Red Tapism

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What Is Red Tape?

The term Red Tape (also commonly referred to as Red Tapism) means strict adherence to official formalities. It refers to excessive regulation or rigid conformity to formal rules that is considered redundant or bureaucratic and hinders or prevents action or decision-making.

In other words, red tapism generally involves the filling out of seemingly unnecessary paperwork, obtaining of unnecessary licenses, having multiple people or committees approve a decision and various low-level rules that make conducting one’s affairs slower and/or more difficult.

The Origin of Red Tape

Lexicographers seem to agree that the term red tape derives from the ribbon once used to tie up legal documents in England. Because the common law gives weight to precedent, every judicial decision must have been preceded by a thorough search of the records for guidance and authority. Such a system presumes that records of every transaction are punctiliously filed and cross-filed. We may surmise, therefore, that legions of clerks and lawyers spent a good deal of their time tying and untying the ribbon-bound folders.

Meanwhile, citizens and administrative officers trying to get action must have fretted and fumed while they waited for the meticulous minions to complete their patient unwrapping and rewrapping. And they must have exploded in outrage when, after all that, action was blocked on grounds of some obscure ancient decision or, still worse, because no unequivocal precedent could be found.

Hence the emergence of red tape as a despised symbol. The ribbon has long since disappeared, but the hated conditions and practices it represents continue, keeping the symbol alive. Although red tapism is usually applied to government, but the truth is, red tape is everywhere—it is also enduring and widespread in corporate organizations.

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