July 11, 2009

Parkinson: the man behind “the Law”

Filed under: Books, Bureaucracy, History — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:04

He may be less familiar now, but most of us have heard of his most popular work: Parkinson’s Law:

The book expanded on an article of his first published in The Economist in November 1955. Illustrated by Britain’s then leading cartoonist, Osbert Lancaster, the book was an instant hit. It was wrapped around the author’s “law” that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. Thus, Parkinson wrote, “an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and dispatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis . . . the total effort that would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.”

Parkinson’s barbs were directed first and foremost at government institutions — he cited the example of the British navy where the number of admiralty officials increased by 78% between 1914 and 1928, a time when the number of ships fell by 67% and the number of officers and men by 31%. But they applied almost equally well to private industry, which was at the time bloated after decades spent adding layers and layers of managerial bureaucracy.

(Crossposted to the old blog, http://bolditalic.com/quotulatiousness_archive/005572.html.

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