Permissology and the false dilemma of the 'Catch 22'

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There are many images that have been used to portray some of the nonsense of contemporary bureaucracies and the helplessness that daily interactions with them produce. Kafka equated them with labyrinths or endless paperwork, Zamyatin with absurd hierarchical structures, and Huxley with oppressive barriers or obstacles. Television and cinema have also contributed to this collective imagination, through dystopian films like Brazil or memorable series like Yes, Minister, The thick of it or Parks and Recreation. Who among us could say that they have not sometimes felt themselves in the shoes of the character Bombita from Wild Tales when confronting the State? Among these many images, there is one that remains my favorite: Catch 22. In her novel of the same name , Joseph Heller offers a scathing portrait of the administrative irrationality and bureaucratic absurdities that American pilots had to deal with during World War II, often finding themselves trapped with no way out until they ended up going crazy. Heller's characters know that they face the paradoxical situation of not being able to escape their tragic destiny even if the administrative rules provide them with a way out, since their limitations or their contradictory application will end up trapping them in a perpetual bureaucratic labyrinth. Although they do not know explicitly acknowledge, the debate on Chilean permitting seems to be trapped in the same Catch 22 dilemma. There is a transversal diagnosis of the negative effect produced by the chaotic tangle of regulatory permits to which investment projects are subject. The long deadlines, the non-transparent application and the uncertainty they involve are a problem that different governments have recognized. Its economic costs are also increasingly difficult to ignore. As the Marfán Commission recently highlighted, a reduction of one third in the processing times for these permits would imply an increase in GDP of 2.4% in 10 years, with a higher average annual collection of 0.32%. But despite This diagnosis and the country's mediocre economic performance, the Government has presented a legislative proposal that does not offer a way out of the permit labyrinth. The so-called Framework Law of Sectoral Authorizations claims to aim to expedite and simplify the granting of the necessary permits for the development of an investment project, thereby seeking to promote economic development in the short term. However, in its legislative proposal the government seems to embrace the paradox portrayed by Catch 22. And beyond the technical evaluation that the bill may deserve (which can be reviewed here), the proposed solution aims to central pillar to continue conditioning the development of economic activities to a complex permit regime. As David Graeber pessimistically suggests, this proposal also seems to accept that, given the complexity of modern societies, we must resign ourselves to navigating through inevitable bureaucratic uncertainty. It is true that progress is being made in ordering the chaotic and fragmented permit system, but not like this. in its simplification. The existing paradigm is not replaced by a control regime based on the risk of the economic activity that seeks to develop, nor is there bold progress in the use of alternative regulatory techniques such as sworn declarations or communications. Nor are the capacities of regulatory bodies strengthened in the processing of permits or the institutional coordination that their granting often requires. Even less is a solution offered to speed up the processing of many priority permits for investment that are still awaiting a response from the State. More nuances, less nuances, the development of investment projects continues to be given in the legislative proposal to the granting of a multiplicity of permits by authorities endowed with broad discretion, with respect to which no progress is being made in strengthening their technical autonomy. If this proposal is approved, those who wish to invest in Chile will continue to be faced with some of the dilemmas portrayed by Catch 22. We must not forget that among those who make up the OECD, Chile is one of the countries that presents the greatest complexity in the processing of regulatory permits. If the above were not enough, the government's initiative also contrasts with the considerable efforts that many countries have undertaken in the last decade to simplify their permit systems. The experiences of the United States, Spain or Portugal are revealing of the pragmatism that characterizes these attempts at regulatory modernization at a comparative level and demonstrate the Chilean lack of audacity to move towards structural solutions. As a result, the regulatory labyrinth that will continue to characterize our permit system seems to forget another even more important dilemma that we face as a country: the absence of incentives to invest in Chile. The free circulation of capital that globalization entails, which has benefited us so much for decades, means that we are inevitably nothing more than one of the many possible destinations for investors. Because whatever the justifications that seek to explain our bureaucratic complexity, they do not exempt international permitting from being simply an entry barrier to the Chilean market. If we really seek to promote economic growth, it seems necessary to be honest that any solution to this problem requires denying the possibility of Catch 22 as an inescapable bureaucratic dilemma.Luis Eugenio García-Huidobro He is a lawyer and researcher at the Center for Public Studies (CEP). Subscribe here to the EL PAÍS Chile newsletter and receive all the key information on current events in the country.