Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Kleptocracy: Curse of Development

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Kleptocracy: Curse of Development

Article excerpt

Development signifies a diverse, prosperous world presenting many choices and opportunities for the "good life"--self-improvement and education, friends and associates, urban or country life, discretionary leisure activities, and productive employment-all supported by technological sophistication to make it work. This definition has elasticity, inasmuch as it allows for individuals and groups to pursue preferences and for local, provincial, and national authorities to engage in public works that benefit society. Development on the international agenda refers to rich and poor states, haves and have-nots. The reconstruction of Europe and Japan that followed World War II promoted the belief that poor states could become rich and that have-nots could become haves. Aid and investment followed, but good government did not. (2) Instead, kleptocracy (3) did. In the twenty-first century, corruption (4) is dysfunctional and pathological, and kleptocracy is no longer acceptable anywhere in the world.

"Rich" is not a synonym for "developed." Being rich aids but is hardly sufficient in promoting development, either for states or for individuals. Political will and a commitment to allocate costs and benefits fairly through rule-of-law institutions are both necessary to convert assets of all kinds--natural resources, financial connections, foreign investment, loans, aid, remittances, transfers of technology--into a diverse, prosperous country that offers numerous choices and opportunities for an entire populace to attain the "good life." (5) For a few to live in opulence while a great many are destitute is not development. Economists claim that $5,000 annual disposable income per person is sufficient for discretionary spending to take off. (6) This represents development only if that income is getting to ordinary people. Unfortunately, corruption is doing more harm to development in third- and second- world countries than aid does good. Realistically, corruption is a suicide strategy--whether pursued through obedience to traditional norms or from egoistical moral disorientation. If one expects development to work as planned, he/she can no longer simply dismiss kleptocracy with excuses of "business as usual" or "power corrupts." (7)

Looking at Kleptocracy

There is a connection between corruption and poor development. Economist John Kay notes that Joseph Conrad identified cultural conflict as part of this linkage in describing the "Curse of Kurtz" in Heart of Darkness (1902). (8) In 1966, Stanislav Andreski used the term "kleptocracy" in his book, Parasitism and Subversion, and, two years later, in The Predicament of Africa, linking it to failing development, namely, distorting the economy, deepening divisions in society, and frustrating policy. The Economist and the Times Literary Supplement, which reviewed Andreski's books, (9) subsequently circulated the term "kleptocracy," initially apropos in describing the rule of Francisco Franco in Spain, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and the PRI in Mexico. Inverse correlations between kleptocracy and development have gained greater attention since the end of the Cold War once the United States and the former Soviet Union cared less about embarrassing their tinpot allies. (10)

Kleptocracy and corruption are now used interchangeably, with kleptocracy generally referring to systems of rule and corruption to venal acts and abusive practices. Kleptocracy is only one of a network of vicious circles that obstruct development, although it is one about which correctives can be applied. Corruption is hard to calculate, but perception of it has increased. Greater freedom of the press has exposed the correlation. Security analysts have tied it in many countries with a "political-criminal nexus." (11) Transparency International, since 1993, has addressed perceptions of corruption, expanding its scrutiny and impact annually. "Watch groups" nongovernmental organizations (NGOS)--such as Freedom House, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch--have added the internet to their traditional paper publications to expose corruption. …

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