I have been reading perhaps too many historical texts, including revisiting Richard Hakluyt’s Voyages and Discoveries, and some new-to-me-but-not-new books on the history of the world viewed by an economist. It made an interesting mental backdrop to a recent piece in the Rolling Stone about corruption and bid rigging and all sorts of nefarious acts in the corporate financial system. Taibbi’s piece, and I’m not the only one to suggest it, is a must-read, regardless of political stripe, if only because the corruption is so commonplace that it could not exist like this in one aspect of the financial sector if it did not exist in others: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/notes-on-wall-streets-bid-rigging-scandal-20120622
Corruption, when it is done well, happens so quietly we don’t even know we’re being abused. In fact, the bribers and the bribees in this situation and many others all believed they were behaving quite honorably, because this was the way things are done, and the way everyone on their side of the table reaped the most rewards.
There are people looking into things, and they are finding things, and the things they find happening are very bad things, indeed, and I am sure this story is only the tip of the iceberg of corruption that will be unraveled in the days to come, if our economy continues to drag and we keep demanding the blood of bankers to blame.
I was reading a book about the trade of agricultural staples across the oceans of history on the one hand, and the first-person accounts of British voyages to new places and territories on the other. It is hard not to read Taibbi’s piece without Empire on the mind. It is an imperial way of thinking, that if the territories do not know what they do not have then we can go ahead and take it from them. It is an imperial way of behaving, to skim and pad and schmooze in such a fashion, and harm the natives who are perceived as part of a different category of being from the brave British captains, sailors, and cabin boys whose accounts of adventure are being transcribed. The people involved, from New York do not view the people of Oakland as human on quite the same level as they see the other people in the financial services industry, who were all such smart people and good students and go-getters and whatnot, compared to those lazy schlubs in municipal government service, you see. That is the way empire thinks. Take what we can from the natives of that foreign country who has fallen under our thumb, for we are the enlightened ones who bring great gifts and they should be grateful we have brought our expertise to their shores, at all.
The Taibbi piece is also hinting at a pattern reminiscent to the flour riots of France, and most of the peasant revolutions of history. For, when there is plenty, corruption flourishes and takes root unchecked by the population that would rather be busy with their own plenty and not fighting anyone over such scraps, until such time as there is no longer plenty and peasants seek out the reasons for their lack of food in the waste generated by systemic corruption. New leaders must be installed, forthwith, and new laws! Hear-Hear!
Revolutions in history overthrew corruption in times of scarcity, like we have right now. Naturally, what immediately followed was temporary reforms that, once entrenched, commenced to re-institute or at least not disallow the return of corruption in times of plenty. In times of plenty, when there is enough food and the harvests are good, the peasants don’t riot over a little corruption. It becomes common-place. It becomes the way things get done in the society. It becomes so natural, business leaders discuss their clear and present corruption even when they know they are being recorded, because it has been happening for decades.
Presidential elections, even today, seem to be about our daily bread. Do we have enough bread? Let him stay in power! Do we need more bread? Throw the bum out! Presumably, and particularly after a certain Supreme Court case was decided, no source of political power is free of the corruption that drags on the coat tails of public policy. It seems to be the natural cycle of corruption, as old as the riots of the ancient world. This is part of the natural life-cycle of all empires, and the language of empire is all over these men.
My warning then, to all lefty and libertarian-leaning voters, is to take heed that political power of any group, maintained too long, will only lead to more and greater levels of corruption. Ergo, it is best not to attach our political identities too much to any one faction. Hopefully, before the corruption comes in our preferred faction of the moment, there will be a time of great plenty to withstand the drag on the economy of corruption that is as inevitable as death and taxes. At such time, we might be best to switch allegiances around to favor not the incumbent boss leaders, but the reformers who will make great promises – and might even pass a few decent laws – before these reformers, too, suffer the inevitable end of all politicians in the complex ecosystem of human political power.
Corruption is bad. It’s a theft we don’t even see, and it happens all the time, in a myriad ways, based around the political influence and power of men and women who feel safe behind their wall of SuperPAC donation-receipts.
Speaking of which, I am blogging a long-ish thing today, but I have not been blogging regularly. You see, I am more interested in being a great novelist, and husband, than I am in being a great blogger. I expect this trend to continue as I begin the steps necessary to relocate to a new state, and a wedding in September, and etc. Even if I had time to blog more, I am finding the form less and less interesting, as a writer and as a reader. I prefer only to come here when I believe I can contribute something I find interesting, and I have no desire to force a number of blog posts per day/week just to meet some artificial goal of on-line activity that doesn’t actually do much to aid in the marketing of books, or in my general happiness. I am not leaving, but I am also generally disinterested in planning or posting with anything resembling regularity. More blogging will happen or it will not.
In the mean time, I am packing to move, and planning our wedding, etc.