Politics in Minutes (2016)

Bureaucracy

The word ‘bureaucracy’ has unfortunately earned a negative connotation, that of red tape and unnecessary paperwork, when, in fact, it is a useful term to describe the systems and institutions that carry out the work of government. It is by no means a modern invention, either – as early as the 6th century BCE, Confucius proposed ways in which the business of the Chinese empire could be administered by a system of advisors to the emperor and a class of public servants.

Today, governments rely on a publicly funded civil service, composed of various government offices and departments, to provide an administrative system to manage the everyday business of the government, such as collecting taxes, and supplying and maintaining public goods and services. Civil servants are unelected and often specially trained for their work. In answer to the question ‘who runs the country?’, the answer is perhaps not obvious: while a government decides how it is run, it is the bureaucracy that actually manages it.

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