The Exciting Life of Bureaucrats

I just finished reading Life of a European Mandarin. It was written by a former EU official and is full of stories of his time in Brussels. Most of the stories dealt with explaining how difficult it was to get anything done in such a big bureaucracy and some others involved dishing dirt on European politicians I’ve never heard of before.

It was interesting to compare his experiences with his overview of the history of the European Union. He mentioned several times how amazing it was that so much had been accomplished in 50 years — who would have guessed right after World War II or during the Cold War that most of the countries in Europe would voluntarily join to form a political and economic union?

The author ends by saying that he thinks the EU has become less capable as it’s grown larger and that it is no longer able to meet the challenges ahead of it. I can understand why someone who has dealt directly with the frustrations of working in a huge bureaucracy would have a negative opinion of that organization’s abilities, but I think he misses the larger picture.

It’s true enough that on one level it is nearly impossible for a bureaucracy to get things done but on another level it can bring about huge changes, like uniting a continent or sending people to the Moon or creating the Internet or… There are issues that are unique to the EU’s situation today but any large organization deals with this dynamic and somehow things manage to get done.

This is getting me interested in going back and reading more of Arthur Schlesinger’s Age of Roosevelt series. I read the first a couple years ago and am interested in reading more about an earlier transition where people started looking to the government as a positive influence instead of something that worked poorly and should stay out of people’s way.

But first I’m going to read Kafka on the Shore. My friend Evan sent me a Murakami short story recently and that got me excited to read more of his books again.

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