Bureaucracies and Thermodynamics

Another eternal principle, well put:

Bureaucracies temporarily suspend the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In a bureaucracy, it’s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one.

[from The Collapse of Complex Business Models by Clay Shirky]



I beg to differ - surely the Second Law states that entropy always increases.

A convoluted bureaucracy sure has more entropy that simple rules? Further it takes significant effort (energy in) to simplify a bureaucracy.

One expression of the Second Law is that, over time, differences in things like temperature and pressure (which is to say structure, generally) tend to smooth out: entropy increases across the system taken as a whole.

People have often observed that life in general tends to violate this principle locally while preserving it globally. Shirky is, I think, just making that observation for bureaucracies in particular. The cynical might say that bureaucracies accrete structure by causing everything around them to become more disorganised.

Anyway, that's how I understand the analogy. It is an analogy, though, and I wouldn't get too stressed about matching it precisely against the physics.