Corruption keeps thriving around the world, constantly hindering social, economic, political, and military modernization, while also interfering with U.S. policy and strategy abroad. TIMN offers a way to look at corruption that is different from (better than?) the ways it is usually viewed. I’ll argue this by comparing what TIMN implies about systemic corruption to what is currently considered the best framework for analyzing systemic corruption — the one under development by Sarah Chayes at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP).
TIMN CONTENTION IN BRIEF
From a TIMN perspective, corruption is largely a function of what’s happened to the T/tribal form. Systemic corruption is most likely to arise and endure in societies where dark sides of the T (tribal) form, broadly-defined, are tenaciously strong, and the TIMN forms as a whole are not well separated and shielded from each other. The stronger that dark T-type forces and actors are, and the more they can subvert the other TIMN forms and sectors of activity, then the more prone that society will be to systemic corruption. Indeed, many societies that are systemically corrupt — e.g., Iraq, Mexico, and Russia, not to mention dozens of other societies that remain historically unable to resist corruption — are societies where T-type actors can willfully penetrate and collude with particular +I government and +M business sectors for predatory purposes. Analysts of corruption should look for explanations not simply in a society’s government, business, or civil-society sectors but rather, and above all, in what TIMN treats as its “tribal” (for want of a better term) sectors and practices.
By T-type forces, I refer in this instance to practices of patronage, nepotism, cronyism, personalism, clientelism, favoritism, clannism, clubby old-boy networks, and the like, all based on some notion of mutual kinship and identity — as well as to related practices of clan intermarriage, sweetheart deals, insider deals, kickback schemes, compromised gifting, shady dealings, etc. Such practices are often standard in cultures that rest on extended family and clan systems, more than on nuclear families. Such practices tend to strengthen tribe- and clan-oriented priorities, and to keep the other TIMN forms from arising and developing in the separate professional rule-based ways that best suit them (as I've discussed before elsewhere).
This TIMN contention may seem like saying "it's the culture" — indeed, that's what's often said about corruption. That's OK with me, so long as the sayer goes on to see that the cultural factors at stake mainly pertain to the T/tribal form; that each TIMN form favors a particular kind of culture, just as a particular culture may favor one or another TIMN form; that it is best for social evolution if the bright sides of a form prevail over the dark sides; and that if any one form (and its culture) is too strong, it will subvert, distort, and unbalance the other TIMN forms. The more a believer in “culture” understands this, the more he or she will see that TIMN helps explain systemic corruption by nesting it in a framework about social evolution that emphasizes the enduring “tribal” bases of all societies. TIMN can take analysis farther than old it's-the-culture lines of reasoning, which haven't gotten analysis very far.
But can it take analysis farther than CEIP’s recent turn to network analysis? Indeed, the limitations of prior analyses about corruption, including cultural analyses, is one of the reasons CEIP’s researchers turned to network analysis.
CEIP’S FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYZING SYSTEMIC CORRUPTION
For years, the best studies of systemic corruption have come from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) and its senior analyst Sarah Chayes. So I’m using them as reference points for this post — though most everything I've read about corruption provides further evidence for my TIMN contention.
CEIP and Chayes are on the cutting-edge of analysis because they’ve come to view corruption as a functional system operated by kleptocratic networks, and because Chayes has turned to network science as a method of analysis. This is an advance over older views of corruption that treated it as a pathological dysfunctional system run by individuals and groups determined to exploit a permissive environment.
A seminal study showing this is the landmark CEIP working-group study titled Corruption: The Unrecognized Threat to International Security (2014). It appears to be written mostly by Chayes.
• The following passages lay out CEIP’s then-innovative approach:
"Acute corruption should be understood not as a failure or distortion of government but as a functioning system in which ruling networks use selected levers of power to capture specific revenue streams. This effort often overshadows activities connected with running a state."
"Corruption is typically seen as a pathology, a fraying at the edges of a system or, at worst, a sign of system failure. Consequently, much of the work to devise remedies is entrusted to aid agencies and local civil society actors, whose hard-fought efforts strive for small-scale, concrete successes. These interventions tend to be focused on remedying technical deficiencies or building capacity.
"But in a range of countries around the globe, corruption is the system. Governments have been repurposed to serve an objective that has little to do with public administration: the personal enrichment of ruling networks. And they achieve this aim quite effectively. Capacity deficits and other weaknesses may be part of the way the system functions, rather than reflecting a breakdown."
• The CEIP study then distinguishes between two types of "acutely corrupt countries” — and subsequent case studies focus mostly on the first:
"… The first consists of those whose corruption is relatively structured, whose governing systems have been bent to benefit one or a very few cliques, best thought of as networks. States may have one or multiple kleptocratic networks, which often coexist only uneasily. …
"The second category of severely corrupt states is somewhat different. It includes those that may experience pervasive corruption, but without the same degree of consolidation at the top of the pyramid."
