21 April 2010

Putting UK political corruption in perspective

The 'Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians in 2009' published by Judicial Watch, a US public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, makes it clear that Britain has a long way to go before it can claim to be as 'exceptional' as the home of the brave and the land of the free.

The report quotes columnist George Will's verdict that 'the [Obama] administration's central activity - the political allocation of wealth and opportunity - is not merely susceptible to corruption, it is corruption.' Fair enough, but that's been the case for a long time.

The late Polish-British sociologist Stanislav Andreski, most famous as the author of the still highly relevant Social Sciences as Sorcery (1972), observed in Parasitism and Subversion: the Case of Latin America (1966) that the most important factor explaining why Anglo-America was prosperous and Latin America indigent was that in the former the main avenue to wealth was business, while in the latter it was politics.
Capitalism tends toward a productive orientation when the capitalist entrepreneurs can neither use coercion for the purpose of parasitic exploitation, nor are so devoid of strength as to be exposed to exploitation themselves - in other words, when businessmen are too weak to prey upon the other classes, but too strong to be preyed upon. Such a situation requires a certain degree of balance of power between the business elite and the political elite. An important application of the principle is that capitalism can function beneficently only in a society where money cannot buy everything, because if it can, then the power of wealth can have no counterweight and a parasitic involution ensues.

Things are far from so clear cut in the United States today - and of course even less so in the EU - while Chile has become the exception that proves the rule in Latin America.

For many years I alternated between periods in Latin America and in Britain. On return to Britain I was always struck by the decreasing number of differences. Britain now has many cultural similarities to a Third World country - and has been de-developing economically for decades. Given its penchant for doing things big, the United States may well overtake us on the way down as fast as it did on the way up.   


  1. One of the things which has so often struck me about American politics is the increasing lack of a sense of proportion, both in the financial markets, in business practices and in their links to public politics. Both the pols, the CEO's, and everyone up and down the feeding chain seems to want heavy payoffs RIGHT NOW, whether for covert or contractual services. Take just the anomaly of contractually obligated Bonuses!

    Closely linked to the above is a kind of myopic denial state about Risks. This seeems contagious under certain circumstances such as the fast and loose sale of unrepayable subprime mortgages, followed by the securitization and marketing of such mortgages followed by derivative gambling on the future of all this arguably shreddable debt-paper!

    After the Great Depression when we were living on next to nothing in Montana ranch country, all of this reads to me like sheer Science Fiction. But it just happened.

  2. When I look at the normal connection between state legislators in America and local industry, property developers, and various urban interests including THE Mafia, I begin to understand that the balance between the business and political elites in a democratic society has always been totally under siege in the US.

    That the more macro interests of Corporate America should have, by now, so corrupted our national legislatures is, in perspective, nothing to be surpised at. Lobbyists like mushrooms thrive where is soil.

  3. I believe that if you look at LOCAL government, the pattern has been clear for a very long time. In Britain, the Town and Country Planning Act (1948) has been and remains the greatest facilitator of corruption.