of ships and sailors it administered  shrank. He then made the humorous observation that “Work expands to fill the time available for completion,” and that large bureaucracies create enough inside work to keep their continued existence looking justified without “commensurate output” of product visible to the outer world.


Can there be a corollary to Parkinson’s Law that explains Standard & Poor’s gift to the recent real-estate bubble and collapse? Maybe: “The pressure of available money on evaluators of property transactions makes influence seep invisibly into the evaluating to increase the values of its results.” What other pressure could inflate a bubble that way? Sadly, such increases of valuation lowered all values except the holdings of those whose holdings were already so vast that when property values hit dirt they could still buy it all up by singing on the sidewalk!


Law of Reaal-Ekonomy No. 1: “Buy low, sell high.” Law No. 2: “Ruin market, pick up pieces.” Law No. 3: “Monopolies need not be visible or tightly consolidated but merely confine ownership and power to small classes.” The result accomplishes the would-be aristocracy’s long-sought goal of impoverishing and immiserating the masses, long feared by observers at Center and Left to whom history tells the lessons of justice. Law No. 4: “Keep the animals in the dark, a barn full of them is easier to manage, that way.”


Parkinson’s Law has other long-discussed and amusing corollaries. “Clutter expands to fill all available surface.” “Waste accumulates faster than disposal space is found or capacity organized to manage it.” “Greed puts more demand on environment than the earth can satisfy.” And most importantly, “Committee discussion time increases as the importance of a topic and the money it involves decreases.” We see a current example of this in the House deliberations over federal spending cuts to discretionary items. No “solution” reached will touch the actual problem or significantly reduce national debt, for we are too afraid of the world or too bent on empire. Moreover, “Expenditures rise to meet income,” but “Borrowing lets spending rise past inclination to repay.” Further, we now risk finding that: “Demand on credit resource rises to exceed its supply” or the inclination to provide it. Creditors can pull back, leaving a cash-strapped country no recourse but to issue more unbacked, “fiat” money, thus assuring inflationary spiral and severe economic dislocation.


Parkinson’s “coeffiecient of inefficiency” rises with the number of people conferring together in commitee or legislation. Hofstadter’s Law states: “A task always takes longer than expected, even accounting for Hofstadter’s Law.” (Douglas Hofstader in Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.) Jevon’s Paradox reveals that increased efficiency of using a resource increases its consumption. (William Stanley Jevons in his 1865 book, The Coal Question.) This bears on money as a resource, as easy credit swells credit buying past safe limits. Another source of insight relevant to government may be Putt’s Law and the Successful Technocrat, 1981, credited to a pseudonymous writer, one “Archibald Putt.” It states: “Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand.” Doesn’t this bear on government administration and legislative debate as well as on public opinion formation and management? Think of FOX commentators and the real facts fogged over by their uncomprehending but prejudicial assumptions. Think of ideological partisanship warping and thwarting sensible discussion in the halls and on the floors of Congress. Distance between imagined plausibilities and veritable reality often beggars belief.


Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull wrote their 1969 book, The Peter Principle, introducing a humorous “science of hierarchiology.” It amuses because in many cases it cuts close to truth. It says that in hierarchically structured organizations, employees tend to rise to their “level of competence.” Above that, one may reach a position where the duties are beyond that person’s ability or skill-set and to which he or she cannot adapt. In time, management roles come to be filled by incompetents where actual work gets done by underlings who manage their superiors in order to limit the damage they can do and keep the enterprise going for the sake of everyone’s livelihood. Competence gets restored at the top only by revolution, stemming from production problems with tanked morale and mutiny within, and responsive action from the Board of Directors.


Addendum to the Principle was stated by Dr. William R. Corcoran: “Whatever works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails.” At this point, we see both the Law of Unintended Consequences (change can bring unforseen results) and the inescapable Murphy’s Law: “If something can go wrong, sooner or later it will.” We have seen this in relation to man’s use of nuclear power. Indeed, a man’s relation to the chain-saw can be unexpectedly devastating. Skill is not always equal to inattention.


Now add Shelby’s Law to the Sociology of Knowledge, an adjunct of practical epistemology: “There can be ignorance without knowledge, but there will never be knowledge without ignorance.” Between the two are opinion and superstition. Many opinions are secular superstitions, most of which are conveyed by pithy maxims that inform and mislead simultaneously. Some secular, political superstitions are underlain by religious superstitions. Their list is long enough to need virtually encyclopedic treatment. Their effects are severe enough to need a massive campaign of public education in order to correct them. Alas, who will educate the educators, or pay them? Clearly no agency of the people’s government, for to institute that it would have to pass through the endlessly distortive gauntlet of Congress abetted by the cacophony of media representation. Chickens must explain egg production to the fox.

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