• Despite the utility of drawing such distinctions among types and degrees of systemic corruption, the CEIP study sagely observes that making too many typological distinctions — disaggregating to an excessive degree — can turn out to be analytically misleading. For “different types of corruption … [often] prove to be interconnected elements of a fairly unified system whose structure and vertical integration such descriptions underestimate.” A good example comes from Chayes field work in Afghanistan:
“Similarly, emphasis on different “types” of corruption within a single country can also be misleading. When the U.S. government was developing anti-corruption policy for Afghanistan in late 2010, the underlying analysis made a sharp distinction between “grand corruption,” perpetrated by political leaders, “petty corruption,” which was seen as greasing the wheels of public administration and therefore not a concern, and “predatory corruption” — largely defined as police shakedowns — which was described as most offensive to ordinary people. Usually, however, different types of corruption like these prove to be interconnected elements of a fairly unified system whose structure and vertical integration such descriptions underestimate. To entirely disaggregate them is akin to describing the steering and brakes of a car as two entirely separate machines."
• Against this background, CEIP calls for new and better methods of analysis — i.e., network analysis:
"A better understanding of the [networked] nature of acute corruption and its implications for international security — as well as systematic analysis of the costs of not addressing it and the availability of “least bad” alternatives — would contribute to improved policy and practice in government, civil society, and business."
To my disappointment, this CEIP study didn't specify how to apply network analysis; but at least it found that "networks" are a choice optic for viewing the problem. This is an advance over saying that corruption is a function of “bad-apples” and other isolates — e.g., particular individuals, families, groups, clans, gangs, etc. — who may be operating alone or in collusive alliances. The network optic allows for a broader, more systematic, insightful way of analyzing and addressing systemic corruption (as should become clearer in the next two posts, also based on Chayes’ work).
WHERE THE TWO FRAMEWORKS CONVERGE
Remember, I'm not claiming that TIMN is “better” than the CEIP framework. But TIMN can offer a comparably good understanding of systemic corruption — partly because TIMN has some network-analysis qualities in common with the CEIP framework, but mostly because TIMN has built-in evolutionary qualities that the CEIP framework lacks.
The two frameworks certainly differ as to their purposes. CEIP’s is designed for a specific purpose: analyzing corruption around the world. In contrast, TIMN is a broad framework for analyzing social evolution across the ages and into the future — TIMN’s ability to explain systemic corruption is a byproduct.
Moreover, the two frameworks differ in their treatment of “networks”. Whereas the CEIP framework is entirely about networks, TIMN is only partly about networks. What the CEIP / Chayes framework mean by “networks” is what network scientists and social network analysts generally mean — viewing people, organizations, and other actors and entities as sets of nodes and links (ties, connections), with multi-node, multi-hub, small-world, and other complex network structures often being the result. It's a newish way of viewing and analyzing social relationships such that all social relationships (including all four TIMN forms) are deemed to be “networks” or variants thereof. Quite an advance over saying that corruption is primarily a function of “bad apples” or other isolates and outliers.
In contrast, TIMN is primarily about the evolution of four different forms of organization — in historical order, the tribal, institutional, market, and lately the new network forms. Thus, as a framework partly about future evolution, TIMN is keenly concerned with prospects for the emerging +N network form. Yet just because that's TIMN’s key concern regarding “networks”, TIMN does’t deny or stand apart from Chayes’ or anyone else’s concern with applying social network analysis to the study of systemic corruption. TIMN is entirely amenable to that. But the networks it says to look for are not just any social networks à la Chayes, nor are they TIMN’s specialized +N-type networks.
Rather, TIMN points to the kinds of networks most associated with systemic corruption and related criminal and other clannish enterprises: i.e., kinship networks — the kinds that stem from family and fictive kinship bonds, that elevate group over individual identities, that value principles of group honor, respect pride, and dignity above almost all else, that justify solidarity and sharing among insiders but have no problems with predation against outsiders, etc. In other words, the kinds of social networks associated with TIMN’s T/tribal form — the kinds that can produce inveterate criminals as well as good citizens.
In Chayes’ framework, “networks” are essentially abstract academic constructions that turn out to be occupied by corrupt kleptocrats. But in TIMN the analytical eye gets directed right away to the archetypal tribal form and, as a result, how these kleptocratic networks affect — subvert, distort, stall? — the development of the other TIMN forms. Because of this evolutionary quality, I'd argue that, TIMN has an analytical strength that is lacking in the CEIP / Chayes framework.
As I offer these comparisons, I'm not proposing that Chayes take account of TIMN in her future work (though I believe it'd help). What I am pointing out is that TIMN implies a similar approach to analyzing systemic corruption: Both frameworks imply looking not for the kinds of isolates and outliers mentioned above but rather for the kinds of social and organizational networks that weave perpetrators together, in a sense becoming “information multipliers” and “force multipliers” to their benefit. No wonder Chayes now views systemic corruption as a functional system. TIMN further enables us to understand that what may seem functional for a system may also be supremely dysfunctional for a society's long-term evolutionary potential.
I hope to make this more evident as we move into the next post.
To read the CEIP study for yourself, go here:
[I posted an earlier write-up of this post on my Facebook page, on Aug 17.]
TO BE CONTINUED