"Predatory Democracy" -- S.J. Masty writes at Social Affairs Unit on the tendency for South Asian democracies to become consumed by corruption:
Poor, terminal Nepal is the worst South Asian case of all. King Gyanendra recently suspended democracy, locked up many politicians for unassailable corruption, and promises to focus his attention on the Maoist civil war largely ignored for the past decade by swiftly rotating governments obsessed with rent-seeking. Nepalese friends and visitors there report that the public is relieved to be rescued from a Predator Democracy. As one educated, travelled Nepalese explained to me five years back:
When we were an absolute monarchy we had only one set of leeches to support. Our political parties add two sets more than we can afford.
Regardless of whether this king bungles the job, democracy has failed in Nepal. Yet the pious, ideologically-propelled West - particularly America, Britain and the Scandinavian countries - do nothing more than scold Nepal on the supposed moral superiority of democracy and threaten to withhold foreign aid...
When confronted by people suffering and dying under Predator Democracies, most Western pro-democracy ideologues make little tut-tutting sounds, nod in what looks like sincerity and condescendingly tell us that it will take some time for all those supposedly backward brown and black people to advance to our present magnificent condition. They ignore a distinct possibility that our countries are earlier on the evolutionary chain, while Predator Democracies are more advanced than we.
If you apply game theory, and assume that the purpose of governance is the most efficient allocation of loot, then the South Asian model of a Predator Democracy is the most efficient. It uses the smallest and shortest-lived majority to capture and allocate the greatest quantity of spoils. It cannibalizes nations, but it is devastatingly efficient. And, looking at the political spoils systems advanced under Clinton, Bush and Blair, is anyone really certain that our political future doesn't resemble Bangladesh?
My South Asian friends have thousands of years of tradition behind them when most of them assume, with neither shame nor doubt, that it is the right of any maharajah, born or elected, to reward his supporters from the public purse. Conversely there is close to one thousand years of Anglo-Saxon traditions, reflected in common law and statute, attempting to keep governance free from favouritism.
These two very different roots grow much deeper than any form of government, and they are nourished by two very different cultural concepts of fairness, neither of which can be changed easily or swiftly. But that won't stop the West's shallow, undereducated ideologues, the punch-drunk Whigs and self-satisfied Wilsonians insisting that tyranny can be eradicated and that democracy and its prerequisite values can be installed with the ease and speed of a plug-and-play computer programme off a CD-ROM. Or at gun-point.
Something that Bush could use his bully pulpit for is to lecture the world that, as my son pointed out, "democracy" in Greek means "rule by the people" not "rule by the majority," so democracy presupposes among a nation's citizens that they will be patriotically willing to sacrifice for the good of all by learning to compromise, to be good losers, to rule honestly, and so forth. But perhaps Bush isn't the best man to lecture on good government...
Fifteen years ago, Francis Fukuyama announced the End of History, but what he really meant, translating from his weird Hegelian jargon, was the End of Ideology. History churns on, but it has gone back to what it was about before the French Revolution introduced ideology: Who? Whom? Who gets to use the government and who gets used by the government? A perpetually interesting question, no?
Meanwhile, Randall Parker at Parapundit reports Corruption Seen As Bigger Threat Than Insurgency In Iraq. Transparency International says, "If urgent steps are not taken, will become the biggest corruption scandal in history."
The economy of Iraq resembles the Congo's: the people don't produce much that's taxable, so it doesn't pay for rulers to invest in the betterment of the people. The only thing in the country that pays is getting checks from the mineral extraction firms, and who those checks are made out to depends solely on who can amass the most armed force within the country. At $50 per barrel, it will pay a lot to be the ruler of Iraq.
And therefore the various contenders for the role of Owner of the Oil will be willing to shell out a lot to acquire the military force they'll need to gain and secure the prize. Since the United States military is likely to be the strongest single player in the coming struggles to own the oil of Iraq, it's likely that American politics will be heavily corrupted by enormous sums paid out to American politicians, journalists, and the lobbyists by by various would-be Iraqi oil lords trying to win American intervention on their sides.
Just as the Russian robber baron oil firm Yukos promised AEI a big payout (big by a think tank's standard, but a pittance by the standards of an oligarch who auctioned 2% of the world's oil reserves off to himself for $159 million), it might be a good time, from a financial perspective, to start a Washington think tank specializing in schmoozing insiders over Middle Eastern oil issues. From the perspective of the health of your immortal soul, however, well...