#rsrh Jeffrey Goldberg gives illustration of Pournelle’s Law.

Jeffrey Goldberg (via Glenn Reynolds) commented about an article called “The White Savior Industrial Complex:” I’m going to focus on that post largely because, contra Goldberg, I lost interest in the original post when its author Teju Cole started uncritically regurgitating long-exploded antiwar claptrap about 1.5 million Iraqis being killed during its liberation and reconstruction*.  Which is a shame, because before that Cole was writing some interesting stuff about boutique activism – and I’ll be nice and not comment on whether Cole’s primary purpose in life these days is to make white American liberals feel deliciously bad about themselves…


But let’s get back to Goldberg.  He has a couple of stories – and one in particular struck me:

[A USAID contractor that Goldberg had met at a high-priced Ugandan hotel] was working to promote democracy in Uganda on behalf of the U.S. government, and I asked her how much time she spent in Uganda (I assumed, because she was staying at the Sheraton, that she was there for only a week or two at a time). She told me that she spent six months in Uganda, in the hotel, and in an office nearby, and then the next six months at home in California, near Carmel, not working, but living off the money she made the previous six months. I noted that this was quite a fortuitous arrangement, and I joked that she better not bring about democracy too quickly. She answered me quite earnestly: “Yes, I know, I would lose this job.”

I don’t know if Jerry Pournelle ever made it an actual law or anything, but he’s quite often noted that if you pay a bureaucrat to take care of poor people, he or she will realize very quickly that his or  her job will depend on there being a steady supply of poor people; and Pournelle went on to argue that if there aren’t any more poor people, the bureaucrat will go out and make some.  Fortunately, I’m not quite cynical enough to think that Pournelle’s endgame scenario is inevitable for every government bureaucrat; but the temptation must be strong…

Moe Lane

*The technical term for people engaging in that sort of uncritical regurgitation is, I believe, “moron.”  Also: if you want me to believe that you actually care about the suffering of a particular ethnic, religious, cultural, or racial group, try to avoid making these kinds of mistakes.  It kind of subverts the message when you treat them as walking, talking props best used to affect American domestic policy.


  • acat says:

    That’s Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy, Moe.

    Initially stated thusly: In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely. –Pournelle

    It applies more broadly than just poor people – consider the Illinois Tollway Authority which, when the bonds that paid for I-294 were running out, went out and built I-88, a guaranteed money-loser because it’s just 10-30 miles away from toll-free I-80!

    Sure looks like USAID is suffering…


  • Rob Crawford says:

    You really think welfare bureaucrats don’t encourage the behavior that keeps people on welfare?

  • K M Scane says:

    Rob it’s so simple, even Pelosi and Waxman can see it: Pay for the behavior and the word gets out. then it’s all about how rapidly you can print the applications for the aid.

  • Dunce says:

    One county in N. Dak. has an unemployment rate of .08% and the whole state is near 4% yet food stamp use has sharply increased. Can any one connect the dots? For years i have read that about 4.5% was the theoretically possible low for unemployment because of deaths, retirements, people dropping out of the work force in one area to move to another part of the country to get married or go to college or quitting their job to go to school full time I have no doubt about the .08% validity but the reasons for the food stamp rates.

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