The Full Wiki

Red tape: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Did you know ...

More interesting facts on Red tape

Include this on your site/blog:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"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[1], 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 measure 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[2], 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, 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.

Red tape reduction

The "cutting of red tape" is a popular electoral and policy promise.

The Australian Government adopted six principles of good regulatory process set out in the report. 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 Acts.

See also


  1. ^ p.1152, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, 17th Edition; Revised by J Ayto, 2005
  2. ^ Red Tape, North and South, in the Civil War


  • 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



Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address