Before I came to the United States in the late 1990s, I spent eight reasonably happy years working as a civil servant in the headquarters of the British Department of Transportation.
At one point, I even joined the National Union of Civil and Public Servants. It was a time of great change for the British civil service. Successive Prime Ministers, Margaret Thatcher and John Major, having successfully privatized the great nationalized industries, were turning their attention to government itself.
By the time I left my government job, the civil service was barely recognizable.
Then I moved to America. Literally the first thing I had to do was deal with American bureaucracy -- the unlamented Immigration and Naturalization Service.
It was everything British bureaucracy had ceased to be (not that British bureaucracy was perfect, I hasten to add) -- arrogant in the extreme, driven by rules rather than by any sense of customer service, unresponsive and, above all, slow, glacial even.
The slowness had a serious effect on me, as I was stuck for months after my initial work permit expired, unable to get a job and using up my savings (my payoff from the British government, as it happened).
I recall at one point receiving a dressing-down from an immigration officer for missing an appointment. It turned out that they had sent the notification letter to my old address in Richmond rather than my new address in Alexandria, despite them acknowledging they had received my change-of-address notification. I was upbraided for their incompetence.
Ever since that experience, I have been astonished at just how out-of-date American bureaucracy is. Its forms are incomprehensible, its procedures are mind-numbing, and its contempt for the people who pay its salaries is palpable.
It appears to be driven by a simple principle: government of the people, by the bureaucrat, for the bureaucrat.
Yet I should stress here that the civil servants themselves, with several notable exceptions, have been decent, ordinary Americans I would be happy to have as my neighbors.
Yet the system in which they operate almost forces them to disdain their fellow citizens. When you closely examine the system, it is one of legally sanctioned and enforced robbery.
Robbery can take many forms. It can take the form of plunder -- simple expropriation of your property without so much as a by-your-leave. It can be extortion, where they take your property under threats of something bad happening to you.
Or it can be a swindle, where you part with your property thinking you will get something in return and instead get far less or nothing at all. The American bureaucracy engages in all these forms of theft, and those who do the thieving are well rewarded -- at our expense.
My book, "Stealing You Blind: How Government Fat Cats Are Getting Rich Off of You," will expose how it's being done and identify the politicians, bureaucrats and unions who perpetuate its being done -- and what we can do to stop them.
Iain Murray is vice president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. This series is excerpted from his book, "Stealing You Blind: How Government Fat Cats Are Getting Rich Off of You" (Regnery, 2011). Reprinted with permission from Regnery Publishing.