Laughing at Bureaucracy


Rudebarbs, by Randall Hylkema, New York: Books in Focus, 1979, 90 pp., $4.95 (paper).

This small volume is a collection of Hylkema cartoons that have been published in REASON over the past several years. As those who recall these cartoons will recognize, Hylkema exhibits an acute critical understanding of the vulnerabilities of modern governmental bureaucracy. His pin-headed, gimlet-eyed characters, along with his uninhibited script, bring the crass stupidity home directly to any of us who must have encountered the bureaucracy in any of its forms.

We know very little about how ideas are transmitted and how attitudes are finally changed. It seems to be a good bet, however, that cartoons of the Hylkema variety will "get to" some persons who might otherwise remain forever immune to closely reasoned argument. If this hunch is correct, we need more such effort, not only in magazines as complements to reasoned analysis but also in the elementary textbooks of our high schools, colleges, and universities. And Hylkema is especially refreshing in that he balances, in some small part, the soft-left establishment biases exhibited by so many of the nation's cartoonists, most of whom, presumably, absorb the ordinary biases of the American mass media outlets.

With all this, it is sad to report that Hylkema encountered a bit of bureaucratic bungling in the nongovernmental, private-market sector in the publication of his small book. In the review copy that was sent to me, pages 49 through 64 were missing and their places taken by duplicates of pages 65 through 80. In a 90-page book, this is a blunder of major proportions. Happily, I was, upon noting this, immediately sent another review copy that did not repeat the error. It is to be hoped that the problem is not widespread with Hylkema's tine little book.

James Buchanan is university distinguished professor and general director of the Center for Study of Public Choice at Virginia Polytechnic University. His office at the university is decorated with the plates from many past Rudebarbs.