Officialism is habitually slow. When non-governmental agencies are dilatory, the public has its remedy: it ceases to employ them and soon finds quicker ones. Under this discipline all private bodies are taught promptness … For delays in State-departments there is no such easy cure. Lifelong Chancery suits must be patiently borne; Museum-catalogues must be wearily waited for. While, by the people themselves, a Crystal Palace is designed, erected, and filled, in the course of a few months, the legislature takes twenty years to build itself a new house. While, by private persons, the debates are daily printed and dispersed over the kingdom within a few hours of their utterance, the Board of Trade tables are regularly published a month, and sometimes more, after date.

—Herbert Spencer. Over-legislation, 1853.

Typically, if you walk into a shop or any other private business, you will quickly be attended to. On the rare occasion when a queue forms in a private shop, the staff rush about briskly and efficiently, like bees in a hive. By contrast, if you visit a court registry or a department of motor vehicles, you will be asked to take a number and wait, often for hours, as bored and complacent bureaucrats shuffle around and chat with each other, yawning and smiling dreamily while in front of them people are waiting.
Government departments involving clerical work are even slower. The pace dawdles to fill the available time. While a developer can retain an architect to draw up plans, have an engineer review them, a quantitative surveyor cost them, and a lender commit millions of dollars, all in the space of one or two months, government approval of the plans can take years. A private individual subject to this torture can call, write, complain, and rage, all to no avail; it is either the government’s way or not at all.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove