A few weeks ago my friend journeyed from Shenzhen to his home province in order to change his legal residence and get a few other small things done. He allotted eight days for his trip from Sunday to Sunday. When the Sunday he was scheduled to return rolled around I got a message that it would be the following Sunday when he returned.

Why? Because the bureaucracy was so entangled, complicated, and self-contradictory that it was going to take the extra time to get all the papers filled with the proper red stamps.

For obvious reasons I can not go into great detail about what happened, but basically despite preparing as best he could, he ran into problems that he didn’t foresee. This was combined with some of the officials being on unauthorized days off, and unhelpful bureaucrats who caused him to chase his tale needlessly. On top of this he ended up paying some 6200 RMB in 1000-2000 RMB bribes to get some lower level clerks to stamp his papers immediately instead of leaving them to be picked up three days later.

As a consequence of all the mess he encountered, his trip took fifteen days instead of eight, and cost more than twice his original budget. My friend was so disgusted he vowed to never again return to his home province.

One of the major subjects of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) meeting in Beijing is addressing the need to end corruption. Clearly party officials realize that dissatisfaction with the present system runs deep because of the pervasive corruption at all levels.

Much, if not most, of the corruption is institutionally embedded. Much results from state agencies which have been granted regulatory power without institutional constraints. Ending this type of corruption, graft, and unofficial prebendalism, could be ended by simplifying the rules. The fewer red stamps required in daily life would take away the lower level bureaucrats’ power to sell the red stamps in exchange for bribes.

In my friend’s case, there was no reason he should have had to return to his place of birth to get his residency changed. The laws governing movement of the and residency of people are byzantine and unnecessary. Complication breeds corruption.

I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. I have never had to return to Louisville for any reason other than family visits. There have been a couple of times when I’ve needed a copy of my birth certificate, and all it took was a call to the hospital where I was born and a certified document arrived in the mail a few days later. I couldn’t imagine having to return to Louisville to attain it, much less doing bureaucratic acrobats in order to qualify for it.

China should learn from this simplified system. Beside being extremely efficient, it eliminates the possibility of a corrupt bureaucracy from growing up around the birth certificate game.

Admittedly the example above is tiny in comparison to the massive corruption at all levels in China, but it is this type of petty graft that confounds and angers the average citizen in the average day. High ranking officials and their families amassing fortunes are thought wrong, but are hardly a major influence in the day to day lives of the average citizen. Eliminating low level corruption by reforming bureaucratic rules would help more people than putting an occasional big shot in jail.

Some time ago a very wise person came up with the concept of KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. He was an intelligent man indeed.