Friday, October 14, 2011

Bureaucrat Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged is a book that is close to my heart, and despite what you may think about the philosophy of Ayn Rand (Objectivism), I can't help but identify with the struggle of the book's central protagonists.

Perhaps it was because I read Atlas in my first year in the public service as I battled work-related depression, having left a job at an NHL franchise in the midst of its cup run in order to try my hand in the public sector. The novel depicts American industrialists as the metaphor for Atlas of Greek mythology, holding up the Earth, whom John Galt (the central character of the novel) persuades to "shrug," by refusing to lend their productive genius to the regime any longer.

 (spoiler alert) 

Essentially the story is about John Galt, a man stifled by oppressive bureaucratic functionaries and a culture defined by mediocrity and egalitarianism who leaves his job at a motor company and starts recruiting other prominent industrialists to do the same. The book follows the actions of Dagny Taggart who struggles with the choice to either try to change the system from within or simply walk away and leave it to those who would stay the course and (the implication is) eventually run the ship aground (btw this is the origin of the phrase "Going Galt").

This Atlassian struggle is one that has defined my career thus far, and, should I choose to continue my career in this sector, will invariably define it for the remainder of it. Should I continue to push for change from within the system or simply abandon the effort in its entirety? Everyone I've spoken with has identified the pressing need for deep change in this sector; some have even told me that they think we are approaching the breaking point, making this choice all the more important.

Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not trying to liken myself to some sort of public sector equivalent to a Greek god, I'm simply identifying with the immensity of the task facing every agent of change in the public sector right now, and I don't just mean here in Canada but everywhere. Changes in our social fabric brought on by advancements in communications technologies coupled with the immensity of budgetary cuts requires a fundamental rethinking of public services. These are difficult and (to borrow the popular verbiage right now) austere times. Given the circumstances I doubt we can afford oppressive bureaucracies or a mediocre culture.

To wit, I don't think its just me contemplating shrugging right now, its anyone who has banged their head against the wall one too many times.

Originally published by Nick Charney at
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