The final resting place of the great prophet

Sadiq Khan, unfathomably currently London’s Mayor, has managed to prove Parkinson’s Law once again. This is not prove as in test, one meaning, but prove as in show correct, the other such. It’s also not Parkinson’s Plain, that work expands to fill the time available for its completion, but Parkinson’s Derivative, that bureaucracies always grow, that’s just what bureaucracies do. Khan has proved this, obviously enough, by expanding his own bureaucracy to no good effect. You know, what the Hell, it’s only taxpayers’ money, right?

Sadiq Khan criticised over 60 per cent rise in staff costs at City Hall since taking office

It’s not all of City Hall, just that bit which Khan directly and personally controls.

A spokesman for Mr Khan said he “makes no apologies for his work”, despite the wage bill climbing from £3.8m in 2016 to £6m in 2018.

Campaigners said that this added £2.2m spend compared to Boris Johnson’s last year in office could’ have funded 36 police officers.

The increasing bill is partly due to the Mayor giving pay rises to staff, including to workers who were already earning over £100,000.

Pay rises, yes, but they’re of the order of 4 and 5%. It’s employing more people to shuffle paper that bumps it up. Which is just as Parkinson described matters:

A current form of the law is not the one Parkinson refers to by that name in the article, but a mathematical equation describing the rate at which bureaucracies expand over time. Much of the essay is dedicated to a summary of purportedly scientific observations supporting the law, such as the increase in the number of employees at the Colonial Office while the British Empire declined (he shows that it had its greatest number of staff when it was folded into the Foreign Office because of a lack of colonies to administer). He explains this growth by two forces: (1) “An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals” and (2) “Officials make work for each other.” He notes that the number employed in a bureaucracy rose by 5–7% per year “irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done”.

Quite so. The policy implication of this being that you’ve got to have properly termagant budget cutters in control and even then they’ll only, just, manage to constrain the growth. Then every few decades you need to destroy all extant bureaucracies. That pulling up by the roots being the only manner possible of returning to offices which do something other than prove the need for more officers in offices.

Interestingly, The Economist has the original piece available from its archives. Well worth a read.