By the way, do you know what Mycroft is?”
I had some vague recollection of an explanation at the time of the Adventure of the Greek Interpreter.
“You told me that he had some small office under the British government.”
“I did not know you quite so well in those days. One has to be discreet when one talks of high matters of state. You are right in thinking that he is under the British government. You would also be right in a sense if you said that occasionally he is the British government.”
“My dear Holmes!”
“I thought I might surprise you. Mycroft draws four hundred and fifty pounds a year, remains a subordinate, has no ambitions of any kind, will receive neither honour nor title, but remains the most indispensable man in the country.”
“Well, his position is unique. He has made it for himself. There has never been anything like it before, nor will be again. He has the tidiest and most orderly brain, with the greatest capacity for storing facts, of any man living. The same great powers which I have turned to the detection of crime he has used for this particular business. The conclusions of every department are passed to him, and he is the central exchange, the clearing-house, which makes out the balance. All other men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience. We will suppose that a minister needs information as to a point which involves the Navy, India, Canada and the bimetallic question; he could get his separate advices from various departments upon each, but only Mycroft can focus them all, and say offhand how each factor would affect the other. They began by using him as a short-cut, a convenience; now he has made himself an essential. In that great brain of his everything is pigeon-holed and can be handed out in an instant. Again and again his word has decided the national policy. He lives in it. He thinks of nothing else save when, as an intellectual exercise, he unbends if I call upon him and ask him to advise me on one of my little problems.
If you look at the farces which are pandemic flu preparedness, or the obscene lack of preparation for nuclear terrorism, or the tragedies of gross mismanagement of public health issues, drug policy, gun control and half a dozen other instances, only one conclusion can be reached: governments are too stupid to manage the real problems of the modern world. The attempt to produce clean fuels for cars turns into looting by the corn lobby which turns into mass starvation, financed by the American tax payer. Murderously stupid. The Capitalist* Ethanol Subsidy Famine might not be Stalin in the Ukraine, or Mao’s agricultural reforms, but it is bad and bad enough.
Mycroftian intelligence – the synthesizing function of the State – is neglected. The paperwork and the infighting eats all of the energy that should go into thinking about what is best for everyone and doing as little as is necessary to ensure it happens, within appropriate constitutional bounds, of course.
(* I use the term “capitalist” here loosely, as people do when describing the Soviet Union as “communist.” For an interesting discussion of these linguistic issues, see Arto’s blog post on capitalism)