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Kafka’s Victory

eye on the news

Kafka’s Victory

Add the EU to the welfare state, and simple problems become insoluble. October 18, 2004

In the bureaucratic welfare state, administrative problems grow geometrically with the number of administrators, who devise rules ostensibly to guarantee probity and increase efficiency, but whose effect in practice is to increase the number of administrators necessary to achieve any given end.

In the prison where I work, a problem has arisen in the provision of medical care. For complicated reasons, having to do with where records must be stored, doctors must now examine patients without their prescription charts in hand. The situation introduces a dilemma: either the doctor cannot prescribe at all, or he risks prescribing something incompatible with what the patient is already taking. This problem has continued unsolved for several months.

The obvious solution, as everyone acknowledges, is computerization. If the hospital called in a local firm, the computer work could be done in a week or two. But the contract would be above a certain size, and according to government rules must therefore be put out to bid—and put out to bid in every country in the European Union. The prison being a prison, moreover, anyone engaged on the installation of computers or software would have to have security clearance. If the winning company were Lithuanian, say, or Slovenian, this might pose a slight practical problem, easily outweighing any price advantage.

So what could, with a minimum of local initiative, take two weeks will now take two years to achieve, if it is ever achieved. But at least many people will keep busy who otherwise might not have enough to do. The doctors’ frustration will mount and reach a peak, before it declines into cynical resignation with the realization that Kafka cannot be defeated. Of course, the possibility that a patient might one day pay with his life is not part of the equation.

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