Can TIMN — a potentially grand theory of social evolution — explain a condition so mundane and counter-evolutionary as corruption? Yes it can; and its ability to do so is a natural logical result of TIMN’s structure — primarily because TIMN is built atop the nature of the T (tribal) form. As that form goes, so goes much of the rest of a society's evolution.
Many theorists and commentators today — from Right to Left — keep emphasizing economic factors and conditions as explanations for what is going on. TIMN does not deny their importance; but it does imply, even insist, that conditions etc. at the socio-tribal level may be more determinative than is commonly recognized. Analyses of corruption help confirm this.
My prior post was about Sarah Chayes’ initial efforts, starting years ago, to use network analysis to illuminate systemic corruption. This post focuses on her most recent case study. Once again, my goal is to show that TIMN is (equally? better?) suited to explaining corruption
CHAYES' CASE STUDY OF HONDURAN CORRUPTION NETWORKS
Chayes has done a series of country studies using the network-analysis framework she and CEIP laid out in 2014. Her latest study — “When Corruption Is the Operating System: The Case of Honduras” (2017) — provides the best application yet.
• First, Chayes provides an articulate reiteration of the theme she has pursued or years — that systemic corruption is more a function of networks than of individuals:
“In some five dozen countries worldwide, corruption can no longer be understood as merely the iniquitous doings of individuals. Rather, it is the operating system of sophisticated networks that cross sectoral and national boundaries’ in their drive to maximize returns for their members. Honduras offers a prime example of such intertwined, or “integrated,” transnational kleptocratic networks.”
“It is no longer possible to think of corruption as just the iniquitous doings of individuals, be they street-level bribe payers, government officials, or business executives. In the five dozen or so countries of which Honduras is emblematic, corruption is the operating system of sophisticated networks that link together public and private sectors and out-and-out criminals — including killers — and whose main objective is maximizing returns for network members. Corruption is built into the functioning of such countries’ institutions. And, like the criminal organizations that are threaded through their fabrics, the networks cross international boundaries. Exchanging favors and establishing beachheads with partners and service-providers around the globe, they might best be considered transnational kleptocratic networks.”
• Chayes then finds that networked corruption in Honduras — much like elsewhere — is structured around “three interlocking spheres” of kleptocrats: a private, a public, and a criminal sphere or sector. As she puts it,
“The principle is to examine in turn the public, private, and criminal sectors, as well as outside people and institutions [enablers] that are interacting with the political economy of a given country, for signs that they are colluding in the illegitimate capture of wealth on behalf of network members — that they are, in effect, looting the commons.”
These are not separate or separable sectors, for they are crisscrossed by kinship, friendship, and and other collusive connections that serve to network all together. As she sees it,
“The novelty of this framing is its focus on the interpenetration of the three sectors. A ranking government official may have a brother who provides legal services to a drug cartel, or be married to the CEO of a company that depends on public contracts or permits. Individuals may cycle in and out of business and government. is flexible interweaving of the strands of kleptocratic networks is what makes them so resilient. So it is worth exploring the different ways that interpenetration is manifested. Are individuals wearing two hats, for example, playing a role in the public and the private sectors simultaneously and thus serving as a node linking the networks? Are key leaders in one sector represented in others by a nephew or a confidante? Or does an exchange of favors constitute the main form of interaction between one sector and another?”
As Chayes shows, examples of “all three categories of intersection are abundant” within Honduras’s kleptocratic sectors, as are network ties that stretch transnationally.
• While Chayes discusses details about corruption networks in all three sectors — public, private, and criminal — what caught my TIMNista eye is her observation that traditional old families of “shared Levantine origins” dominate the private-sector networks. For me, this verifies that much corruption is traditionally rooted in clannish T-based actors.
Yet, important as these Levantine circles are, Honduras’ business world is far larger than them. It contains many business actors who are not part of the corruption networks:
“The individuals or families referred to here as private-sector members of Honduras’s kleptocratic network by no means control the nation’s entire economy. Plenty of businesses exist outside the network: the small restaurants that line the roads and city streets, small-scale manufacturing for local or regional consumption, agriculture — even much coffee cultivation, processing, and export — do not fall within the networks’ purview.”
Indeed, the kleptocratic private-sector networks, as well as the public- and criminal-sector ones, are quite selective in what they pursue:
“Kleptocratic networks focus on those economic activities that are most likely to generate and concentrate exponential returns in relatively few hands, especially by way of government favoritism, or that are most likely to attract significant international financing. In Honduras as elsewhere, banking, energy and natural resources, export agriculture (licit or illicit), and large-scale construction are prime targets of network predation.”
• In analyzing relations among the three corruption networks, Chayes is careful to clarify that, while each operates quite separately and distinctly, all “are bound together by a kind of elite bargain”, whereby “different revenue streams tend to accrue to different elements of the network.”
Accordingly, the corrupt private-sector networks span banking, energy, palm oil, construction, fast food, and various other business enterprises. The kleptocratic political networks are found in Congress, the judiciary, the police, prisons, and varied regulatory commissions and agencies. The criminal networks occupy narcotics trafficking and smuggling, human trafficking, gangs and other armed groups. Her study provides details about these and other network elements, as well as about internal and external enablers. These “enablers” are crucial because “kleptocratic governing systems” require that “agencies displaying independence or representing a potential threat to network interests are intentionally hamstrung or short-circuited.”
