I saw an article yesterday on Gizmag.com about the origin of “Murphy’s Law:”
If anything can go wrong, it will.
The saying is attributed to Air Force officer/engineer, Captain Murphy, working with Colonel John Stapp on deceleration survival testing. Stapp did pioneering research in aircrew oxygen systems in unpressurized aircraft, and investigations leading to mandatory inclusion of seat belts in new cars. However, Stapp is most known for investigating survivability of high-speed ejection from aircraft. Famously, he was his own live test subject for most of that work. So, he had a keen sense of risk and the need to minimize it!
This made me think about laws as they apply to bureaucracy, particularly city government. You’ve probably seen my post on Bob Littlefield’s “rules” as learned from his ten years on Scottsdale City Council. I’ve found a few more “laws” that I’ve adapted to city government:
- Bureaucrats and politicians with short term goals of reputation and reelection will always be in conflict with the long-term civic goals of the residents (adapted from John Moore).
- Everything takes longer than it does (simplified Hofstadter’s Law, courtesy of my old friend Bill Packer).
- Needs always expand to consume the available tax revenue, plus 10% (adapted from Parkinson’s Law).
- In any bureaucracy, there are those dedicated to the goals of the bureaucracy and those dedicated to the bureaucracy itself. Inevitably, the second group will rule (paraphrase of Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy).
Stapp himself is credited with the law that states:
“The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle.”
Definitely some applicability to city government in that! However, the favorite find of my early-morning survey is Augustine’s Law Number 16 about Defense Department spending:
Budgets grow linearly but the unit cost of a new military aircraft grows exponentially.
Augustine projected, “In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3½ days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.”
I’m sure there’s a parallel to Scottsdale city government somewhere in that law, but I need another shot of espresso to figure it out!
What’s YOUR favorite “law?”