Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Architect and the Master Bureaucrat

Lots of people attack bureaucracy along the lines of James Scott's "Seeing Like a State", arguing that a master plan, or "scheme" as the Brits would say, is always suspect because it takes no account of local knowledge and local realities.  That line of attack can be persuasive; I'm sometimes tempted to buy it and turn in my liberal's stripes.

But then I read a post like Walter Jeffries and my temptation fades away, which is rather ironic because Walter is a fervent opponent of big bureaucracy and bureaucratic schemes like NAIS (for identifying farm animals). Walter and his family have a farm in Vermont, very energy-efficient. For maybe the last 12-16 months they've been actively engaged in building a butcher shop.  They've got the foundation and walls up, with lots of work yet to go.  Walt's post lists all the complicated factors he has to take into account, ending with the fact that all his design work will end up in concrete so he can't afford a mistake.

Now building a butcher shop is complex, but not nearly as complex as building say the Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan, or any other large building or development.  But we expect architects and building engineers to be able to pull it off, and they do, normally.  So too I expect Walter to pull it off.  The success of architects and Walter renews my faith in the idea that human reason and sweat can actually create things which work, things which can include bureaucracies.

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