A bureaucrat who was a hero - yes, it's true!
It's unusual for a bureaucrat to be praised by Milton Friedman. It's even more unusual for one to be mentioned by PJ O'Rourke without being verbally pummeled and insulted. Yet one man who died last week managed both, even to the point of actually being praised by the Peej and Uncle Miltie alike.Read the full TCS eulogy for Cowperthwaite here, and the comprehensive Daily Telegraph obituary here.
Sir John Cowperthwaite... was the one who managed this unlikely double feat. He was sent out from London just after WWII to take over part of the administration of Hong Kong and would usually have been expected to implement the same sorts of programs that were going on back home.... Upon arrival, however," said a Far Eastern Economic Review article about Cowperthwaite, "he found it recovering quite nicely without him."Our hero then decided to violate the most basic rule of all bureaucracies and governmental types. If people were doing OK on their own then he'd let them carry on doing so rather than making things worse by interfering... As O'Rourke put it:
"Quite a bit of government effort is required to create a system in which government leaves people alone. Hong Kong's colonial administration provided courts, contract enforcement, laws that applied to everyone, some measure of national defense…, an effective police force (Hong Kong's crime rate is lower than Tokyo's), and bureaucracy that was efficient and uncorrupt but not so hideously uncorrupt that it would not turn a blind eye on an occasional palm-greasing illegal refugee or unlicensed street vendor."
Links: Hong Kong's Nightwatchman - TechCentralStation
Sir John Cowperthwaite - Daily Telegraph