Monday, May 25, 2015

Notable Bureaucrats: Jager and Lauter

Harald Jager and Gerald Lauter deserve places in the bureaucrats hall of fame.  Their roles are described in The Collapse by Mary Elise Sarotte, the book I blogged about yesterday , on the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Jager has a bit of fame, sufficient to rate a wikipedia page.  He was the lieutenant colonel in charge at a major Berlin crossing, who ultimately made the decision to open the gates and let East Berliners cross to the other side without facing rifle fire.

Lauter doesn't get that much fame, but arguably was the more important player. He was the second level bureaucrat who led a group of 4 bureaucrats from different agencies which produced the directive on a changed policy on travel to the West.  As Sarotte tells it, he didn't think much of the policy memo he was given to implement, so the group wrote a new one, including two important provisions: the new policy to take effect immediately and to include Berlin.  He wasn't a good bureaucrat, because there was a big omission--travelers needed to obtain a visa before traveling. (The policy types really wanted only to allow permanent emigration of selected individuals but Lauter believed that wouldn't work.)

So Lauter writes the directive, a PR type holds a news conference and answers questions by reading the directive, the media reasonably interprets the directive and answers as announcing free travel to the West, East Berliners gather at the crossing points, Jager is faced with a decision of using force or opening the crossing and his superiors are no help. He finally makes the right decision.

Why do I consider them candidates for a hall of fame: both deviated from mindless obedience to orders from above, resulting in gains for freedom and human rights.  And both found themselves in situations which other bureaucrats can sympathize with: stupid policy decisions from management (Lauter) and failure by superiorss to provide helpful and reasonable decisions, leaving the bureaucrat on a limb.

I do recommend the book.  The epilogue draws some conclusions  with which I agree--both on the fall of the wall and the general sense in which history happens, accident and luck, individuals and not plans often rule.

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