Red tape

Red tape

"Red tape" is a derisive term for excessive regulation or rigid conformity to formal rules that is considered redundant or bureaucratic and hinders or prevents action or decision-making. It is usually applied to government, but can also be applied to other organizations like corporations.

Red tape generally includes 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, more difficult, or both.


The origins of the term are somewhat obscure, but it is first noted in historical records in the 16th century, when Henry VIII besieged Pope Clement VII with around eighty or so petitions for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. A photo of the petitions from Cardinal Wolsey and others, now stored in the Vatican archives, can be seen on page 106 of "Saints and Sinners, a History of The Popes", by Eamon Duffy (published by Yale University Press in 1997). The pile of documents can be viewed in all their glory, rolled and stacked in original condition, each one sealed and bound with the obligatory red tape, as was the custom.

The tradition continued through to the 17th and 18th century. Although Charles Dickens is believed to have used the phrase before Thomas Carlyle [p.1152, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, 17th Edition; Revised by J Ayto, 2005] , the English practice of binding documents and official papers with red tape was popularized in the writings of Carlyle protesting against official inertia with expressions like "Little other than a red tape Talking-machine, and unhappy Bag of Parliamentary Eloquence". To this day, most barristers' briefs are tied in a pink-coloured ribbon known as "pink tape" or "legal tape". Government briefs are usually bound with white tape, introduced as an economy measureFact|date=October 2008 to save the expense of dyeing the tape red.

Traditionally, official Vatican documents were also bound in red cloth tape.

All American Civil War veterans' records were bound in red tape, and the difficulty in accessing them led to the current use of the term, but there is evidence (as detailed above) that the term was in use in its modern sense sometime before this.

Although grief over red tape is often seen as a right-wing conviction,Fact|date=July 2008 Karl Marx wrote about the phenomenon of changing from one person in control of a complete task, to having multiple people each with specialties in specific tasks. He saw this occurring as society shifts from a Seigneurial system to a capitalist system. Although Marx drew different conclusions about this trend, it is often this abstraction among workers that is the source of red tape. This interpretation would explain why it is often perceived that the presence of red tape is increasing.Fact|date=May 2007

Red tape reduction

Because of this perception of increasing bureaucracy, the "cutting of red tape" is a popular electoral and policy promiseFact|date=July 2008.

The Australian Government adopted six principles of good regulatory process set out in the reportClarifyme|date=October 2008 . The principles are:
* establishing a case for action;
* examining alternatives to regulation;
* adopting the option that generates the greatest net benefit to the community;
* providing effective guidance to relevant regulators and affected stakeholders;
* reviewing regularly to ensure the regulation remains relevant and effective; and
* consulting effectively with stakeholders at all stages of the regulatory cycle.

In the United States, a number of legislatures have pondered or passed "Red Tape Reduction Act"s.

ee also

*Paperwork Reduction Act



*Barry Bozeman (2000) "Bureaucracy and Red Tape" Prentice-Hall Publishing.
*OECD (2006) 'Cutting red tape; national strategies for administrative simplification' OECD Editions, Paris.

External links

* [ Australian Taskforce on Reducing the Regulatory Burdens on Business – Rethinking Regulation]
* [ Monash Centre for Regulatory Studies]
* [ 10-Point Plan for Regulatory Reform in Ontario]
* [ Regulatory Affairs Resources]
* [ Unravelling the Red Tape Myths - UK]
* [ Shortage of skilled workers knocks red tape off top of business constraints league table - Grant Thornton IBR]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • red tape — ˌred ˈtape noun [uncountable] official rules that seem complicated and unnecessary and prevent things from being done quickly and easily: • The only way to get this project off the ground is to cut through the red tape. • Planning permission is… …   Financial and business terms

  • Red tape — Red Red, a. [Compar. {Redder} ( d?r); superl. {Reddest}.] [OE. red, reed, AS. re[ a]d, re[ o]d; akin to OS. r[=o]d, OFries. r[=a]d, D. rood, G. roht, rot, OHG. r[=o]t, Dan. & Sw. r[ o]d, Icel. rau[eth]r, rj[=o][eth]r, Goth. r[ a]uds, W. rhudd,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • red tape — {n. phr.} Unnecessary bureaucratic routine; needless but official delays. * /If you want to get anything accomplished in a hurry, you have to find someone in power who can cut through all that red tape./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • red tape — {n. phr.} Unnecessary bureaucratic routine; needless but official delays. * /If you want to get anything accomplished in a hurry, you have to find someone in power who can cut through all that red tape./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • Red tape — Tape Tape, n. [AS. t[ae]ppe a fillet. Cf. {Tapestry}, {Tippet}.] 1. A narrow fillet or band of cotton or linen; a narrow woven fabric used for strings and the like; as, curtains tied with tape. [1913 Webster] 2. A tapeline; also, a metallic… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • red´tape´ — red tape, 1. tape having a red color, formerly used for tying up official papers. 2. too much attention to details and forms; bureaucratic routine: »A House Banking subcommittee assailed what it called the red tape and delays in the program to… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Red-tape — ( t?p ), a. Pertaining to, or characterized by, official formality. See {Red tape}, under {Red}, a. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • red tape — n [U] official rules that seem unnecessary and prevent things from being done quickly and easily ▪ a procedure surrounded by bureaucracy and red tape ▪ The new rules should help cut the red tape for farmers …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • red tape — index bureaucracy Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 red tape n. Excessive bureau …   Law dictionary

  • red tape — noun uncount documents, rules, or processes that cause delays: There s a lot of red tape to get through first …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

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