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The Logic of Simplifying Public Administration in Hungary, 1900–1910



The present paper analyzes the implementation of the simplification law in Hungarian public administration between 1900 and 1910. The law was enacted in 1901 in a bid to »simplify, facilitate, and speed up« administrative processes and mitigate encounters between different administrative units. The law created an extended debate on the possible directions of simplification and resulted in a mixed reception, including an oftentimes contested implementation. The paper investigates the logic behind the reform both in terms of the legal and practical formulation of revised regulations and in terms of the actual implementation of the directives on the local level. I argue that “simplification” was a buzzword for the homogenization and rationalization of public administration that was considered inept to accommodate the new and expanding tasks of the state by the turn of the century. ›Simplification,‹ hence, resulted in a more complicated system, an oxymoron quickly flagged by contemporaries. The simplification law is understood in the present paper as a case of innovation, and the paper thus contributes to our understanding of innovation processes in public administration. The paper asks how the simplification law was implemented based on the micropractices of administrators, what were the practical consequences of the law in relation to the purposes of lawmakers, who were the main agents that influenced the process, and how they could press their own agendas in the process. These questions are approached through the lens of the materiality of public administration, in which people, objects, and material processes can explain the outcome of innovation initiatives, as in the case of the implementation of the simplification law.