I had the unfortunate experience of living Parkinson’s Law first hand. Parkinson posited that because people within bureaucracies make work for each other if only to feel important and get more subordinates, dealing with bureaucracy becomes increasingly complex and employment in the bureaucracy keeps increasing irrespective of the variation in the real amount of work to be done.

I am trying to open a company in India. It all started as expected: filling many forms, getting tons of passport photos and getting many documents notarized by public notaries in the US. The final step was to get one document notarized by an Indian notary at the Indian consulate in New York. I showed up at opening time this morning. After waiting in line for 1 hour, the lady tells me, I first need to get an Apostille from the New York State Department of State (yes, that’s the official name!) at 123 Williams Street all the way downtown. Foolishly believing it would be easy, I headed there. After filling a few forms and waiting in line, I was then told I first need the document to be notarized by an American notary and have that notary verified by the County Clerk. Someone in the waiting room helpfully suggested I head to room 141 at the basement of the New York Supreme Court at 60 Centre Street where they should be able to help me.

After a brisk walk there and another 30 minute wait to go through security to get into the building, I find room 141B. After yet another line, I am told they only do the certification and that I would need to get the document notarized elsewhere. I hunt down a notary (almost all bank branches have one), wait in line again both to get back into the Supreme Court building and to get the certification, only to be told that the specific notary I selected could only be verified by a different county clerk. Helpfully, they give me the direction to the nearest appropriate notary 15 blocks away.

After yet another walk and yet another wait in line first to get through security and then to get the certification, I was told to wait into yet another long line to pay the $3 fee and pickup the document. At this point both the New York State Department of State and the Indian consulate are closed (they close at 3:30 pm and 12:30 pm respectively).

Bureaucracy: 1 – Fabrice: 0

This is completely insane! I must have seen over 100 people pushing paperwork around and doing busy work who not only do nothing productive for humanity but also sink other people’s productivity. Does anyone truly think any of this is increasing human welfare and creating future wealth for society???? If this is what my taxes are paying for, I want my money back!

To the extent some paperwork is needed, it would be nice if they had the forethought of making everything easy by having the documents you need jointly signed to be in the same building with similar office hours.

I am not optimistic in our ability to fix this. Bureaucracies have a way of surviving even when their founding mandate becomes obsolete. Moreover, the crisis will only increase bureaucratic nightmares as people think the government needs to do more and the government hires a lot of people to counter the fall in private sector employment.

Ah well, from now on, I will just try to limit my interactions with bureaucracy as much as possible!

  • Bureaucracies have a way of surviving even when their founding mandate becomes obsolete.

    A few do come to mind:
    The EU – original remit was free trade and movement, now regulates the bendiness of bananas and aspires to be a European supergovernment.

    IMF – originally created to oversee the Bretton-Woods agreement, recently mostly in the business of giving developing nations bad financial advise on how to destroy their economies and sell natural assets at below market value to politically connected western businesses.

    UN – created to avoid another holocaust, now mostly in the business of pandering to dictators and occasionally sending letters expressing “concern” at “almost” genocides.

    The list goes on..

  • I’m sorry to hear about your experience, Fabrice, but the truth is I can’t wait for Fred to jump all over this post.

  • “Ah well, from now on, I will just try to limit my interactions with bureaucracy as much as possible!”

    I am sorry to think that with our 100+ countries ambitions we will have to face LOTS of these situations in the future!

    The biggest your biz is, the more bureaucracy you face! :-S

    But well…What doesn´t kill you, make you stronger!

  • From my prospective, any given organization – public or private – tends to give birth to a form of bureaucracy when it reaches a certain size: no difference between a Fortune 500 company and an administration, I’ve noticed it many times. Get your money back from big companies too! 🙂
    I’m sure that once one of the companies you founded reaches that critical size where bureaucracy becomes unavoidable, you will experience it. Get zen about it and fight it at the same time!

  • haha, I love it Fabrice, I know exactely what you went through as I went through exactly the same thing 3 times. First time I did it, I used US Global Express Mail (like an idio) to send the papers to india which never arrived, then had to do everything all over and fedxed them, then again there was a slight change and did everything again.

    You think this is hard, wait until you open the company in India and have employees or an office. It is a nightmare, there are so many tax laws and papers which need to be filed every month. I hope you have someone good in India to handle all these hassles.

    Oh and hiring employees in India will be the biggest nightmare, wait until you see what the turnover is !!

    Hey but I am sure you had fun waiting in line in the Indian embassy with your ticket stub 🙂 I try anything in my power to never ever go to the Indian embassy for anything !!

  • I love your story!! Happened so many times to me!! US bureaucracy is the worst ever!!!! So sorry to hear about your experience…I guess the only way to get over it is to accept it! there is only a 0.0002% chance that this will change.

  • Reminds me of a presentation I saw recently on behavioral economics and why people under-utilize government programs. For foodstamps, the application is close to 100 pages long and written in technical language so dense that the only parts anyone could understand are (1) the warning about going to prison if you muck it up, and (2) the admonition that if you’re more than 6 mins late for your intake interview, you won’t be seen. As Eldar Shafir (P’ton) says: “It treats you like a PhD, a criminal, and a baby all at once.”

  • Welcome to the jungle – All government activity is basically this useless grey goo of super dense boredom, obfuscation and taxation.

    When the genetic revolution kicks in and doubles everyones native intelligence there will be nothing but libertarians left. Shortly there after government as we have known it will dissappear.