Bureaucracy in Action

April 22, 2009   

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!


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