Thursday, June 02, 2011


Interesting study here regarding the persistence and quality of the long-gone Habsburg bureaucracy in the governance of eastern and modern southeastern Europe.The present-day U.S. has developed a curious loathing for the notion that a well-run state is important to civil society. The people of mittelEuropa, fought over and beaten up by foreign invaders and local bullies alike, have no such delusion. And it seems that the crucial element inspiring local good government involves the probity and competence of the local chief administrative officer;
"Comparing individuals left and right of the long-gone Habsburg border, people living in locations that used to be territory of the Habsburg Empire have higher trust in courts and police. These trust differentials also transform into “real” differences in the extent to which bribes have to be paid for these local public services."
An unsurprising conclusion, one would think, but one that seems to be lost amid the current U.S. enthusiasm for replacing well-paid professional staffs at every level from the town council to the federal government with contract workers and minimum-wage temps.Whilst I suspect that no one has enjoyed bureaucracy since the first Australopithecene home builder was fined a basket of warra nuts and two monkey tails for failing to meet code standards for her wickiup, the honest and efficient regulation of the conduct of human business is both art and science. I think perhaps we've had it so good for so long in so much of the U.S. that we've forgotten that much of those places that didn't - like the ex-Ottoman and ex-Imperial Russian parts of eastern Europe - are a nasty welter of bribery, bullying, and personal politics.

While that makes for a delightfully colorful story, it makes for a tetchy and difficult way to live, and we Americans would do well to remember that.


Ael said...

A wonderful article.

It suggests that once built, strong institutions rot slowly.

This is good news for Americans (and other westerners)

FDChief said...

Not so sure if that's good news for us, Ael. A professional civil service came very late to the U.S. - many public jobs are STILL patronage positions. The Habsburg civil service was an order of magnitude more professional and better respected than the average city buildings and plans department in any U.S. city or many federal departments, as well. You'll note that in the places once ruled by the Ottomans or the Russians the trust and confidence was never there and still isn't.

I think, rather, it's a cautionary tale that good civic government is difficult to build but enduring if it's built well.