Posts tagged with: Political corruption

But was anyone listening?

That’s my question after attending the 2015 Nobel-prize-winning economist‘s talk last night in Rome at the Vatican-sponsored Cortile dei gentili (Court of Gentiles).

Like the other speakers, Deaton voiced his concerns about income inequality. Unlike the others, however, he said much of it is caused by crony capitalism, a term whose meaning seems to have been lost on the Italian interpreter and hence the audience. She described it as “a type of capitalism” and “negative capitalism” but never really made the connection to politics, which is unfortunate given the high number of Italian politicians in attendance.

Deaton added that countries become rich by escaping poverty, not by impoverishing others, that technological progress has undoubtedly made us richer, and that the world has greatly benefited from globalization even though too many people are still left behind. Government interference through taxes, regulation and corruption does more harm than good. The major problems with globalization are therefore political, not economic.

There were also a number of Italian cardinals and bishops in attendance. Here’s hoping that some of them relay Deaton’s clear-as-day message to Pope Francis, who really ought to be saying, “Crony capitalism kills!” instead of blaming the market economy in general. It is an obvious distinction to economists. In Italy, no one seems to know the difference.

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The Bosses of the Senate, a cartoon by Joseph Keppler. First published in Puck 1889.

Cronyism is ugly. It hurts the economy, it’s unjust, and corrupts the core of democracy.  “The damage that cronyism has inflicted on the economy is considerable,” Samuel Gregg writes in a new piece for Public Discourse. “[C]ronyism also creates significant political challenges that, thus far, Western democracies are struggling to overcome.”

The crony capitalism seen from the Trump presidential campaign and many others is not something that’s new to America or Western civilization. As long as there have been governments, there have been powerful people seeking special favors from them. From the 17th to 18th centuries, mercantilism “dominated the West,” which involved powerful guilds working closely with their government officials to limit trade and stifle innovation. Gregg explains the cronyism that’s common today:

Today’s crony capitalism is not outright corruption, though it often verges on or morphs into illegal activity. The expression itself first emerged in 1980 to describe how the Philippines’ economy functioned under the Marcos regime. It became prominent in explanations of the 1997–1998 Asian financial crisis, especially the role played in that crisis by government decisions that favored business “cronies” (many of whom were relatives) of political leaders, such as Indonesia’s then-President Suharto.

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Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, November 19, 2015
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Corruption-bribe-5-x-7_-123rfWhen Americans think of corruption, we tend to think of third world countries where getting anything done often requires bribing local government officials. We tend not to have such problems here; our corruption is more subtle and sophisticated, and often involves state level lawmakers.

For instance, over the past few years there have seen corruption-related charges or convictions of the house or assembly speakers of Alabama (bribery, misuse of campaign funds), Rhode Island (bribery, misuse of campaign funds), South Carolina (misuse of campaign funds), and New York (bribery, fraud, extortion, etc.). The former governor of Virginia was convicted for taking a bribe and the governor of Oregon resigned because of corruption charges.

That’s one of the reasons why states need systems and laws in place that can help prevent and expose corruption. So how are individual states doing in regards to transparency and accountability?
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
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Political-Corruption-Bigger-Threat-than-TerrorismPolitical corruption is the use of legislated powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain. While it isn’t as endemic in the U.S. as it is in some countries (Somalia, North Korea, and Afghanistan being the most corrupt), the problem still exists. According to the Justice Department, in the last two decades more than 20,000 public officials and private individuals were convicted for crimes related to corruption and more than 5,000 are awaiting trial, the overwhelming majority of cases having originated in state and local governments.

But measuring corruption based on convictions can be tricky for a variety of reasons, ranging from inadequate data to partisan bias. One alternative measure is to use perceptions, especially of state and local governments. Oguzhan Dincer and Michael Johnston surveyed the news reporters covering state politics in addition to the investigative reporters covering issues related to corruption during the first half of 2014 to gauge their perception of state corruption:

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If corruption were a global industry, it would be the third largest, accounting for 5 percent of the global economy.

In many parts of the world, bribery and corruption are simply considered the price of doing business. However, corruption (both in business and in politics) undermines people’s trust in these institutions. Corruption also forces many people and businesses out of the marketplace and out of the political arena: those with more money are always at an advantage. Transparency International is a German-based organization that works to end corruption. Their video explains what corruption is and how it can be stopped.

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briberyThere’s an old saying that corruption is authority plus monopoly minus transparency. That combination makes state-level governments especially prone to the temptations of corruption.

A new study in Public Administration Review, “The Impact of Public Officials’ Corruption on the Size and Allocation of U.S. State Spending,” looks at the impact of government corruption on states’ expenditures. Defining corruption as the “misuse of public office for private gain,” the authors of the paper note that public and private corruption can have a range of negative effects, including lower-quality work, reduced economic productivity, and increased poverty.

According to Leighton Walter Kille, the researchers explored two possible theories: First, higher levels of corruption should cause states’ spending levels to be higher than they would be otherwise. Second, corruption would distort states’ spending priorities in ways that favor bribes from private firms and others. Some of the findings include:
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
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Many who reject capitalism in favor of some “third way” do so because they often mistake it for government-corporate cronyism, says Jonathan Witt in this week’s Acton Commentary. But in countries that have begun extending true economic freedom to the masses, capitalist activity has already lifted hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty.

Happily, a new piece in The Economist magazine offers some helpful medicine for the confusion, insisting on the distinction between cronyism and capitalism while also pointing to some hopeful signs that a rising middle class around the globe is gaining the clout to fight the power structures that still wall millions out of the wealth creation game. My reservation about the article is that it misreads America’s Progressive era, and in the process, leaves cronyism’s favorite trick unexposed.

According to the piece, crony capitalism in America “reached its apogee in the late 19th century, and a long and partially successful struggle against robber barons ensued. Antitrust rules broke monopolies such as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. The flow of bribes to senators shrank.” Later, it tells readers that while developing countries are making progress against cronyism, “governments need to be more assiduous in regulating monopolies.”

The full text of his essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.