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The Pardons Process as an Alternate Model of Bureaucratic Inefficiency

By Edited Dec 4, 2015 0 0

Public-sector bureaucracy displays numerous inefficiencies. They inhere in the institution to such an extent that almost any layperson will reflexively associate the very word with overlong wait times, unreasonable employees and pointless and often redundant detail. Conversely, in characterizing the private market, most people would use some combination of the terms, "efficient, quick, professional, etc." Inefficiencies are so obviously undesirable that a question is immediately raised: why do they still exist?

Many treatments of this issue find the driving force to be profit-seeking competition. Firms compete for market share, advertising space, suppliers, retailers, etc. and given similar products, the firm that charges the lowest price will win. Being able to undercut your competitors' prices is intrinsically related to efficiency, as firms must spend time and money on misallocations and thus cannot charge as low a price as an efficient competitor.

Since there is no profit or direct competition in the bureaucratic realm (save for that of budget size), two of the strongest incentives towards efficiency are gone. It is largely accepted that the lack of these incentives is the cause of inefficiency in public-sector bureaucracies. If this is the case, then privatization is the only remedy. But can we be certain that this is the only cause? We shall see that bureaucratic inefficiencies arise for other reasons as well, and that in those instances there are other solutions.

Let's use the Canadian pardons/U.S. entry waiver process as an example. Those wishing to apply for a pardon/waiver must obtain their criminal conviction form, conditional and absolute discharges form, and proof of conviction from Ottawa; their court information form (including proof of restitution) from each individual court they were convicted in; their local police record check; their immigration/citizenship forms; and so on. Each of these separate public bureaucracies have differing workloads, processing times, client demands, etc. and do not coordinate with one another. As well, many of the above forms expire after a set time limit. The applicant must obtain, fill out, submit and have processed all forms completely and exactly, in addition to meeting all residual requirements, before any of them expire. If any of these exact conditions are not precisely met, then the applicant must wait and attempt to organize the entire process again before trying to clear their criminal record.

Here we see a characterization of bureaucratic inefficiency not due to the lack of profit-seeking competition, but due to coordination failure. In this case, privatization of each individual governmental arm does nothing to alleviate the problem. However, the private market does offer a solution. A central coordinating firm that deals constantly with each relevant government agency and knows their wait-times and processes will develop algorithms for expediting the process and removing barriers to efficiency for the end consumer. This is akin to the effect of labour unions on employee rights. Union representatives deal with management constantly and are thus better equipped to handle them.

In summation, inefficiencies that arise not due to the lack of profit-seeking competition seem necessary, because privatization cannot remove them. This is not the case though; as we see once again efficient firms provide the requisite assistance to the consumer (in the above case, the pardon/waiver applicant).



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