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Shelf Help: 'The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy'

Is oversimplification really the solution?

The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy
David Graeber
Melville House

Graeber, best known as a critic of debt, has turned his attention to a new enemy: bureaucracy. Anyone who has wasted a day at the DMV will sympathize. Graeber says bureaucracy is not just inconvenient but sinister. Rich people grumble about paperwork—parents fill out 40-page applications for kids’ music lessons—but the weak and poor, who must navigate even more Kafkaesque procedures in their daily lives, truly suffer. When they fail, they get locked up or hit with fees. This shows bureaucracy’s real evil: that it conceals oppression while making it easier for the lucky few to ignore. Graeber inspires a probing question: Why has it become so difficult to imagine life without bureaucracy? But he rapidly descends into caricature. (Social workers will be surprised to learn that their “primary function is to make poor people feel bad about themselves.”) Bureaucracy is a maddeningly complex response to the complex problem of organizing society. Is oversimplification really the solution?


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