Friday, August 25, 2017

What TIMN is good for — #3: explaining systemic corruption, cont. (Chayes on Trump)

Let’s wrap up this three-part effort to compare the CEIP and TIMN frameworks as ways to explain systemic corruption.


I hope you agree that Chayes' study of Honduras, the focus of my prior post in this three-part series, helps to verify TIMN, by showing that systemic corruption is likely to arise and endure in societies where the T (tribal, for want of a better term) form, broadly-defined, is tenaciously, even improperly strong, and the TIMN forms as a whole are not well separated and shielded from each other. The stronger that T-type forces and actors are, and the more they penetrate into the other TIMN forms and sectors of activity, then the more prone that society will be to systemic corruption.
Meanwhile, unlike Honduras, the United States and its government are supposed to be relatively immune to systemic corruption. Madisonian checks and balances, along with preventive regulations and professional ethics, supposedly see to that. Also, our culture has gotten the T form mostly right for a long time, such that its more corrupt clannish actors haven’t been able to thoroughly penetrate and distort activities that pertain to the other TIMN forms. 
But there's been a lot of slippage over the decades, particularly of late. CEIP’s Sarah Chayes notices this in "Trump and the Path Toward Kleptocracy" (2017). Let’s use it as a fitting ending for this three-part series about her work.
• Her theme is quite jarring (though I’ve wondered about the possibility for a while) — the ascension of Donald Trump to the Presidency raises concerns about kleptocratic corruption networks spreading and taking hold inside our American systems.
“Ever since President Donald Trump took office, people have been struggling to explain his administration’s sometimes sharp departures from American norms. Theories have ranged from personality disorders to alarms about the potential birth of an American autocracy.
“Let me suggest another: kleptocracy. The Trump administration, its personnel and early practices, resembles nothing so much as a kleptocratic network of the type seen in many developing countries and post-Soviet states. No, I am not implying that Trump is about to turn the U.S. into a banana republic. But Americans would do well to scrutinize nascent changes in the ways the most powerful sectors of our society are interacting.”
• Mounting signs of this include the rubbing-out of boundaries between the public and private sectors, and the rising use of family members and cronies by top leaders:
“One feature of these networks is their horizontal integration. Americans can get into heated arguments about which is more pernicious, the public or the private sector. But we presume there is a distinction between the two. In kleptocracies, that line is rubbed out.”
“A common trend in all these places is how family members serve as ligaments binding the intertwined systems together.”
• Drawing on her extensive research on kleptocratic systems around the world, Chayes warns that “capture” of the judicial system by the Trump administration would be a particularly ominous sign:
“Of all government functions, though, the institution that kleptocratic networks absolutely must capture in order to survive is the justice system. It’s not merely that corrupt leaders need to protect themselves. It’s that their networks are held together by a bargain. Subordinate members funnel a part of their take upward to their seniors. This goes for everything from “petty” bribes extorted by cops or teachers at street level up to public procurement fraud on multimillion-dollar contracts. In return, those at the top guarantee impunity down the line. If the deal is violated, the system collapses.”
• Here, then, is what she concludes from her years of analyzing kleptocratic corruption networks around the world:
“First, it is impossible to operate in economic sectors controlled by such networks — in places like Azerbaijan, the Philippines, Kazakhstan or Turkey — without becoming entangled. …
“Second, networks are stubborn, flexible, resilient structures. In case after recent case, sanctioning a top network member, even bringing down a government, has failed to eradicate the network and its practices.”
• All these observations and considerations, she concludes, put America at risk, especially with an administration like Trump’s in power:
“The lesson for Americans is this. These networks are like weeds, and it takes far more than the punishment of a few crimes, even spectacular ones, or the removal of a few people to fully uproot their tendrils from the economic and political institutions we hold dear.”
• Her article also provides further grist for worrying and warning that the divisive cronyism, clannishness, and tribalism infecting our country are having adverse effects on our democracy. Indeed, a variant of my TIMN contention about corruption stemming from the strength of T-heavy forces and actors applies to understanding why so many societies fail to develop into liberal democracies — a TIMN topic for another day.

To read for yourself, go here:

[I posted an earlier write-up of this post on my Facebook page, on Aug 25.]


Lisa Jones said...

Isn't it true that to a certain extent, systemic corruption has always been woven into the fabric of American governance--from late-19th century organized crime in Chicago to the Teapot Dome scandal and beyond--and that the Trump administration crony networks are merely making explicit that which had been somewhat better concealed? What steps need to be taken to identify the missing elements that would stem decay and keep governance functioning?

If shoring up the strength of the institutions that facilitate economic growth and development has become increasingly difficult, it seems worth exploring what role new technologies should play in keeping the system intact.

David Ronfeldt said...

Good points. Good questions. I quite agree. Many thanks for positing them here. I've long thought our system is far more corrupt than known.