I have a modest proposal.  Every large bureaucratic organization – schools, corporations, charities, and of course every level of government – should create an Office of Unreasonable Rules.  The sole power of this Office is to hear complaints about unreasonable rules elsewhere in their organizations.  Should they determine that a rule is unreasonable, they (a) Grant the complainant an exception, and (b) Tell whoever made the rule to make the rule more reasonable.

For example, at a certain university I know of, the Math Department only allows students to take placement tests for the next math course.  Even if a student is clearly able to leapfrog several classes ahead – for example, because they unofficially took the harder class and earned an unofficial A – they aren’t even allowed to try the placement exam.  Almost anyone can see that this is an unreasonable rule, but under the university’s current regime, there’s nothing the student can do about it.  If an Office of Unreasonable Rules existed, they would have recourse.

Notice how my proposal modifies existing incentives.  Right now, victims of bureaucratic abuse usually give up in despair.  Their only option is to quixotically persuade the system to mend its ways.  With an Office of Unreasonable Rules, the victim has a clear selfish incentive to push back against unreason.  Namely: If they win, they automatically get an exception.  In the aftermath, the rule-makers have to mend their ways, but the victim doesn’t have to wait around and hope they do a better job.  In exchange for nudging the System in a better direction, they get relief.

Wouldn’t this put rule-makers in a tough spot?  Indeed.  That’s a feature, not a bug.  If you think that bureaucratic organizations tend to cavalierly impose onerous rules, wouldn’t it be a good idea to pressure them to think before they boss?  The very existence of an Office of Unreasonable Rules would hang over rule-makers’ heads.  Not like the Sword of Damocles.  More like Jiminy Cricket.