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 tradition continued through to the 17th and 18th century. Although Charles Dickens is believed to have used the phrase before Thomas Carlyle , 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, 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.
The Australian Government adopted six principles of good regulatory process set out in the report. The principles are:
In the United States, a number of legislatures have pondered or passed Red Tape Reduction Acts.