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Small Is All.

Message Lawrence Velvel
Summary For Op Ed News  

            The incompetence displayed by bureaucracies of all types, at many levels, makes it necessary to rethink America’s love affair with giganticism.  We should recognize that, wherever possible, small is better.


March 13, 2007

 Re:  Small Is All. From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel 

A few days ago in this place,

Walter Reed was called but one in a line

Of long running, serial crime

That men who fought forever face;

Was explained as part of the human condition

That makes Bushes and Cheneys (bums) great,

While their betters by far suffer perdition.

But there also is another reason,

A truism existing in every season

Of the human experience.


The truth is:  all of government

Is incompetent.

At every level.

This is a vast and sweeping statement,

Yet is vastly, sweepingly true, with exceptions few.

It’s just incompetent.

One does not know exactly why

(Though purported reasons abound).

It did not seem so when I

Lawyered for Justice in sixty-three, four and five.

But perhaps that judgment was naiveté,

Reflecting youth and the dominant sway

Of bright Harvard lawyers at the top --

I know the impression did not hold up

When six months were spent on the Hill

To get a different experience until

I left for Kansas to teach law

And there for the first time saw

True reactionaries in command,

Who thought Shelley’s lone and level sand

Should bury all New Deal works

Plus civil rights and other blights,

(Though they’d never heard of Shelley),

And thought as well that Viet Nam

Was freedom’s stopper, freedom’s dam

Against Godless Reds –

And better dead than Red.

For years those fools did not suspect

That their presidents’ war project

Was an example of incompetence,

Conceivably the first example of the incompetence

That would come to mark the remaining years

Of a century awash in tears

And biers

And dead;

But would be ignored, would be forgotten,

When Bush launched his misbegotten

Adventure in Iraq,

A nation now in wrack,

A condition which can be put down

To the mental weakness of an egotistical clown,

An evil man advised by evil men.

Will no one rid us of these people?


’Tween these two wars one has seen

That rarely has there ever been

Competence in government

Which is at every level rent

By stupidity

Often born of bureaucracy

(Though not of bureaucracy exclusively,

Because plain dumb sometimes has its role).

Yet, in a way, it’s a phenomenon odd:

Because most officials do not seem a clod

If you talk with them one on one:

Even if they’re not an intellectual sun,

Or the smartest star in the firmament,

Still, they seem passably cogent.

Perhaps -- or so it often seems to me --

The problem is the number three

That’s the most participants, you see,

Who can discuss and act with competency.

Two can even better be,

Though I think magic may lie in three,

Although conceivably you can go to four.

But once its five or dozens more

You are liable to face inadequacy

Born of numbers and size.

(Have you ever noticed a Presidential meeting?

There is a huge rectangular table seating

Perhaps eighteen or two dozen,

While surrounding chairs hold helpmates to cozen

The American public.

But never from these meetings huge

Come plans showing a deluge

Of intelligence,

Or smarts,

Or sense.

Rather from these meetings enormous

Comes the intelligence of a dormouse.

(Jesus H. Christ Almighty.))


In modern times, it’s no surprise,

We worship size.  To be huge,

To bury others in a deluge,

Under an avalanche of power and spin,

Is thought the position to be in

In every walk of life.

An avalanche of propaganda and spin

In every walk of life:

The other side is not considered.

Contrary facts are not considered.

Thus good will isn’t merely frittered, 

But one day is simply swept away,

As first some come to realize

And then more come to recognize,

And then nearly all

That what has descended upon us

Is fundamentally dishonest,

Is largely crap,

Is not an effort of the competent,

But propaganda of the malevolent,

Or the greedy,

Or both.

And certainly is not the careful consideration

Of one from whom competent ministration

Is expectable.


I’ve spoken of the phenomenon in government,

But it’s clear to one whose life was spent

In academe that there too it exists -- among the supposedly intelligent.

And in business it’s long been a curse

Everyday and also when

Companies merge -- and get worse,

So then have to demerge

While the bankers, executives and lawyers who propagandized this scourge

First get rich as pigs and then

Get rich as pigs yet again.

But then, that’s the point of the exercise,

Accomplished by flinging sand in our eyes

Once coming and once going.

They wouldn’t be peddling their load of baloney,

Let alone again and again,

If it didn’t lead to loads of money

To billions in dollars, euros, or yen.


Everywhere the curse is size.

It leads to dishonesty, to lies,

And consequent incompetence.

My philosophy is Brandeisian

Though he’s been dead almost seventy years,

While propaganda said the gigantic holds no fears --

While we’ve been trained to think in a way incorrect,

One we should instead seek to deflect,

Wherever we can, wherever we’re able,

In favor of smallness, which should be a grail

Against much that makes this society ail.

It won’t cure everything, and it can’t always be done.

But, whenever possible, two’s better than one,

And three better than two,

And twenty better than nineteen,

And 50 better than forty-nine

Notwithstanding the economists’ line

About alleged efficiency

Or a supposed need for size.

As a country it’s often (again) sand in our eyes.

To that which is small should go our thrall,

Especially when the web gives all

A chance in many fields to shine

Instead of being ciphers

Or jobless because of mergers.

If we continue worshipping at the shrine of big,

We can expect the same result as the pig

Fattened by industrial agriculture.

No good can come to a culture

Which worships the hugest vulture

On every island.

Small is better.

We should seek it.*


* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel.  If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com.  All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law.  If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at Velvel@mslaw.edu.   

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast.  To subscribe please visit VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page.   The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at www.lrvelvel.libsyn.com 

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Lawrence R. Velvel is a cofounder and the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, and is the founder of the American College of History and Legal Studies.
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