January 16, 2013

When Kafka met Sandy

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:53

In the Wall Street Journal, Roger Kimball talks about the experience of trying to put your life back together after a major storm damages your home:

Like many people whose houses were badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy, my family and I have been living in a rented house since the storm. Unlike some whose houses were totalled, we could have repaired things and been home toasting our tootsies by our own fireplace by now. What happened?

Two things: zoning (as in “Twilight Zone”) and FEMA.

Our first exposure to the town zoning authorities came a couple of weeks after Sandy. We’d met with insurance adjusters, contractors and “remediation experts.” We’d had about a foot of Long Island Sound sloshing around the ground floor of our house in Connecticut, and everyone had the same advice: Rip up the floors and subfloors, and tear out anything — wiring, plumbing, insulation, drywall, kitchen cabinets, bookcases — touched by salt water. All of it had to go, and pronto, too, lest mold set in.

Yet it wasn’t until the workmen we hired had ripped apart most of the first floor that the phrase “building permit” first wafted past us. Turns out we needed one. “What, to repair our own house we need a building permit?”

Of course.

Before you could get a building permit, however, you had to be approved by the Zoning Authority. And Zoning — citing FEMA regulations — would force you to bring the house “up to code,” which in many cases meant elevating the house by several feet. Now, elevating your house is very expensive and time consuming — not because of the actual raising, which takes just a day or two, but because of the required permits.

Kafka would have liked the zoning folks. There also is a limit on how high in the sky your house can be. That calculation seems to be a state secret, but it can easily happen that raising your house violates the height requirement. Which means that you can’t raise the house that you must raise if you want to repair it. Got that?

“A paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, this paradox.”

H/T to Monty for the link. Monty also has this meditation on bureaucracy:

This is where Leviathan does the most damage, I think. Tyranny is always a danger in centralized governments, but a greater danger is the proliferation and growth of bureaucracies. The rules become ever more Byzantine, ever more contradictory, ever more pointless, and ever more expensive (both to implement and comply with). The bureaucracies themselves achieve a life outside the body politic: they persist, age after age, irrespective of their political origin. Their sole imperative (regardless of their ostensible purpose) is to perpetuate themselves. They are an amoeba, growing to engulf everything they touch — not because they are evil, necessarily, but simply because it’s in their nature to do so. They cannot help themselves. Bureaucracies — lethargic, slow, risk-averse, rules-bound, pedantic, expensive, often causing more harm than good — are perhaps the very worst creation of human society.

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