• Historically, network collusions existed mostly between the public- and private sector components. However, “In the past decade or so, both the elite public- and private-sector circles have been establishing increasingly close connections with the out-and-out criminal networks that run the narcotics trade as well as other types of smuggling, such as trafficking in people.”
• From a comparative viewpoint, Chayes observes that Honduras’s corruption networks, particularly in the private sector, are generally more fractious and autonomous than those prevailing in more highly structured, clan-dominated societies elsewhere:
“The networks that have been ushered into control of the Honduran political economy by this process are perhaps less unitary than those of such highly structured kleptocracies as Azerbaijan, or Cambodia, or Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s Tunisia. In those countries, the private sector is or was almost entirely dominated by subordinate members of the ruler’s clan. In today’s Honduras, by contrast, the public, private, and criminal sectors, while closely intertwined, are quite fractious and retain at least some autonomy.”
TIMN’S APPLICABILITY TO ANALYZING SYSTEMIC CORRUPTION
My contention from a TIMN perspective is that corruption is largely a function of how the T/tribal form evolves in a society. Corruption is most likely to take hold in societies where dark sides of the T form, broadly-defined, are tenaciously strong, and the TIMN forms as a whole are not properly separated and shielded from each other. The stronger that dark T-type forces and actors are in a society, and the more they can subvert that society’s 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 myriad other societies that remain historically unable to resist corruption — are societies where T-type actors can willfully penetrate +I (government, military), +M (business), and newer +N (networked civil society?) sectors for predatory purposes. Analysts of corruption should look for explanations not just in a society’s government, business, or civil-society sectors, but rather, and I’d say above all, in what TIMN treats as its “tribal” (for want of a better term) sectors and practices.
That’s the TIMN contention I’ve wondered about for years. That’s the contention I fielded in my first post in this three-part series. And that’s what I’d say is now borne out by my look at Chayes’ study of systemic corruption in Honduras.
To confirm this, I’d say only two criteria need to be met. The first is that the purveyors of systemic corruption pertain primarily to TIMN’s T form, far more than to any other TIMN form. Chayes’ study provides ample evidence that systemic corruption in Honduras revolves around blood and fictive kinship networks that are based on family, clan, gang, buddy, and similar personal solidarity ties. Some may result in what look like modern professional organizations, yet their internal cultures remain quite tribal and they remain embedded parts of Honduras’s “kleptocratic corruption networks”. In sum, they do indeed pertain far more to TIMN’s T form than to its +I, +M. or +N forms of organization and behavior.
The second criterion is that these purveyors of systemic corruption are so strong and so committed to the T form that they work to prevent every other TIMN form from developing properly. They don’t want clean, professional, independent, government agencies or business enterprises to develop, possibly to deny and displace their influence. To this end, they have numerous network nodes embedded throughout the government and business worlds. Chayes’ study of Honduras provides extensive evidence for this second TIMN criterion.
Overall, then, Chayes’ approach is excellent. Plus, her approach can be extended to make points that TIMN makes — e.g., systemic corruption hinders liberal democracy from taking hold. But I hasten to add that TIMN, besides allowing for similar network analyses of corruption, has a distinct advantage: its evolutionary orientation. TIMN automatically perceives that systemic corruption is associated with the earliest form of organization — the tribal form — and that the enduring strength of the dark sides of this form leads to distortions and and delays in the proper development of the later +I, +M, and +N forms. Among other matters, this explains the failure of countries like Honduras to become liberal democracies, despite U.S. policy and strategy efforts to the contrary.
PLACING HOPE IN ACTIVIST CIVIL-SOCIETY NETWORKS
In discussing how to counter Honduras’s kleptocratic networks, Chayes points to the growing efforts of activist civil-society NGOs in various issue areas. They presently operate mostly on their own, apart from each other. She proposes they begin to form into their own “positive networks". Thus, according to Chayes,
“The foregoing picture is dark. But Honduras is also a place where members of the research team were struck and inspired by the countervailing models they found, whose precepts and practices held promise for confronting challenges extending far beyond the country’s borders. For an analysis like this to be most effective, it must include a similarly careful examination of constructive networks and individuals. Some of the grassroots organizations we visited were actively building networks with allies both inside and outside Honduras, by way of frequent visits and meetings to pursue common agenda items. But often those constructive actors are just individuals, lacking the resilient network structure that characterizes their kleptocratic counterparts. Part of the task of reinforcing them would be to study what it might look like for them to be more effectively woven together in such a hostile context.”
I'm pleased to see Chayes say this, not only because it's a good hopeful idea, but also because it resembles our old RAND work on "social netwar" in the information age, echoing our 1997 maxim that "It takes networks to fight networks." It also fits with TIMN’s claim that +N forms are on the rise, and that they will restructure societies and alter the course of social evolution. The kleptocratic corruption networks she analyzes are, from a TIMN viewpoint, relics of the malingering strength of the T or tribal form and their enduring ability to subvert and deform the +I state and +M market forms. Hopefully, civil society can give rise to NGO networks that start to push and pull Honduran society in +N directions, while limiting and confining the roles of T-type kleptocrats vis à vis the +I and +M sectors.
Yet this will prove a daunting challenge, given what these civil-society actors are up against. As Chayes stated during a podcast discussion about her new book, Thieves of the State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security (2016), “We’re not looking at a government that’s failing because of corruption … rather, we’re looking at a criminal enterprise succeeding because it’s masquerading as a government.”
To read for yourself, go here:
[I posted an earlier write-up of this post on my Facebook page, on Aug 24.]